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A Man Proud Of His Feet

March 30, 2024 5 min read 2 Comments

A Man Proud Of His Feet

Diane and Roger Pierce, partners in life and in track, met at a track meet, of course. Their competitive fire still burns as Roger approaches 80.

By Ray Glier

Since his very first breath in the world, Roger Pierce’s identity has been tied to his feet. His mother’s maiden name was “Proudfoot”.

Almost 80 years later, Pierce has the word “sprinter” as part of his email address.

He’s not willing to give up that personal equation with his feet, not yet and not ever.

This story is about the identity we forge, but it doesn't have to be an identity built through athletics. It can also be an identity built through our jobs, or work in our community, or with our families. What are you beloved for? Keep it close, like Roger.

It has been five years since Pierce, 79, was ranked in the top 5 in the U.S. in the 200 meters and 400 meters races.

It has been eight years since Pierce was ranked No. 1 in the U.S. and No. 2 in the world in the 400.

Injuries and age have been a speed bump recently, but Roger swears they are not a wall that will keep him from racing.

On the verge of turning 80, Pierce sees a comeback as he overcomes injury (spinal stenosis).

“I’m not done yet,” said Roger, who was inducted into the Masters Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2008.

He did not laugh when he said it, as if to mock his age, or as if he had said something preposterous.

“A comeback at 80.”

Age and time are no obstacles. Roger meant what he said.

That is why we have Masters track & field, Masters national swimming meets, senior baseball leagues, and ageless pickleball players, and other sports filled up by Geezer Jocks. Some people will just not surrender their competitiveness, even to the undefeated kingpin of sports called Age, just as others will not easily surrender their community work, or job they love.

Along those lines, Pierce will not stop believing he can run. He has other pursuits in life, but this is one he holds especially tight.

“My whole focus is training for the 2(00) and the 4(00) in the 2025 World Indoors championships in Gainesville, Florida,” Pierce said. “That’s my game plan. I’m going."

In his Masters track career, Roger has won three world championships and finished second three times in the world in the 400.

“I’d be a fool to say I don’t miss being No. 1 in the world, or No. 1 in the U.S.," he said. "It’s a feeling you don’t want to let go.”

Pierce is training with his wife, Diane (W55-59), who also runs the sprints. Naturally, they met at a track and field event.

It was July 29, 2011 at the USATF Masters Outdoors Championships in Berea, Ohio. Diane asked him for advice before a 400. Pierce told her, “You gotta go out fast. Don’t go out slow. It’s harder to catch anybody.”

Diane bolted out at the start, but coming around the final curve, she looked like she had run out of steam.

“She looked over at me, and I didn't even know her that well, and I yell ‘Don’t you dare quit on me’,” Pierce said. He chased his future wife down the track exhorting her. Diane stumbled and fell as she crossed the Finish Line. She won. They were a permanent pair not long after.

One of the reasons Roger is so sure he can run in the 2025 World Masters Athletics championships is Diane's presence. They train together and offer support. Raise your hand if you are facing a challenge and need support?

**

Sprinting has revolved around cornerstone moments in Roger’s life, like meeting Diane.

Here is another of those moments:

In 1968, Pierce came back to the barracks at Ft. Meade, Md., to tell his Army Reserves unit the brass was not sending him to Vietnam with them. He had just run 10.4 seconds in the 100 meters when the world record was 10.0 and the Army wanted to promote his skill. Besides, Roger’s wife was pregnant and the commanding officer said that was another reason Pierce was not going to war with his Boston pals.

“What should I do?”,” Pierce said to other men, as if he had a choice. “It doesn’t seem right.”

The chorus from “my guys” was loud and clear, “What? Are you nuts?”

Pierce stayed home. His unit came home safe after its tour and he was relieved.

Roger’s career in amateur running took off, right?

Not quite. He ran for the Army team at Ft. Hood, Texas, and was part of a national championship relay team, but after Pierce was released from the Army he had no money for school and a family. He worked at a gas station and as a teacher and finally finished his degree at Northeastern (where he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008).

At 30, Roger was divorced and living on a boat and making a living as a singer/songwriter.

But, eventually, his life got centered around sprinting again. Pierce started running Masters track at 39 years old in the Boston area and could feel the juices flowing.

The breakthrough to a world-class level was a race at Dartmouth College when Roger was 45 years old. Without starting blocks, he set a masters world record in the 200 with a time of 23.4 seconds.

That was January, 1990. In March, Roger went to the USTAC National Masters Championships in Madison, Wisc., and won the 400, 200, and set a U.S. record (M45-49) by winning the 60 in 7.40 seconds.

“It gave me confidence and it showed me again what hard work can do,” Pierce said. “I have always been ferocious in workouts.”

His past success in the sport is driving him toward this 2025 comeback. Roger said he has run under his age in the 400 meters 84 times from 55 years old to 75. That is rare…and spectacular.

In his career, Pierce has set 10 World Records and won 13 World Championships in various sprints in Masters track. That goes with 36 U.S. national wins, setting 17 American records, four Canadian national victories, and eight National Senior Games gold medals.

So, yeah, why not keep going with something that has provided so much joy?

More than once at events I have seen athletes in their 40s stand still and stop talking when they glance at the track, or out onto the court, and see somebody who is much older giving effort.

The Geezer Jocks, like Pierce, have lost their pace, but not their place in sport.

When you think about Pierce, think about yourself and keeping your place.

How do you find your peace through movement at an age when you are expected to slow down? Maybe it is walking the dog over trails, or swimming laps at the YMCA, gardening, or shooting the basketball in the backyard trying to make 18 of 20 shots.

Set your pace, find your peace, don't easily surrender your identity. Be like the son of Ms. Proudfoot.

Geezer Jock ® is FREE. Please consider supporting me because there is value in storytelling. I have been telling stories for 48 years for newspapers and magazines and websites worldwide. Buy a hat or tee-shirt for the coming sun. And please share the story.


2 Responses

Richard Galgano
Richard Galgano

April 01, 2024

I’ve had the pleasure of spending some time with Roger and Diane. He’s incredibly caring and generous, as is Diane and is a great mentor and ambassador for track. Many years ago, my children (sophomore in HS and 7th grade) were running track and agreed to do a distance medley at a meet with me as a birthday present. As you can imagine, they were not thrilled. My daughter (800) and her friend (400), hadn’t done an exchange before and were practicing. Roger saw them and after asking permission, showed them the technique and gave them a few race tips. My daughter said this nice man showed her what to do which helped her confidence as they were the youngest people at the meet. I let her know who he’s a legend and HOF member. She watched Roger run and 400 and was stunned by his speed.
I could hear Roger enthusiastically cheering our team on during the distance medley. As far as the race, we finished last overall but first in our “division”. My kids were proud that they were non in last place until “Dad got the baton”. Roger remarked we were first in our category of "unofficial, mixed, multi-generation, family and friends, hereafter known as UMMFF.

Kevin
Kevin

March 31, 2024

I have been lucky enough to call Roger my friend since the early 90’s. He not only is a world class sprinter, but a gentleman as well. Always has a kind word and willing to help his fellow teammates with encouragement and advice.
In my opinion, Roger & Diane are considered track royalty and deserve every accolade bestowed upon them!
Great people!!

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