Sam Carchidi | Senior runners refuse to be denied

Posted: April 28, 2007

April showers might bring May flowers, but they also contribute to lousy times at the long-blooming Penn Relays.

The rain, combined with yesterday's unseasonably cool temperatures, made it difficult for runners to loosen their muscles, and made it difficult to get into a rhythm.

Dick Camp didn't notice.

Neither did his teammates who ran in an impressive 4x100-meter relay.

When you pay your own airfare to get to Penn, when you train all year to be part of the world's largest annual track meet, you aren't going to let a little bad weather get in your way.

Oh, did we mention that Camp and his three teammates are each 70 years old?

"We're trying to beat the battle of mortality," said the silver-haired Camp, a clergyman from Freeport, Maine, who ran the third leg in yesterday's 60-and-over masters event. "You do that by staying in shape. We see guys 75 and 80 who are running, and they make us feel young."

Camp and his pals - Wayne Bennett from Arlington, Texas, Larry Colbert from Landover, Md., and Rich Rizzo from Long Island, N.Y. - combined to finish fourth in the masters 60-and-over 4x100 relay in 55.53 seconds. But they had the best time of any relay group whose members were 70 and over, and they fell less than one second shy of the American record (54.69 seconds) for their age group.

"We would have had the record if our regular anchor was here," said Bennett, who later won the masters 70-and-over 100 in 13.98 seconds. The missing anchor was Bob Lida, who was nursing an injured knee and was replaced by Rizzo, an alternate. "We'll go for it in the nationals in Maine in August," Bennett said.

The masters competition was held in 40-and-over, 50-and-over and 60-and-over relay events yesterday, along with sections ranging from 40-and-over to 70-and-over in 100-meter dashes. The competitors were a collection of varied athletes. Some were former Olympic winners. Some were ex-high school and college performers. Some were late bloomers who fell in love with running about the time they received their AARP cards.

All are addicted to the sights and sounds of Penn.

"It's exhilarating," Camp said.

The Franklin Field fans stood and whistled as the gray-hairs - and, in some cases, no-hairs - crossed the finish line.

"The crowd and atmosphere here is what makes it," said Alby Williams, 67, an Australian native now living in Bethesda, Md., who ran the opening leg in the winning 60-and-over 4x100 team that was clocked in 51.07. He also won the 65-and-over 100 dash in 13.40. "When you hear them, it's a fantastic feeling."

While some train to run on Penn's big stage, others do it for more elementary reasons.

"I do it because of the camaraderie and because it helps me stay in shape," said Tony Fulton, a 48-year-old Philadelphian who ran the third leg on the 40-and-over group that won the 4x100 in 44.24.

"I've been running my whole life," said Ira Davis, 70, a former La Salle star who was an Olympian in 1956, 1960 and 1964 and a Penn Relays college triple-jump winner in 1958, "and I don't want to stop."

Robert Koontz, a 63-year-old mortgage broker from Washington, won his age-group 100 in 12.88 and was part of the winning 60-and-over relay team that included three men whom he has befriended after facing them in various meets over the years. He dismissed the effect that yesterday's poor weather had on the times.

"We're in our 60s, so we've been running for 50 or 55 years," he said, "and we've seen all kinds of weather. Weather doesn't matter. If the [opponents] ran in the sun and we ran in the rain, then it would matter, but we all use the same ball, if you know what I mean."

It means they don't make excuses and that, down the road, one of these groups just might shatter the American 4x100 record for 80-to-89-year-olds: 77.37 seconds.

Hey, striving for a U.S. record sure beats trying to make it in time for the Early Bird Special at your local diner, if you know what I mean.


Post a question or a comment for Sam Carchidi at http://go.philly.com/asksam. He can also be reached at 215-854-5181 or scarchidi@phillynews.com.

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