When we can no longer compete

USA Track and FieldI was never been great in sports, but I loved trying and was sometimes competitive. I loved basketball as a young man and even more when I got old. When my knees give me trouble running, I became a racewalker. In both sports I contributed time after my prime. I had memorable experiences both as a coach and USA Track and Field official.

Not that long ago I was involved in coaching basketball. It started when my own kids wanted to play and needed an adult to step up. That first year I was an assistant coach but I kept coming back for more. Six years later I was coaching multiple teams, many that didn’t even involve my own sons. The reason is that by then some of the kids I’d coached all those years had become friends and they turned to me when they had no other way to form a team.

Before that, I was a racewalker. Racewalking is considered an unusual sport in the US, but it’s an Olympic event taken seriously in many countries around the globe. To give an idea of what a world class racewalker can do (not me by any stretch) consider the 20,000 m (12.4 miles). Bernardo Segura of Mexico is the current record holder. His time, recorded in Bergen, NOR (1994), was 1:17:25.6. Olimpiada Ivanova, a Russian, holds the women’s record for the same distance. Her time, recorded in Brisbane, AUS (2001), was 1:26:52.3.

If these records don’t impress, consider the legend, Tim Lewis. Tim no longer races but in his day he was widely known and respected. Here’s why. Tim’s personal best for walking the mile is 5:33.53. That accomplishment, and some videos of his style that were seen in racewalking camps around the country, increased his status among enthusiasts.

At the height of my push to be a strong racewalker, I injured my leg playing softball. That ended my competitive dreams. At the request of some friends I engaged in coaching for a time. I put on a clinic or two, and got involved in officiating. As an official for USA Track and Field,  I observed first hand the techniques of great competitors. It also afforded me the opportunity to hang with former training partners. Being at events gave me a sense of longing sometimes. I wanted to race, too. But officiating was a great experience for other reasons.

Whether it’s coaching sports for your kids or taking on a more formal role as a track and field official, getting involved in competitive athletics as a participant, coach, official or even spectator, helps those reaching for their dream of a personal record or a three point shot at the buzzer. It’s all good. Without parents and former athletes pitching in, consecutive generations would never know the excitement of competitive sports.

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