July 22, 2023 3 min read 5 Comments
Photo credit: Rob Jerome.
By Ray Glier
GREENSBORO, N.C.___He’s an actor on a popular TV series. He’s won gold medals. He’s been a world-class Masters athlete for years.
Still, Damien Leake, 70, felt some profound responsibility to himself on May 23, a "prove it" moment. It didn’t feel like another race as he got into the starting blocks. There was a touch of uneasiness, even for a pro accustomed to a spotlight being wheeled in close.
He was on the UCLA track with thousands of spectators looking down from the stands at historic Drake Stadium. Leake was part of an “exhibition” 100-meter race for Masters athletes as part of an “elite” track & field event, the LA Grand Prix. History’s best shot putter, Ryan Crouser, was at the meet. The effervescent Sha’carri Richardson ran in a 100-meter qualifying race.
“All those people in the stands and I’m lining up going, ‘ok, don’t embarrass yourself’,” Leake said.
It was not embarrassing in any way, shape or form. For the second time in two months, Leake set a world record in the M70-74 age group running 12.59 seconds in the 100.
“I was excited, you look up and see all those people and, you know, it's UCLA, it's kind of a storied field and you have world class athletes in the stands,” Leake said. “They're all over the place and all around you and you don't want to embarrass yourself.
“The adrenaline of that moment helped me.”
Confidence also played a part.
In Louisville, on March 23, at the USATF Indoor Masters Championships he set a world record in the 60-meter dash (7.89). Leake was on a peak, no doubt. Two world records in one year. Wow!
“I was in good condition and after what I did at Louisville I said ‘why not?’ when they asked me to do the LA event.”
Leake is here this week at the USATF Masters Outdoors National Championships only because actors have joined writers in a strike against the gazillionaires running television studios. He adds his own star power to the field because he is ranked No. 1 in the world in the 50 and 100 outdoors and 60 indoors.
Alas, his time in Greensboro was cut short. He pulled a hamstring in the men's 70-74 100 meters on Friday.
The hamstrings were acting up at The National Senior Games last week in Pittsburgh. Still, he won a silver medal in the long jump with a heavily taped left hamstring. Damien also took a gold medal in the 200 by beating world gold medal winner Michael Kish in Pittsburgh.
Leake gets his capacity for success with a red-blooded workout on a hill overlooking the track at Cal State-Northridge. He runs among ten trees early in the year after his “apple pie” season over the holidays. He "suffers" on his first attempts to run the 10 trees 10 times and that’s a good thing, he insists. Many Masters athletes break off workouts when cardio gets too strenuous.
Slowly, the rigorous workouts have meaningful impact.
“That's my yardstick and when I know I'm getting in good shape,” Leake said. “I have to do five or six and not feel like I want to die. If I can do 10 and not feel like I want to die. I know I'm in really good shape.”
Leake coaches youth long jumpers in the Los Angeles area, Leake’s Leapers, and they run the trees also to get fit.
Here is a link to a great feature on Leake in the Times of San Diego.
It’s the lack of zeal to push past the pain threshold that makes older athletes drop out of sports. They feel they are risking a heart attack or other injury, but their bodies have more capacity than they think. It’s a matter of being prudent, Leake said.
“I don't like when people stop doing it, when they retire and they drop out,” Damien said. “You know, as far as I'm concerned. I will do it until my body tells me ‘you can't do this’.”
photo credit: Rob Jerome.
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