YMCA's Master Track Program 6

Writer and activist Betty Friedan once said, “Aging is not lost youth, but a new stage of opportunity and strength.”

Those of us who have sauntered, crashed or headed clawing and screaming into middle age have come to realize new adventures and transformations await us so we had better get busy living.

One local entity which wholeheartedly embraces aging is the Master’s Track and Field program, sponsored by the Boise Downtown YMCA. Initially from 2007 to 2011 the YMCA owned and operated the Idaho State Senior games.  In an effort to better promote the games, Jack Ward- 20-year volunteer, turned employee and coach, spearheaded the inception of the program, specifically to get mature athletes and non-athletes ready to compete in the senior games. As a member of the Idaho Senior Games entity, Ward knew the YMCA’s involvement would be a crucial catalyst to funnel interest.

Eventually, the board of the Idaho Senior games wanted the event back into their ownership, and with that, the masters track program was continued anyway. Up until now, the program is basically advertised through the YMCA’s site, some social media, and word of mouth. Ward states, “We need to do a better job of marketing the program. We need to make it more public. My goal, on a regular basis, is I would like to have 50 Masters people involved.”

Ward a veteran runner himself and a coach for Victory Charter school in Nampa, says the program is for anyone aged 35 to 85. With 40 to 60 (paid and volunteer) coaches, these mentors have often come up through the program themselves from elite track and field ranks and through college channels. “We get these younger coaches with older athletes and there is often a bond,” states Ward. Depending on scheduling, training locations are often at various local high schools, which tends to attract the attention of youth and adults alike.

It seems the younger generations who often train along with the older athletes become inspired seeing seasoned adults still staying active, vibrant and fun. Pat Fujii at 85 years spry, one of the oldest track and field athletes, originally came through the senior games but often trains during the indoor program, which takes place from October to January. Ward says “I have actually been there when 14-year-olds have walked up to her and said I hope I can still do what you’re doing when I’m your age.”

Joining the YMCA at 68, Fujii was coaxed by other track program members to give it a shot and she hasn’t slowed a step since. “I was never really athletic in my youth” yet her events are standing and running long jump, the 5K jog/walk, and 50, 100, 200 and 400-meter sprints. Even her son David is a member of the program competing in long jump, triple jump, shot put and discus events. As a florist for Hillcrest Floral for the past five years, and a licensed realtor since 1981 and a breast cancer survivor, Fujii is known to be quite humble about the accolades which tend to follow her personally and as an athlete. Fujii has been featured in several local papers, and with her son David were both bestowed the Humana’s Game Changers award for 2015. Clearly, I am a slacker, compared with these two.

Angela Kerber, also another self-proclaimed “non-athletic” type, never ran track in high school, as she considered herself more academic in nature. With a daughter competing in Special Olympics, Kerber thought her daughter’s high jump event looked like something new she should try. Hearing about the Idaho Senior games, and the masters program, through other members and athletes, prompted Kerber to investigate further. Four years later, Kerber’s long and triple jump skills have garnered her a dozen or more gold medals; six of which she earned at this year’s senior games. Not bad for a 50-something mom, who says “I run marathons, and there I am not naturally competitive, but with track and field, I am.”

As a librarian by day at Boise’s Monroe Elementary and track star by night Kerber beams “If not for the masters track program, I would not be competing. My jumping has greatly improved because of the coaching.” Kerber emphatically attempts to recruit anyone she knows into getting involved. This is how us “old-schoolers” do Facebook…actually talking with another face to face, in the same room. Crazy.

Though anyone who decides to compete in any sanctioned event has to join the U.S. Track and Field Association, the YMCA offers discounts to its track and field participants. Personally, I started training myself with the program over 4 years ago and stopped due to Achilles tendonitis and a knee surgery a year later. The organization was great then as it is now, and I plan on going back, but in the meantime writing about Ward, Fujii, and Kerber, tell me it’s never too late to start, go back or finish.

When asking Kerber and Fujii if they have any words of wisdom for those who think it is too late, here is what they say:

“Start slowly and build up. Take exercise classes, and you will make lots of friends” say Fujii.

“If you can’t run you can throw, jump, or race walk. There are events for everyone. You don’t know if you’re good at something unless you try” proclaims Kerber.

No better words were spoken, and now I’m getting my walking/running shoes on…