Learning from others: Senior Olympians
In Flow State Runner, I share insights and lessons from a select group of runners on why they are motivated to run, how they’ve experienced flow in running, and their lessons learned. One of the most fascinating runners I profiled was 87-year old Senior Olympian Runner, Charlie Baker. In this article, I have the opportunity to share more of his story, interview and photos. He’s a great man, and we can learn much from runners and athletes in his generation.
First, let’s get to know Mr. Baker. At 87, he has earned a collection of medals, many of them Gold, in the National Senior Olympics Games in the United States. He started competing in track and field events in his mid-60s. That’s right, he decided in his mid-60s to take up the sport of sprinting, throwing and jumping! With each conversation that I’m fortunate to have with him, I am utterly amazed at his vitality and enthusiasm for not only lacing up his shoes to run, but to compete.
Speaking with Humility
Mr. Baker enthusiastically shared his story for the book, speaking with a great sense of humility and focus on how his love for running and discovery of it later in life could perhaps inspire others. His huge collection of medals and his commitment to training are astonishing. Mr. Baker’s insights and lessons spanned the practical to the motivational, with nuggets such as, “Do your exercise first, then sit and drink coffee. So many people do it backwards.”
Speaking on his own experiences with flow, he offers, “I have had times when things are right. You will always feel good when things just feel right and you are doing the things you like to do.” His true competitive nature shines through as well, with him sharing, “I do not like to lose in a real race. I always try to win — even in a practice run. Once you feel good about your fitness and form, stay close to the front so that you can pass others when the finish line is in sight.”
Mr. Baker expresses earnestly, “Running has meant a lot to me. It has kept me in good shape and kept my mind on my objective. I love racing. You need to work on it though. There is a certain amount of training which you have to do, but I absolutely love it. Had I not been in the Senior Olympics I probably would have already died.” With this insight, he shares perhaps the most powerful motivator I have ever heard: life.
In his own words, Mr. Baker shares the following with us:
1. When did you start running and why?
I have always enjoyed running but our high school had other sports, but did not have track, so I just ran for fun and played other sports. After graduation from high school, I immediately went into the Navy Air Corps. After getting out of the Navy I went to college and did get to run some track my first two years. Following graduation, I immediately started working for DuPont Chemical Company in Delaware and then in Chattanooga, TN. I essentially gave up track until I retired from DuPont after 42 years! I was 66 years old at that time. Since that time I have continued to pursue track in Senior Olympics and other events.
2. What attracted you to competition?
When I retired and had time to get in shape, I really enjoyed running. Track is a great sport. It is an individual sport, which motivates me very much. I always try to win – even in a practice run. I do not like to lose in a real race!
3. What has running meant in your life?
I love track. You need to work on it to be good. There is a certain amount of training which you have to do. Had I not been in the Senior Olympics I probably would have already died. Running has meant a lot to me. It has kept me in good shape and kept my mind on my objective. If I could only compete in one event, it would be Track and Field, where there are eight or nine events!
Here are key takeaways and lessons for runners from Mr. Baker’s section in Flow State Runner:
- It is never too late to start your journey as a runner. Your running career starts when you decide it starts.
- Flow happens when you spend time doing the things you love to do.
- In Mr. Baker’s words: “When you get into a new sport, get to know people in the sport and slowly build your base fitness and knowledge base. Don’t rush out and buy all the equipment first and don’t try to kill yourself on the first race, as you’ll end up broken both physically and financially!”
- If negativity creeps while training or racing, escape the feeling with thoughts of winning. Just “hang on, keep your stride and just do the best you can. Forget about other competitors.”
In a May 2008 interview, Mr. Baker offered this simple, but valuable insight, “We don’t quit playing because we get old, we get old because we quit playing.”
Let’s honor his wise words as well as our own longevity by continuing to run and play!
Author’s Note: Thank you to Meg Lance for your time and great work interviewing Mr. Baker and Rick Lance for your photography!
— Coach Jeff
Jeff Grant is the author of Flow State Runner: Activate a Powerful Inner Coach’s Voice, Hill Running: Survive & Thrive, Run Faster: Unlock Your Speed in 8 Weeks, Running Heavy, and UltraRunning: Coach’s Handbook. Based in Switzerland, Jeff is a coach and writer who specializes in mental coaching, peak performance, and transformation. Jeff’s popular newsletter is a digest containing inspirational and instructional resources, including his latest content. See recent issues and subscribe for free here. Refer to Jeff’s bio for more information, and please check out Jeff’s Coach & Author page on Facebook.