June 7, 2008


Speedy seniors strut their stuff

Senior Games

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Lorna Ford of New York City sprints for the finish line during the Empire State Senior Games 100-meter dash at SUNY Cortland Friday. Ford’s 14.9 time earned a silver medal in her age group.

Sports Editor

Okay, so she did not exactly breeze across the finish line.
But she was well aware of her limitations prior to the running of the 100-meter dash on this steamy hot Friday afternoon as an Empire State Senior Games track and field neophyte. So when Pat Coveny of Endicott finished her heat and glanced down at her wristwatch, she summed up the effort with a bit of good humor.
“Michael Johnson, eat your heart out,” Coveny simply stated moments after completing a 34-second journey down the straightaway at the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex track. It was a determined if not brisk venture that would actually earn a third place bronze medal — albeit in a field of just three runners — in her 60-65 age group.
Still it seemed a nice touch to bring up Michael Johnson’s name, the former Olympic champion and world record holder renowned for his strength and speed as a dominant sprinter over 200 and 400 meters. This year’s field of 100-meter runners — often thought of as the premier event in any Olympic Games and the race that kick-started two days of track and field competition at these Senior Games that conclude this weekend in Cortland — produced some serious, head-turning, Johnson-like speed.
The best battle of all would be in the women’s 55-59 age group dash, where 57-year old Sharon Warren nosed out former Olympian middle distance runner Lorna Ford in a match-up of fleet New York City residents. Warren was clocked in a brisk 14.5 time while Ford finished in 14.9.
“I am blessed,” said Warren after receiving her gold medal at the victory stand. “If I’m still going under 15 seconds in the 100 at my age, then I’m patting myself on the back.”
She only showed up for her first ever Senior Games appearance when she was notified this was the qualifying session that would earn her a trip to the nationals later this summer in San Francisco. That was her next goal during a successful running season where she must be patting her own back a lot.
She has already visited Italy where she competed in the World Senior Games, and finished second in the 100-meters in 14.4 and second in the 200-meters in 29.91. Back in March, she was in Boston running at the Indoor Senior Track and Field Championships and she had top efforts of 8.88 in the 60-meter dash and clicked off a 29.7 in the 200-meters.
Beating a former Olympian like Ford, who was competing in Cortland for the second straight summer after renewing a running career that saw her compete in the 1972 and 1976 Olympic Games, was nothing she was bragging about.
“We ran back in the day,” said Warren of going up against Ford. “She was very good, but she usually runs the 400 and this was a sprint.”
“I’m a quarter-miler, but I know I have to work on my speed,” said Ford, who also ran her 400-meter specialty later in the day. “Now I know I can run in the 14s, because I had been running in the 15s before.”
Ford said she was competing in the sprints just to make herself a better runner, and whether than translates into competing at nationals later who knows. She has simply dedicated herself to getting as fast as she can with a 56th birthday on the near horizon.
WHICH BRINGS US to a Long Islander named Richard Rizzo.
Though he did not begin competing in track until turning 40 years of age, Rizzo pretty much dedicates himself the sport now. Four days a week he is working out on the track, with two more days doing the grunt work in the weight room.
He also runs and helps out the Longwood High School track and field team, where Coach Joe Riley is a longtime mentor. Rizzo has provided a helping hand to the program for some 30 years, and also provided a bit of coaching advice to an inquisitive competitor after his race yesterday.
The dedicated work has certainly paid off for the 71-year-old Rizzo, who created a buzz with the 14.2 clocking that dominated a 70-74 age group that usually produces much more pedestrian stopwatch numbers.
A member of Sprint Force America, a running club sponsored by Team Ecflexx that had other athletes competing Friday, Rizzo has also had a memorable running season.
As a member of the United States 4x400 relay team competing in the 70-and-Over Division at the Penn Relays earlier this year in Philadelphia, Rizzo and three cohorts crushed the world record with a 4:24.86 clocking. That pans out to an average of 66-seconds for each 400-meter leg. That broke the old world record held by a German foursome by some seven seconds.
“The weight training is hard,” admitted Rizzo of his workout regiment. “The thing is, doing all that work against a field like this gives you a little edge.”
He is competitive with anyone up to 400-meters, and was in the 60-meter hurdles at the Indoor Nationals in Boston this year.
“It’s hard work but it does pay off. It’s a great feeling,”said Rizzo. “And I give a lot of credit to my wife, too, for putting up with all the things I do.”
He has been married to Linda for 44 years now, and she oversees his work habits and takes care of his diet as Rizzo pursues his lofty ambitions.
Of course, not all of the Empire State Senior Games participants are as driven to excel. Just being able to compete is reward enough, though the occasional medal is a nice reward, too.
Take Homer’s Elsie Adams, a somewhat fabled fixture at the Senior Games who goes out of her way to find events to compete in. Sure she had the slowest of all times in her 100-meter heat, but she is 86 years old after all. She also blamed the straw hat she worn as protection from the sun for slowing her down a bit.
“I just love it. I must, I’m here every year,” said Adams, a multi-medal winner in the past who has done everything from swimming to horseshoes at the Senior Games.
WHICH BRINGS US back to Coveny.
She heard about these Empire State Senior Games while competing at a road race and figured she should show up to compete, bringing along a Southern Tier friend for support. She is eager to attempt pretty much anything, having competed in a 10K road race earlier Friday morning before hitting the SUNY Cortland track to be in the 100-meter and 400-meter events.
Coveny is simply making up for lost time, pointing out these athletic opportunities were not available for girls during her youth. As she says, her teenage years were supposed to be spent “being cute and being a cheerleader.”
This track meet was a new experience for Coveny, who ran with white coverings on both of her shins and hardly displayed the gliding stride of the more technically sound runners who take the sport seriously. But that is what these games are all about, too, finding joy in the doing.
“What fun!”said Coveny of her first Senior Games experience. “You look up and see people who are 80 and 90 running, how can you not want to participate, too?”