By Seth Kinker, email@example.com
In late September Dexter Township residents Howard and Lu Booth traveled to Malaga, Spain so Howard could compete in nine days of competition with Team USA in the World Masters Athletics (WMA) Championships.
The World Masters Athletics (WMA) championships are held every two years, for athletes over the age of 35 years.
The World Masters Athletics championships are comprised of track and field events with various age groups. Dating back to 1968, the World Masters Athletics roots come from veteran competitors who were mainly road-runners, who made a group called the IGAL (Interessen-Gemeinschaft Alterer Langstreckenlaufer = Partnership of Older Long Distance Runners). New Zealand had early runner movements and some of those movements made it to the US. In 1965 the USA Master Track and Field team was formed, and international veteran track and field meets followed.
This year, over 8,200 athletes, ranging in age from 35 – 100 years old representing 100 countries attended the WMA Outdoor Track and Field Masters World Championships.
Howard, 75, earned a silver medal and four top 10 finishes during his nine days of competing.
First, he took ninth in the men’s pole vault for the 75-79 age group. Then, two days later he qualified for the 80-meter hurdles and finished fifth in the world for that event. Howard earned a silver medal as a lead off runner on the 4×100 meter relay team for USA, losing only to Germany. Lastly, Howard helped the 4×400 meter relay team to a sixth-place finish as he ran down to race with the 70-74 age group for Team USA.
In eight years, Howard has represented Team USA at five of the last WMA World Championships, winning two gold medals in the pole vault, adding to that collection with the silver medal from Malaga.
Howard, a former high school pole vaulter and collegiate track and field athlete at Eastern Michigan, had been a distance runner for many years before rediscovering track and field events for seniors.
“As distance runner I was competing in the Detroit marathon, the Pike’s Peak Ascent Half Marathon and such,” said Howard. “One of my buddies asked me if I had ever tried the Michigan Senior Olympics. I signed up as a 5k runner, as a bench press competitor, and I thought, ‘Well I wonder about pole vault.’ So, I looked up what 60-year olds were doing in pole vault and I thought, ‘I wonder if I can do that.’ I went out in the back yard, carved a stick out of a fresh maple sapling so it had some swing to it, and made my own vaulting pole. But I took a few jumps and found out yes, I can still get up in the air fairly well and so then I bought a fiberglass pole. I had maybe two months of practice before the Michigan Senior Olympics. That first time out I set an age group record in the pole vault. I decided that gee this is a lot of fun. That’s how I got back into it.”
Howard has competed locally, regionally, and nationally since discovering the Michigan Senior Olympics and the WMA, 14 years ago, nearly four decades after his collegiate career.
For the last ten years, Howard has also been a one of the pole-vaulting coaches for the EMU track team.
“I’d been a professor at Eastern for forever,” said the recently retired Howard, who taught Biology at Eastern and worked 47 years in education. “I had permission to work out, use their facilities as a college employee. After a year of that or so, they kind of invited me to work out with them rather than just use it at other times. Later on, the coach decided I could help out and be a coach.”
After college, competing on the track and field team, Howard began long distance running for the next 40 years. When he discovered the Michigan Senior Olympics and events, he had to train differently for those type of events.
“It was a big transition because I spent decades as a distance runner building the stamina,” said Howard. “I came from a background of sprints and explosive stuff in high school and college, but then switched over to the long endurance training. It was an adventure and I knew it would be an abrupt change. I was really sorry to leave the distance running but I knew I couldn’t do both well, so It was about a year of transition work.”
This year, Howard will not be a pole-vaulting coach on the EMU track and field team. With the position essentially a half time job hour wise, another assistant coach decided to take on more responsibility. But the experience was valuable for both the team and he as an athlete getting back into the game.
“It’s a really interesting experience because I had some wisdom, but they were better pole vaulters. In other words, they were always jumping a lot higher than I would be cause I’m 75 years old! They’re college aged kids, but it was a mutual learning experience,” said Howard. “I was learning from them and giving them advice and discipline and in the head kinds of coaching that you get with maturity. I would video tape every jump, we could stop and look at it with everyone, where could we work on something, doing this different or better so it was a real good synergism and a real open coaching philosophy. They were all sort of experts because you don’t get to D1 college team unless you already know what to do pretty well. We had 5-8 sets of eyes on a vault, not just mine so other people saw things and had suggestions, that was all fine. Working together. I’ll miss that.”
The next WMA Championships take place in 2020 in Toronto and Howard plans on competing, he’ll also be staying plenty busy before then training and competing.
“I’ll go into pre-competition foundation and strengthening which I’m doing now,” said Howard. “I continue to vault; most masters vaulters find you can’t give it up for many weeks before you really start losing the techniques, so we stay with it just at different levels of intensity. In mid-October, going to go down to Ft. Wayne for a local regional meet. I’ll go on schedule for nationals, I may do the heptathlon nationals. I did that three years ago and came in second in the nation. Then there’s indoor championships in North Carolina, definitely will go to that. There is a world indoor, usually one a year, they want to go in Poland in March. That’s a maybe, it’s on the radar. Then this summer, 2019, will be a world regional. North, Central, and Caribbean American in Toronto, will definitely go to that. The year after, 2020, are the outdoor championships in Toronto.”
Howard is excited about running in hurdles, setting a state record in the 300 meter and 80 meter. He competes in the 80-meter hurdles at WMA Championships. In addition to the 300-meter hurdles and 80-meter hurdles, he’s been adding in the 400 meter as either part of a relay team or an individual. These events help him with the pole vault, his “most favorite and frustrating event.”
“My favorite part is that it’s exciting,” said Howard. “You put all this force together, grab a stick, run as fast as you can, put it in the ground, most people say don’t do that you’ll get hurt. If you’re controlling that force then it’s gymnastics move, it’s using that momentum. Almost a martial arts kind of thing, using the forces available to your advantage and it’s a very tightly choreographed thing where you hit, you drive your knee, jump, swing your leg. Using all those forces. The fact you have so many little pieces and any one not working well is frustrating. Not complicated, but lots of little components to get right. Part of the challenge, always challenging yourself mentally to force yourself to do something that logic says, ‘You shouldn’t be doing that.’”
“Those events give the extra depth of endurance and I’ve always done sprints and long jumping, but I don’t work at them a lot,” added Howard on why he competes in the other events in addition to his favorite, Pole Vaulting. “Obviously sprinting is a key part of pole vaulting and it’s good to team up with a couple guys every once in a while, too.”
The 2011 EMU Athletics Hall of Fame Inductee said that overall Malaga was a great trip, pleased with his hurdle and relay performance.
“Lots of good camaraderie with other athletes,” said Howard. “You get to know a number of world level athlete sprinters and pole vaulters after several of these meets. That’s fun and exciting. Malaga is a beautiful city, nice restaurants, with lots of history in contrast to the other places we’ve gone. The Picasso museum, a cathedral going back to early 1500s, other fortifications, pretty amazing.”