Track & Field Masters celebrates lifetime fitness at GVSU

I’ve been running since eighth grade. Now, as a master, I love what it does for my health and fitness.   I started running in masters competitions, including my first USA Track & Field Masters Championships, in the 1980s – and now the USATF Masters Outdoor Championships is at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids July 14-17. This running event is like no other – and it’s worth checking it out if you’re in the area this weekend.

What sets the Masters Championships apart?

It’s a win for Michigan.

Bob with medal for 1st in age group at National Press Club 5K

This event comes to Michigan for the first time, attracting 1,108 track & field athletes from 48 states and Canada competing in 2,560 events in 72 disciplines. The roster includes 40 world champions, 100 defending U.S. champions and at least four Olympians. Michigan alone has 104 registered athletes competing in 187 events. Another win for the region - the event is estimated to generate $1.1 million in estimated economic impact.

Athletes of All Levels Welcome

Unlike some running championships, this event doesn’t require athletes to qualify –you’ll see casual runners competing side-by-side with Olympians, all for the love of the sport and fitness. In fact, this year’s event will have four Olympians, including:

  • Paul Osland, Toronto, age 52. Represented Canada in the 1988 Olympics and continues to be a middle distance standout. He competes in 800m and 1500m in Grand Rapids.
  • Howard Lindsay, New York, NY, age 52. Three-time Olympian for Antigua and Barbuda, he ran the 4 x 400 in the 1984 Olympics; the 200, 4 x 100 and 4 x 400 in the 1988 Olympics; and the 4 x 400 in the 1996 Olympics. He competes in 100 hurdles and long jump in Grand Rapids.
  • Ena Guevara Weinstein, Baldwin, Georgia, age 57. Competed in the marathon in the 1984 and 1992 Olympics for Peru. In Grand Rapids, she competes in the 100, 200, 400 and 1500.
  • Karl Smith, Silver Spring, Md., age 56. A collegiate star at the University of Texas who ran 400 hurdles and 4 x 400 relay for Jamaica in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Runners of All Ages (30 and Up)

The Masters is for people 30 years and older, with the two oldest runners in the 2016 event at 99 years old, including Kalamazoo resident Jeanette Baas in the 100 meter event. Jeanette is not only a marvel on the track, but in her life experiences, serving in the US Army WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) during World War II. Her competing almost-centenarian is Rev. Champion Goldy of Haddonfield, New Jersey, who joins her in the 100-meter dash plus competes in the shot put, discus, javelin and weight throw.

 Jeanette Baas, 99, from Kalamazoo

Local, National and International Standouts

Finally, you never know who you’ll see at this event. Beyond everyday runners and Olympians, there are local, national and international standouts. Michigan is well represented with more than 100 athletes, including nine in the Grand Rapids area. Some locals to watch in addition to Baas:

  • Kelly Lycan: Lawton, age 57 – Head women's track coach at Western Michigan University (competing in high jump, triple jump, javelin throw)
  • Howard Booth: Gregory, age 72 – Assistant track coach at Eastern Michigan University (competing in pole vault, long jump, 300h, 80h)
  • Daryl Stallworth: Traverse City, age 45 – Former All-American and school record holder at Saginaw Valley State University (competing in 100m)
  • Pat Garrett: Wyoming, age 35 – School record holder at Grand Valley State University (competing in 200m, 400m)

Consider these national track & field standouts:

  • NFL Star – Henry Ellard, 54, of San Antonio, Texas, played 16 years in the NFL with the Los Angeles Rams, Washington Redskins and New England Patriots. In last year’s Jacksonville Masters, he won the triple jump and finished fifth in the high and third in the long jumps. Look for him this year in the triple and long jumps.
  • Hollywood Sprinter – Damien Leake, 63, of Van Nuys, California, has appeared in movies such as Apocalypse Now and Serpico as well as in TV roles. In the last three years, he has been the American indoor champion in the M60 group. In Grand Rapids, he will compete in the 100 and 200 meters and long jump. 

Because of its proximity to Canada, this year's USATF Masters Nationals is benefiting from an influx of Canadians in addition to Olympian Paul Osland:

  • Earl Fee, Mississauga, Ontario. Age 87. Holding the outdoor world record in four age groups, he’ll compete in the 200, 400 and 800m, 200 hurdles and high jump.
  • Karla Del Grande, Toronto, Ontario. Age 63. In the W60 group, she holds the world outdoor records in the 100 and 200. Indoors, she has world marks for this age group in the 60 dash and the 200. She’ll sprint the 100, 200 and 400.
  • Wendy Alexis, Ottawa, Ontario. Age 61. Taking third in the 100 and 200 at the 2015 world outdoor masters in Lyon, France, she competes in the 100 and 200.
  • Michael Sherar, Toronto, Ontario. Age 52. Sherar finished third in the 800 in last year’s world championships plus won the M45 gold in the 800 and second place in the 400 in the 2009 worlds. Sherar runs the 400 and 800.

As you can see, there are many good reasons to check out the USATF Masters Outdoor Championships in Grand Rapids this weekend. Check the daily schedule and be a spectator (viewing is free!) or volunteer, and come support health and fitness at all levels and ages!

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Bob Weiner
Bob is media chair of the USATF Masters Outdoor Championships, in which he is also competing in three events. Bob is a White House correspondent and radio commentator.