June 11, 2011
Learman displays lots of Senior Games heart
A year ago, Don Learman from Buffalo had a pretty good reason why a string of 14 consecutive appearances at the Empire State Senior Games had come to a halt.
Suffering a heart attack and undergoing surgery had kept Learman from making his accustomed trip to Cortland alongside longtime friend and fellow retired United States Immigration Department co-worker Dave Hearn.
So Learman was pretty pleased to be back at it on Friday afternoon at the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex, even if he was not all that physically prepared for competing in his 80-84 age group’s high jump and 100-meter dash that got the first of two track and field days underway at these Senior Games.
He did pick up a pair of silver medals in those two events, adding to his collection of well over 100 Senior Games medallions which take up an entire windowsill at his house. Medals aside, it just felt good to compete once again after what he had endured the previous summer.
“I don’t even remember the incidence of it. I don’t even remember being in the hospital,” said Learman of the heart attack episode. “We had a new pastor at our church who came down, she was with me about a dozen times and sat down with me, and I don’t even remember it.”
He has no trouble recalling what the doctors had to do to fix things.
“They had to replace four valves, four by-passes and they put a couple of stents in there and then I had a pacemaker put in,” said Learman, showing were the pacemaker was visible high on his chest near his left shoulder. “So this is the first time I’ve run at all. I haven’t even tried to jog, just walking a little at night. So I ran out of gas completely. I’ll be back next year and will be a lot better, probably.”
Learman earned his silver medal in the high jump by clearing the bar at 3 feet-4 inches on his third and final try. With the bar moved up two more inches, he missed all three attempts while 81-year-old SUNY Cortland alum David Rider cleared that height on his second bid.
Rider, a 1952 Cortland graduate who competed in the high jump and pole vault for the Red Dragons under Coach David Miller, is competing in his 24th Senior Games. He just missed three tries at 3-foot-8 — clipping the bar on the way down on his final attempt.
Now residing in Brantingham Lake in the Adirondacks, where he helps the local high school track and field girls improve their pole vault techniques, Rider had cleared that same 3-8 height recently at the Florida Senior Games.
While Rider moved on to compete in the long jump, Learman had to hustle from the high jump competition to his 100-yard event, stumbled out of the starting blocks and then faded down the stretch.
LEARMAN ONLY DECIDED to try to compete at the Empire State Senior Games a month ago.
“Then I got into the rut of being lazy and doing quiet stuff. I did some work around the house, I just didn’t do any running,” he said. “I was afraid. About three years ago I was here in the 100 and pulled a hamstring about 20-feet out. It really hurt and I just fell down, so I was a little worried there.”
But outside of his wobbly 100m start — “My balance is just terrible,” he said — and tiring down the stretch to finish in the back of his heat, only Learman’s pride was hurt on this day. “It’s great being here and it’s nice doing something, I’m just sorry I wasn’t a competitor here today,” is how he summed up his performance.
Not everyone cruised through the 100-meters like 56-year-old John Brooks from Poughkeepsie, whose 12.57 time was the fastest of the day.
“I wished it was a little faster, but this track is not a sprinter’s track. It’s a distance runner’s track. It’s too soft,” said Brooks of his time, being a native of Barbados who ran track in college at Long Island University and has a lifetime best of 10.4 seconds.
The Senior Games were just a part of a busy summer for this sprinter who once represented Barbados at the World Games. Brooks will be at the Rhode Island Senior Games on Sunday, has another meet the Adirondacks on his schedule and will be at the Nutmeg Games in August. These are all tune-ups for the World Senior Games being held in Utah in October.
Not everyone at the track and field competition was 96, either, which is the age of runner Edwin Koch. The New York City native, but not the former NYC mayor, proclaimed to be from “the Hamlet of Wallkill in the County of Ulster.”
Koch has been a Senior Games regular since the 1980s, and has loved running ever since being a kid in the Bronx who “use to run over near Yankee Stadium against the black kids who would come over from Harlem.” He’s not about to slow down.
“I’m happy I can still run. I eat right and I get enough rest. And I run every day. Every day I run at least a little bit,” said Koch, who craves the Senior Games experience. “I like the people here. I see the same people here and they’re all my friends. I like the people.”
SO DOES HOMER’S Elsie Adams, who was a frustrated spectator at the track and field competition that has always been her dearest passion.
A recent stroke has sidelined Adams from competing, though she was on hand to cheer on old friends while itching for the chance to compete again. “I’ll get myself together. I’m 89 now and I’ll do the best I can,” she said.
Wearing a t-shirt from when she competed in the National Senior Games in San Antonio in the mid-1990s, Adams could not stay away from this event even though she was physically unable to compete, even though she admits her memory sometimes doesn’t always enable her to remember familiar faces at first glance.
“I always say take anything away from me, but don’t take the games. How could I not possibly be here?” she said while watching Friday’s competitors. “I’ve got myself now where I would say I’m 30 percent better, and soon it will be 40 percent better and then next I will be fine.”
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