Not everyone competing in the USATF Masters Track and Field Championships needs a Social Security card. Some haven’t even gotten their AARP membership letter yet. Thanks to a rule change, the races are for young and old alike.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic three years ago, the Masters Track and Field committee agreed to add a 25-29 age group, a move it said was designed to retain post-collegiate non-elite, intramural and recreational athletes.
However, given that everyone competing at the North Carolina A&T track is in such good shape, it’s hard to tell who’s benefited from the rule change and who’s been eligible for more than a few years.
Andrew McFerrin took advantage of the rule change at this week’s championships, running in the relatively new group. McFerrin, 25, from the Detroit area and running unattached, finished fourth in the men’s 100 meters in a time of 11.29 seconds. That was a half-second slower than the winner, Bryce Chou, who’s also 25.
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“It came back this year,” McFerrin said of the desire to become a competitive sprinter again. “I coach, so watching the kids run kind of brought it back. So I just wanted to come out and see what I could do and give it all I had.”
McFerrin also said the meet gave him the chance to do what he couldn’t do in college.
“I think being able to give us a chance, who didn’t get to run in college, to get out while we are still kind of in our prime,” he said. “I think it’s really just amazing and it’s really fulfilling for me to get out here and just run.”
There were other sprinters who are a little bit closer than McFerrin to retirement age, but they were no less competitive. They certainly weren’t slow on a day with temperatures climbing through the 80s.
Jesse Cooper Jr., 36, won the 35-39 age group in the 100 in 11.22. He had no background in track, but has become what he describes as a speed teacher. He’s trying to lead by example, and he’ll have a gold medal to take back to those learning from him.
“Honestly, I was a football player. I started training a lot of track kids, started coaching track, started falling in love for it and now want to lead by example,” Cooper said. “I want to make sure that everything I teach my kids, they take a look at me doing it and say I could do it, too.”
Asked if he planned to continue competing, the former Bloomsburg University defensive back said, “Absolutely.”
At 48, Asriel “Ace” Parker of Tampa, Fla., is a little closer to the 50s-and-up athletes. He was sixth in the 45-49 group with a time of 12:48. He said his motivation involves a higher calling.
“My body is a temple, and I’m supposed to take care of it,” Parker said. “And so I do my best every day, wake up every morning, thank God for another day, read my Word ... and then go and live a blessed life.”
Parker was a wide receiver in high school. He played arena football and semi-pro football as a running back. He’s found his way to competitive running again and finds motivation in just being in the midst of it.
“To me, you can’t forsake the gathering of those that are like-minded because I get inspired by each and every age division,” he said. “I look up and see the 50-year-olds. I say, ‘Man, I want to do that.’ I see the 55, I want to do that. Sixty, 70, 80. Man, it’s just a blessing to grow old.”
FALLING RECORDS: A host of records was set in Thursday’s competition. Unattached runners Jeannie Rice and Nancy Rollins both topped the U.S. mark in the 5,000 meters. Rice won in 22:41.46, with Rollins next at 26:32.39, more than 20 seconds better than the previous record ... The Central Track Park Club’s 55-59 women’s team won the 4x800m in 10:36.35, beating the world record by a second. The TNT International Racing Club’s 75-79 women took almost two minutes off the previous record by turning in a 21:24.50. And the New England 65 Plus Runners took a record in the 85-89 division by running a 24:31.16 ... In the men’s 4x800m relay, the Greater Philadelphia TC’s 65-69 runners clocked an 11:12.2, while the 55-59 group had a 9:46.55.