December 02, 2023 5 min read 8 Comments
By Ray Glier
Patti Baker, 72, spins in the hammer circle four times before she lets go of the 6.61-pound weight. If you are over 70 years old, or over 50 for that matter, go in your backyard and spin quickly four times. Make sure you have a soft place to fall down.
Baker is just 5-foot-2, but she is very secure mentally and physically in a big-people event because she can spin like a top. Her gyrations generate the momentum to heave the hammer far enough to finish sixth at the World Masters Athletics Games in Poland last spring.
In 2019, in the Women’s 65-69 age cohort, before shoulder inflammation caught up to her, Baker ranked first in the U.S. in the hammer. In 2022, she ranked third.
Check out her profile here at www.mastersrankings.com.
Here is why Geezer Jocks should be partial to Patti:
She can spin in circles because she can dance.
Dancing is the most athletic thing you can do without a ball in your hand, or on your foot. Baker is a musical maestro in dance, ballet, and choreography. Her feet and balance mean everything to her in athletics where she also throws the javelin and has just started running sprints…
...at 72 years old.
“What dancing does is it gives you total body awareness,” Baker said. “You know where you are in space, and whether you're standing straight, and it is more than thinking about your feet.”
Baker’s feet are under her shoulders, square up, not off balance. It is because of her dancing skill that she can maneuver her body in the confines of the ring, and has the coordination to run and throw the javelin, not run, stop, and throw the javelin.
“People say to me, 'How do you not get dizzy in the hammer?',” Baker said. “I never get dizzy in the hammer. Most people will turn two or three times, especially in Masters, and the older ones don't turn at all. They have lost their inner ear cilia.
“If I had enough room, I could turn 10 times. Turning is not an issue with me.”
Patti is so good at dancing and was such an accomplished instructor she has an auditorium named after her at Roseville (Ca.) High School. It is called the Patti Baker Performing Arts Theatre.
In 1993 she was named a Disney American Teacher of the Year. Some of her best work, she said, was working with the boys who were athletes. Soccer and basketball coaches would send the kids to Baker to improve their agility, among other things. Football players also joined in.
In a few weeks Baker will be 73, but she is still being called back to teach dance and share her gifts.
And she does more than teach. Last year she performed in a musical, Shrek. The year before that, at 71, Patti did another musical, The Drowsy Chaperone.
Geezer Jocks cannot rush out to take dance lessons and punch a ticket to the medal stand because dance studios got left behind in the Boomer era. Baker, who lives in Auburn, Ca., says if you are not in a major metropolitan area it can be hard to find a dance studio and an instructor to help with your steps.
Patti urges athletes to go to their local recreation department and sign up for whatever it has available, be it Latin or Waltz. Nudge yourself out on the floor and just watch your feet and athletic performance improve, she says.
“It’s going to help your quick twitch muscles,” Baker said.
Here is another benefit to dance. And it’s big.
“When you're doing dance, you have to memorize patterns,” Patti said. “Older people tend to work crossword puzzles and those kinds of things to improve their memory.
“In dance, you are mentally focusing on remembering the dance steps that you're doing next. At the same time, you are physically moving. So your mental memory is becoming your muscle memory at the same time.”
Specifically, Baker says the ballet has been big for her. She has avoided common leg injuries—the Achilles ruptures, hamstring pulls, knee ligament tears, etc.—because of all the stretching she learned in ballet.
"You know, that's just flexibility,” Patti said. “Older athletes that get hurt probably don't spend enough time warming up or stretching, or they just naturally don't have that kind of flexibility.
"So I think for Masters in particular, any kind of dancing that involves ballet requires a lot of stretching in class. They spend a lot of time on that.”
Baker is a member of the Sierra Gold track club in northern California and the coaches bow to the competitive nature of their athletes, who want to get out there and show their stuff and have fun. Patti has thrown the hammer in 13 competitions in 2023. That’s a lot for a 72-year old, but this team is not delicate. They are zealots within reason.
Patti also throws the javelin with long-time coach, Mike Collins. It is quite a crew of throwers and they have drills to sharpen their skills. Some would say the drills, such as the witches broom toss, look theatrical, which fits Patti's style just fine.
They work. Look at Baker’s marks in the javelin in 2023 and she never goes backward in distance in each competitive meet. She has been a Masters track & field athlete just since she turned 67 and Patti has done well with polishing her technique each year.
What her dance and footwork make possible is longevity. Bakers wants to be throwing the hammer another 20 years, which would put her at 93, about the age her mother stopped playing 18 holes of golf.
That sounds ambitious for others, not for a woman who left her Californian home to play college basketball in North Dakota. In the era before Title IX there was little varsity basketball in college for females, so the audacious Baker accepted the offer from Mayville State.
Patti's ambition has now stretched to the sprints. The U.S. team needed her to run a leg of the 4x200 in Poland. She did it and now she is entering the sprint events for the first time in her Masters career.
When you are good on your feet, some things just seem less daunting. It is a lesson for all of us. Go dance.
Please support Geezer Jock®. Buy someone a Geezer Jock hat or shirt for a gift, or make a contribution. Thank you for reading.
Patti and her feet in the hammer cage.
Patti (far left) in The Drowsy Chaperone.
Patti heaving the javelin for her Sierra Gold track team.
Comments will be approved before showing up.
March 01, 2024 4 min readRead More
March 01, 2024 1 min readRead More