December 24, 2022 4 min read 2 Comments
By Ray Glier
Robert Fowler does not rethink his competitiveness now that he is 74 years old. He has the same zeal as the 18-year old Robert Fowler, who was the anchor leg on three relay teams that won high school state titles in Georgia in the mid-1960s. Go fast. Don’t sweat what it looks like. It’s ok to be pals with earnest and sit next to ambition.
“I was on the treadmill training last year and I was going pretty hard,” Fowler said. “And there's a woman on an elliptical behind me. When I finished she said ‘Is that really worth it?’
She clearly saw his deep breaths for air as extravagant. Fowler just looked at her and said, “Yes, it’s really worth it.”
It’s really worth it when you consider this man, going on 75, survived a bout with Covid this fall. It landed him in the ER, and yet he still maintained his drive and stamina to take a gold medal in the 5K at the Florida State Senior Games on Dec. 10.
More and more there are stories of older athletes, and the rest of us, who lose their cardio fitness after Covid and they find it too taxing to get it back. They quit exercising, or downshift into melancholy. It's really hard to come back.
Fowler’s inborn competitiveness—as well as his foundation of good health—got him through Covid where others faltered and surrendered.
“I woke up at 2:30 one morning and couldn’t breathe,” he said. “It's been a been a struggle for me. Everybody always told me that ‘you're so healthy, you don't have to worry about COVID’, but that's not true. I got sick.”
Two weeks ago in Wesley Chapel, Fla., there was a thin field of competitors in the walking events, even though this was Florida and it was 75 degrees. Fewer competitors was a clear by-product of Covid, said Michael Devaney, another racewalker.
The Covid epidemic is revving up again. It could be the inside cold-weather months of people at close quarters and it could be that only 36 percent of people over 65 have received the latest booster, according to Centers for Disease Control here in Atlanta.
Debbie Toth, the the chief executive of the California nonprofit Choice in Aging, told Geezer Jock it took her eight weeks to get her energy back after Covid. She's 52.
Robert Fowler made it back in eight weeks and went 36:05 in the 5K. He was ok with the mark because he wasn’t sure at the start if the racing might leave him dizzy and he could not finish. After all, Fowler became ill the first week of October and went two months without a race and with no training. He had symptoms enough to end up in the ER for meds.
The lack of training and a cruise, which is where he might have caught Covid, meant his weight ballooned to 174 pounds. That’s about 10 pounds over his optimum weight.
“What scared me about COVID was the impact it could have had on my lungs,” he said. “I always felt my lungs would be the worst thing to lose because lung capacity is so important in racing.”
Fowler seems recovered now and he has circled on his calendar July, 2023, in Pittsburgh. He will be 75, and on the young-end of the 75-79 cohort, so he wants to finally medal in the National Senior Games. He has finished fourth twice in NSG (Birmingham, Ft. Lauderdale) in a very competitive sport.
Fowler won a silver at the USA Track & Field Nationals in Lexington last July.
“The competition always keeps you motivated,” Fowler said. “You know, it's funny, because you talk to people, seniors, and some people think competition is a bad word and say ‘’Oh, I just like to have fun. I'm not interested in competition anymore’.
“You hear all those things, but me, I love the competition.”
The thirst for competition extends to his wife, Mary Ann. There are 420 Bocce Ball competitors in 22 leagues in their over-55 community north of Atlanta. The Fowlers have won the championship three straight years.
I’ve always wondered about these racewalkers.
Racewalkers can be unsparing. Their walk is not a Thoreau-kind of walk. You don’t take in the view on their kind of walk. You don’t hear the chirping of birds, wave at pals, or worry about stepping on cracks that might break your mother’s back.
You concentrate on form, 100 percent, which allows you to go fast. If you are off form you can go slow and you risk being flagged by a race marshall for illegal mechanics. There is no dynamism allowed in racewalking. You stick to the form.
“Form is everything,” Fowler said. “Some people say ‘don't you get bored?’ No. Your mind is like a computer. You're checking your vision. Are you looking forward? You're checking your arm swing. Is it in the right angle? Is it too long, or too short?
“You’re checking your hip action. Are your hips swinging? Are you hitting on your heel and pushing back. Your power comes in racewalking from pushing off the back. If you can get the right form and keep it the whole race, that’s optimum. And you learn all about reverse splits. Your pace is important.”
The good racewalkers keep their pace in their heads, they don’t use a Garmin. Fowler is like that.
He didn’t start racewalking until 2014 and now he is enthralled by the sport and among a national cadre of racewalkers. Robert has a trophy case full of medals in his home. It fills a wall, actually.
He is, after all, a competitor. Fowler doesn’t have to look backward 56 years to feel that competitiveness.
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