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He Refuses To Play With A Handicap

June 04, 2022 4 min read

He Refuses To Play With A Handicap

It's going to be a parking panic at the Pasadena Senior Games today at Occidental College. Don Leis will arrive at 6:30 a.m. to make sure he can snatch a parking spot.

Wait. He's 90 years old. Don should have just waltzed into the local department of motor vehicles office and received a handicap tag, or something to hang from his rear view mirror.

Don was silent over the phone when I suggested (jokingly) he should have petitioned weeks ago for a handicap plate.

"I won't do that," he said.

One, he likes the exercise. Two, he appreciates how undue it would look for a man to beg for a handicap spot and then go into a track stadium and compete in eight events.

That's right. 8.

Leis, who turned 90 on May 1, will compete in the 50,100, 200, high jump, long jump, triple jump, 400, and shot put. All in one day.

“Maybe the 400,” Leis said. “I’ll try. It’s a tough race.”

It’s a tough race for somebody 70, let alone 90, but this has been a screwy track season for Leis and he is trying to make up for lost time. A scheduling mix-up caused him to miss the National Senior Games in May. He will not go to the USATF Masters National Championships in July in Lexington, Ky., because of the threat of Covid on airplanes.

So he is going to squeeze in as much fun as he can in Pasadena. Leis will be one of the oldest competitors, but he thinks he’ll have some competition in just about every event.

“I really like the high jump,” he said, “and the long jump. The triple jump is getting a little difficult. We’ll see what happens. I want to do all of them, but that’s a long day. I start with the 50, then do the long jump, and then alternate back and forth between the field events and the track.”

Leis could probably get a handicap spot. His doctors will attest that his spine is twisted. Don was a left-handed boxer as a young man. He threw so many southpaw punches with fury that it screwed up his posture.

“I guess I could get one,” Don said.

My guess is he would be too embarrassed to try.

Roald Bradstock, the Olympic spear chucker (javelin) and artist, sat on a panel with Olympic athletes and they discussed the power of negativity, but not how it is a weakness, but a strength.

"They should not be afraid of it, they should recognize it, embrace it, and use it as fuel to fight, to push themselves harder to succeed," Bradstock writes in a blog post for SportsEd TV.  

Here is the post. You can also see Bradstock's handiwork as an artist in his competition attire. The man is a gifted human, what with the art work and his javelin throws. Bradstock, who competed in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics, was  59½ last December when he threw the spear 52 meters. 

Here is my two cents.

I'm glad some athletes finally owned up to it. They get fuel from being put down, even though they raise heck with sportswriters, like me, for “negative stories”. It motivates the competitor to "show them" whoever “them” is that they are wrong. Them are the writers, fans, teammates, coaches, parents.

I wonder how useful this self-talk "Them vs. Me" is for older athletes? Do we really need somebody else to push us?

Maybe. Ageism around the world can be a great motivator. 

As a sportswriter, I am accustomed to being used as the crutch an athlete leans on for motivation. Coaches would complain to me about "negative" stories and then use what they thought was a negative story to pump up their team during the week.


The state of Florida made it clear that it will not tolerate vaccine mandates when it threatened the Special Olympics with a huge fine if it required vaccines for participants. That is likely one reason the National Senior Games had no mandate in Ft. Lauderdale and the USATF is not likely to have a vax mandate in Kentucky for the Masters meet, July 28.

Is it safe to be at these big events? They are outdoors, after all.

I had several athletes tell me that a number of people came down with Covid after attending the USATF Indoors in New York. Prominent competitors said there was no requirement to wear a mask inside the Armory and the virus hit some people.

But...that was indoors.

I have a feeling that for the rest of 2022, as Covid revs back up, attendance at events will decline as people hesitate to get on airplanes because of the virus and high ticket prices. 

Leis, 90, of Pasadena, told me he will skip the USATF Nationals because of the virus threat on a long plane ride.


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