October 12, 2023 4 min read 12 Comments
Photo by Rob Jerome.
By Ray Glier
Jim Schoffman, a national champion in the 800 meters in 2013 and part of an indoor world record 4X400 relay team in 2019, finished last among 11 runners in the 100 meters dash in the 2023 USATF Masters Outdoors Championships in Greensboro, N.C., in July.
Jim was last among nine runners over 200 meters in the same meet.
This is the lemonade a skilled Masters runner has squeezed out of lemons. Last and last.
The USATF meet was the definition of success because Jim, 70, got home from Greensboro and started the bi-weekly trek with his wife Nancy from their home north of Minneapolis to his cancer clinic in Skokie, Ill., north of Chicago. Leave on Sunday, home on Wednesday, 820 miles round trip. They have made this trek for three months.
So, you see, Last is not hard considering the alternative. Schoffman has the radiance to tolerate Last.
“I checked my ego a long time ago,” Jim said. “I’m still part of the action. I can feel the difference between being a spectator and participant. People are glad you are there to watch, but it’s not the same as being part of the action.
“You have to have goals. My goal is to be part of the action.”
What good would it do for Schoffman to drive six hours for cancer treatments and not put his earnestness for life to solid use by being part of the action? There is a parable somewhere that starts with, “A man does not dig a hole merely to stand in it…”
Jim is not digging a hole just to stand in it.
Schoffman’s purpose is to run track, which he has accomplished in the seven years he has been fighting with colon cancer. That’s a big solid, a big purpose, if you ask me.
We’ll talk about his running in a moment, but what is vital to Geezer Jocks everywhere is Schoffman’s handling of the despair that comes with living with disease. Running helps. Moms help.
“I have to say I haven’t had many moments of despair, especially recently,” Jim said. “If I do, they are fleeting. In those moments I think of my mom who was an optimist.
“Growing up, I remember her saying ‘Stop feeling sorry for yourself and get moving’. I live for today and plan for tomorrow.”
Jim likes to tell people he buys green bananas, which is another way of saying he doesn't plan to finish last forever. He trains and he has plans to move up from Worst to First. He doesn’t want to look at other people’s backs much longer.
He didn’t exactly say so, but you have to figure one of Jim’s goals is to reprise his role in the 65-69 4X400 at the 2019 USATF Indoors Masters Championships in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Jim led off the relay and the team of George Haywood, Ed Summerville, Tucker Taft and Jim set a world record that still stands. Schoffman was racing three days after a chemo treatment.
Jim has, by all measure, fulfilled his goal of why he joined the Masters track circuit 17 years ago.
He grew up in Avon, Minnesota, a sprinter with promise who ran 100 yards in 10.0 seconds as a 16-year old. But the long winters made for a short track season and Schoffman never felt he stretched to his potential as a schoolboy star.
When Jim jumped into Masters track it was “to see how good I could be with some training.”
Pretty good, it turns out.
Schoffman has been ranked as high as No. 2 in the U.S. in the 400 and 800. He won gold in the 800 at the 2013 National Senior Games in Cleveland, finished fourth in the 400 at the World Masters Athletics meet in 2011 where he also anchored a 4x400 gold medal relay team.
Three days after cancer treatments ended where blood transfusions obliterated his hemoglobin in 2019, Schoffman finished third in the 800 at the USATF Masters Outdoors Championships in Ames, Iowa.
This was the same outdoor season where Jim led off a M60-64 4x400 relay team that won at the Penn Relays. There were still 15,000 or so fans in the stand and they roared as the gray-haired men blazed around the track. Jim was 65 and racing against younger men just three days after cancer treatment. It was breath-taking, he said. He calls it his "Olympic moment"
Jim competes on the more rigorous USATF circuit where his silvers and bronze medals have stacked higher than gold because, among other talents, he raced former NFL star Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, sprint superstar Bill Collins, and the extraordinary middle distance man Nolan Shaheed.
All those medals are not as impressive as what took place in Greensboro 12 weeks ago.
Jim ran a leg of a 4x100 relay with Karl Ross, Alan Heldman, and Chris McConnell. There were only three relay teams in the event so Mass Velocity was able to snag bronze. Jim cherished that bronze. Third is really good when you consider what was in store for Schoffman when he got home, the six-hour treks to the clinic.
Wrap your arms around this story because one of the reasons Masters track does not grow faster is because of ego and athletes giving up the chase. Many athletes after 60 decide they do not want to train hard and want to instead travel without multiple pairs of track shoes in their bags, and I get that. Some men and women drop out because they cannot bear to be off the pedestal. Some drop out because they are sick.
Still others, like Jim, are off the pedestal and sick and still out there racing. Last is ok, for now, when you are in his shoes. Last doesn't have to last.
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