It’s never too late to set a world record.
That’s what five nonagenarians discovered July 20 in Winston-Salem at the USA Track & Field Masters Outdoor Championships.
The self-billed Fore Runners set world age group relay records in the 400-meter (2 minutes, 22.37 seconds), 1600-meter (12:41.69) and 3200-meter (28:17.10) races.
The team is comprised of 97-year-old Champion Goldy, Sr. of Haddonfield, New Jersey; Orville Rogers, 96, of
Dallas; Charles Ross, 91, of Decatur, Arkansas; Roy Englert, 91, of Springfield, Virginia; and Charles Boyle, 90, of Annapolis, Maryland.
“We all just managed to stay alive longer than everybody else!” Englert told Juliet Macur of the New York Times. Which is true. Never before had a group of 90-year-olds completed any of those three relays. All they had to do to set world records was finish each race.
It wasn’t nearly as easy as you might think.
The idea of an all-90s relay team has floated around for a couple of years. In 2012, Rogers, John Means, 91, and Ralph Maxwell, 92, searched for a fourth so they could go for a world indoor record in the 800-meter relay. They found Ross, but, sadly, he was only 89 at the time.
So, they smashed the record for the 85-89 age group instead.
In 2013, they tried to gather at the outdoor championships, but only two runners could make it. One was Ross, who set a world record for a 90-year-old in the 2000-meter steeplechase, 18 minutes, 54 seconds.
He didn’t jump the barriers so much as clamber over them. And he’d land thigh deep in the water jump pool, but he got his record.
Quite an achievement, even for a member of the Army Rangers Hall of Fame. Ross is a veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, being one of only 275 people with a medal for fighting in all three wars. He also earned two purple hearts.
But his toughest job might have been finding four 90-year-olds to fill out his relay team. Means has passed away, and Maxwell suffered a recurrence of cancer.
“For three months, I slaved on this project!” Ross told the Annapolis Capital Gazette. “I was on the Internet. I was phoning people until I got a great team together. I had never met any of them before, though I’d read about them and their running records over the years.”
Goldy was the oldest competitor at the masters meet. He told NBC Sports, “When I get up in the morning and look at the obituaries and don’t find my name there, that’s good!”
Goldy has been running in masters meets since he was 70. “I just like to do it,” he told the Winston-Salem Journal. “It’s good for my health, and it really aligns with the ministry. I’ve been a minister for 70 years in the Methodist church, so I’m always trying to encourage people to do what’s right for their physical and spiritual bodies. Doing this keeps me in the ministry.”
Goldy finished second in the 100 meters behind Rogers, who blazed through the tape in 27.98. A year ago, Rogers set six masters records in three days, within a year of suffering a stroke.
The stroke paralyzed his left hand and left leg, and caused partial paralysis in the left hip. “It started coming back the third or fourth day, and gradually got better,” he told CBS Dallas-Fort Worth.
Rogers didn’t even start running until age 50.
“I read Aerobics, by Dr. Ken Cooper,” he told Tessa Hoefle of Runners World. “This book was highly motivational to me. I think I went out and ran that same day! I remember, I had a friend who was a doctor, and he would say, ‘You’re risking your life running’ while he was smoking a cigarette!
“I made the decision to run, and it’s never given me any cause to regret it. I’ve read studies that senior citizens can gain strength and muscle mass even past the age of 90. That’s very encouraging for me!”
Boyle, at 90 the baby of the group, worked for NASA and has written several books.
“It took so long for us to run the two miles, it was like watching grass grow!” he told the Capital Gazette. “I’m just delighted I was invited to run,” he added. “The news about our racing at our age opens people’s eyes to the idea to stay active in their senior years. Staying in motion helps your health. We’re built to be in motion. So, we should do that.”
Englert graduated from Columbia Law School and worked as deputy general counsel for the Treasury Department before retiring in 1996. Well before that, he participated in the D-Day invasion.
“You’re young and invincible,” he told Macur of that experience.
Running helps him feel the same way. That’s why he also ran the 5,000 meters, breaking a 25-year-old record. He’s got a 12-kilometer race coming up this fall, so he rushed off after the meet to drive back home, not wanting to miss any training time. A five-hour trip. By himself.
“People make themselves old,” he told Macur. “First they say, I’m too old to do this and too old to do that, and, suddenly, they look in the mirror, and they are old.”
Denton Ashway is a contributing columnist for The Times. His column appears on Wednesday.