Monday, June 10, 2013

Nova Class of '64 Trackster Still Chasing Records at Age 71

Frank Condon, who went 2:18 over 800 meters at the age of 68, running the 1600 last week

Frank Condon, 71, still outracing time


For a moment there in 2006, Frank Condon forgot who he was, what he represented, what he was trying to teach. And in the process he humiliated himself.

At the National Senior Games Championship in Boise, Idaho, Condon, then 64, approached Frank Levine, 82. Levine had just competed in the 80-and-over mile. In the course of telling Levine how he remembered him in 1964 when they both were on the track at Villanova University, Condon asked a simple question he regretted.

“So how did you get here?” Condon asked. He was acknowledging age bias. After all, when purchasing alcohol, Levine hadn't been asked to show his I.D. in over a half century.

“Well,” began Levine, a retired tax attorney, “I woke up yesterday morning in Philadelphia and got out of my bed, went to my shower, cleaned myself, put on my clothes, drove my car to the airport, got on my airplane, rented my car in Boise and checked in to my hotel room.

“How da hell did you get here?” Levine said tersely to Condon.

Condon turned 30 shades of hot pink and painfully got the message: “He didn't want me treating him like an old man. I was so embarrassed.”

Embarrassed because he not only knew better, Condon had felt and still feels to this day the sting of a dismissive glance at his white hair. As if somehow that color immediately exposes him as ancient history, a story already told, a life already lived.

Oh, how such a stereotype would be destroyed if a simple question was asked.

“Frank, are you active?”

Condon, who competed in the Sonoma Wine Country Senior Games this past weekend, would control an impulse to scream ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Condon holds three age-group world track records, a 5:11.44 for the indoor mile in the 65-69 bracket, a 2:17 in the 800 meters for the same age group, and the fastest time ever run by a 68-year-old in the 800 meters, 2:18.

Now 71, Condon has the American record for the 65-69 bracket with a 5:12.3 outdoor mile.

Condon has been a national senior champion 15 times in various events and age groups.

In other words Condon is no lumpy bag of marshmallows sitting on the sofa. He ain't no cupcake waiting for some more icing. He ain't a scoop of Haagen-Dazs wanting the hot fudge.

“The older you get,” said his wife, Jan, 72, who was the national 65-69 champion in the indoor 400 meters in 2006, “you care less what people think of you. You get braver.”

Condon still proud of his Villanova days
Appearances, like wrinkles or more hair growing out of your ears than on top of your head, become less important. Condon was a scholarship athlete at Villanova, ran a 1:47.5 800 there and may be more inclined than some other card-carrying AARP members to get out there and burn it. While the desire to run might flame hotter for Condon than others, the desire to live is universal, or it should be.

And technology — as odd as this may read — is helping to make it easier. It helps for one simple reason: It removes the isolation of working out with no one around, with no high school or university friends or teammates on the field or in the stands.

“Sometimes we are the only ones (of their age) on the track,” said Frank Condon, a realtor in Chico. “We look like we must be crazy.”

Out of sight from disbelieving, younger eyes is a network behind them, watching them, encouraging them.

“Thank God for the internet!” said Jan Condon, 72, a semi-retired occupational therapist. “The internet may save us or it may destroy us. In this case social media has helped us. You don't feel alone, not at all.”

The first National Senior Games were held in St. Louis in 1987 and the concept has taken root so well that now in the summer there are a Senior Games every weekend somewhere in America. The Sonoma Games, for example, were switched to a week earlier so as not to conflict with another Senior Games in Pasadena.

“You don't feel intimidated when you are competing against people your own age,” Jan Condon said. “There's a freedom out there.”

The freedom to compete without feeling responsible for carrying a team, be it club, high school or college. It's not like you can't show your face at prom if you stink up a senior race. None of those adolescent whispers and finger-points exist. Maturity does have its advantages. One of them is the ability to shrug off insults.

Three years ago Frank Condon was running a 5K at an all-comers meet in Chico. About two and half miles into it Condon found himself next to three guys he guessed to be in their early 20s.

“They looked at my white hair,” Condon said, “and picked up the pace. I caught them. They picked up the pace again. I caught them again. They picked up the pace one more time. We were 600 yards from the finish. This time I said to myself, 'I'm going to put some serious pain on them.' I ran away with it.

“They came up to me afterwards and asked me how old I was. I told them I was 68. They said no way. Then they asked who I was. I told them. Then one of the guys said, 'Wow, he's the old running legend we've heard about.'”

There was emphasis, Condon said, on the word “old.” Did it bother him? Nope. Instead, Condon focused on another word — “legend” — and smiled. You've got to be around for a while to be a legend. When you're in your early 20s, you can't be that fortunate.

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