May 31, 2023 5 min read 3 Comments
Photo: That's Marty with two different tributes. One is to his fitness with six medals at the Iowa Senior Games. The other is to his outlook: peace.
By Ray Glier
Marty Zanger was always young for the task at hand. He was four when he started kindergarten, he said, “because I think my parents wanted me out of the house.” Zanger was 17 when he started college and just 24 when he was handed the prodigious task of sorting through the voluminous works of author Upton Sinclair, the muckraking, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.
Marty was just 57 when he retired after 34 years of university teaching at the University of Wisconsin (Madison, La Crosse), the University of Wales, and Chulalongkorn University in Thailand.
He’s 81 now and still at odds with his age. Zanger still has plenty of zest.
Marty is 6-foot-6 and he has good footwork around the basket. Naturally, he was recruited for a basketball team for The National Senior Games in Pittsburgh (July 7-18). Marty’s over 80 and his favorite shot is still at the elbow of the foul lane, 15 feet from the hoop, not the dinks under the basket.
Zanger competes in state games in Iowa, the Dakotas, and Minnesota and has won 59 gold medals, along with silver medals over the years, in discus, shot put, basketball, and the extra-fun competitions you see at state games like football accuracy throw and free throw shooting.
He’s still got game…at 81, which is a tall task for somebody two meters tall and the extra exposure to limbs.
Zanger has had an injured right elbow so his throws in the discus and shot put the last two years were not national standard, like his basketball. Still, Marty gets out there and he won gold in the shot and discus in the highly-competitive Iowa Senior Games in 2022. Outdoor season is revving up and Marty will be present.
And to be throwing the discus and shot in your 80s should be impressive enough to the rest of us.
“I think it is fortuitus luck that I’m still in good shape,” he said. “I go to the gym three or four times a week and I have never eaten in a franchise restaurant.”
Is it luck and staying away from Big Macs? Could it also be a biology of good will and exploration that fed Marty’s mind, which fed his body, and his fitness all the way to 81?
I have always wondered about that with you Geezer Jocks and the many of you who give back in your communities. This study talks about it. You should look it over.
And Marty talks about it:
“I certainly agree that developing empathetic feelings about the less fortunate and downtrodden can noticeably affect one's general mental health. I would always caution, however, about one's motivation, and try to avoid a patronizing attitude. We should strive to do good things for their positive results and our personal satisfaction rather than for accolades and notoriety.”
I think you should read some more about Marty’s compassion here. It might stir you, and me, to do a self-assessment.
Upton Sinclair’s papers weighed five to six tons and he was said to have had the largest collection of papers by any American author. The man saved every scrap of paper, including car repair bills, and they ended up being shipped from California to Indiana University where Zanger was a graduate student.
He was told this was his project, to go through the papers. Of course the most important part of the papers were the notes and interviews that turned into “The Jungle”, which was published in 1906 and illuminated the working conditions in the meatpacking houses of Chicago.
How does the study over five years of the work of an investigative journalist into the human condition not spark some empathy?
“I believe a couple of years immersed in Sinclair's writings affected my thinking by an osmotic process even though I tried to be an objective historian,” Zanger said.
He marched in Bloomington for Civil Rights, and was a big target for the racists who pelted marchers with watermelons. Marty did even more good in his own neighborhood.
Zanger was a professor in Wisconsin when he teamed up with another professor to drive a van full of college students over to a Native American community. Each paired up with a single student, junior high or high school, and worked on academics.
The Native American boys were stubborn about being taught. When Zanger, who grew up in basketball-mad Indiana, and some other students dominated the Native American boys in basketball, they earned the boys' respect and they drifted into the tutoring sessions.
The project lasted 12 years! There was no pay and no college credit given.
It sparked an interest in the history of these tribes for Zanger.
“A lot of times they didn't have a whole lot of knowledge of their own history of the tribe itself, or its relations with non-Indians,” Zanger said.
Marty applied for a postdoctoral leave to go “retool” in Native American history. He went to the Newberry Library in Chicago and spent a year there with the largest collection of printed material on Indians in the world. It is bigger than the printed collection in the Smithsonian.
Zanger understood how a fiercely independent people were made to be dependent on the government. He discovered that Native American religious leaders resisted the missionaries who came to “convert the Indians.”
How does uplifting work like this not invade your spirit and affect your body? I didn’t walk fast to this conclusion. I’ve seen it. Many of us volunteer and give back in the community and you bet it has an impact on your health.
Back to Zanger, the Geezer Jock.
Marty has candor and he admits he researches state game results to see how he will stand up against others in his age group. He has an ego, like most of the rest of us.
“I don’t want to make a complete ass out of myself,” he said.
I get it. Some people don’t want a messy storefront.
“The frame of mind is not so much to compete against others, but you compete against yourself," he said. "And my ego doesn't want me to be humiliated. I don't want to be a standing joke.”
So he doesn’t just show up. He looks at standards others have set and works at it.
“I'd never held a discus, but I've gotten a number of golds in discus over the years because I go practice and see how I measure up in these state games I go to," Marty said.
His first state games in 2023 will be in Iowa, June 7-11. Then he will go to Pittsburgh for basketball and the National Senior Games.
Marty will be upright and spinning around the basketball lane and discus and shot put circle at 81 years old. It is because he has stayed in shape and using the athleticism of good feet he was born with.
I will insist it is also because of a big heart in that big 6-foot-6 body.
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