Harold Bach started running at 72, beat cancer in his 80s and won gold medals in the 50-meter, 100-meter, 200-meter and 400-meter races this week at the 2013 National Senior Games. He is 93.
Bach, who also set a new record in the 200-meter dash and shattered his own record in the 400-meter on July 26, said he has always been active, participating in cycling and other sports, but when he ran his first 5K in his 70s, he was hooked on running. Since then, he has won more than 140 medals and set world records, but his greatest victory is beating cancer.
“About seven years ago, I went to my doctor for a regular semi-annual checkup, and he told me I had cancer – a large, fast-moving cancer,” said Bach, a Dickinson, N.D. resident.
Bach’s son Jim said an oncologist initially was not optimistic about his father’s future, especially about ever returning to the track. But his father never gave up. After enduring grueling rounds of chemotherapy, he not only became free of cancer, he returned to the sport he loves and added to his growing collection of medals. One of them, a gold medal, was given to his oncologist.
Bach credits an early focus on health and the camaraderie of competing in events like the Senior Games for giving him strength and helping him recover from cancer.
“I’m sold on health,” Bach said. “When you train and participate in these events, it keeps you healthy, but any kind of exercise can boost your physical health and thinking power. Even a walk would do wonders. I have got my wife walking now.”
He said he has watched the physical and mental health of friends deteriorate as they became more sedentary, but he wants them to know that it’s never too late to change.
Bach’s story is extraordinary, which makes it even more incredible to discover so many similar examples of courage and strength. In every event and every venue, the athletes participating in the Senior Games are smiling, encouraging each other, showing support and painting a picture of who we all hope to be at all stages of life: happy, healthy, full of purpose and with a sense of belonging.
Lillian Webb, 99, of Sebring, Florida
Webb began participating in the National Senior Games many years ago and is a lifelong advocate of leading a healthy, active life. It has worked for her. At 99, she traveled to Cleveland to participate in several track and field events, winning gold in the discus, 100-meter dash and 50-meter dash for her age group.
“The important thing is to keep moving,” said Webb. “Even a walk around the house can be exercise.”
She is not ruling out making a trip to the 2015 National Senior Games.
Ken Blanchard, 84, Baton Rouge, La.
Blanchard won a bronze medal in the 10K road race, a silver in the 5K and was seventh in the 800-meter at the 2013 National Senior Games, presented by Humana. This is his ninth National Senior Games.
Blanchard, who switched from tennis to running in his 60s, won a silver medal in the 1500-meter race at the 2011 National Senior Games. He gave some simple advice for staying healthy then, and thinks it’s still a good rule to follow: “Exercise even if it’s a short walk. Don’t smoke. Don’t overeat.”
Howard Hall, 92, Frankfort, Ky.
Hall said he has been active all of his life and has participated in many Senior Games. One of his most memorable was in 2001 when he entered 15 events and won 11 gold medals. While staying active and being healthy is important to him, he said the challenge of competing and the camaraderie with those he competes with – not against – is also important. “I do like to beat at least one person who is younger than me, “ he said with a smile after winning a silver medal in the 100-meter race on Thursday.
Jane Soeten, 86, Wasilla, Alaska
Soeten began playing basketball at age 65 when her doctor told her she needed to become more active to improve her health. Her basketball team had successful runs at the National Senior Games, but Soeten wasn’t content with medals in one sport. She competed in several track and field events in 2013, winning gold in hammer and discus and bronze in javelin. The victories are fun, but Soeten is passionate about helping others live a healthier life and has asked local officials in her hometown of Wasilla to create a Sports Committee to encourage people of all ages to get active and stay active.
“If you are going to grow old, grow old with gusto,” she said. “You only go around once. Make it count.”