club and goes to meets where he gets to swap stories with friends old and young.

With every new season comes a new challenge. “You have something to work for, something to plan for,” he says. “That’s what keeps most of us going.”

Fred Luke

When you give something up for, say, 30 years, it may be difficult to start again. But that is exactly what Luke did. Now 65, he competed in javelin in the 1972 Olympics and continued for several years after that. Then life got in the way, and he stopped. He became a Boeing engineer and took up tennis and golf, but it wasn’t the same. His weight went up, as did his blood pressure and cholesterol. Then a friend asked if he could help coach some high-school kids. “The first day, I almost pulled a groin,” he recalls. “I thought, this isn’t going to work.” In his second year back, he ruptured his Achilles tendon and had to be carted off on a stretcher. He realized the answer wasn’t to give up; it was to get stronger. Being athletic is in his soul, so he knew what to do. He threw and threw, then started adding weights and medicine-ball workouts. He’s got arthritis in his knees, but his doctor told him to keep working out; he’d have the arthritis no matter what. His cholesterol came down. And his throwing improved. He rattles off his three goals: “One, be able to walk away in one piece; two, not get beat by a girl; and three, get a decent distance.” Now, he’s ranked sixth in the country for his age group, though his distances are about half what they were at his peak. “I have to accept where I am and enjoy it,” he says. The world-champion decathlete stands tanned and sinewey; he talks nonstop; he doesn’t stop moving. Shot put, javelin and yes, pole vault, at age 82. He won the gold medal for his age group at the World Masters Athletics Track and Field Championships in Sacramento, Calif., last year, after taking up the sport just five years earlier. Why? For all the reasons most of us wouldn’t take up decathlon. “It’s 10 events over two days,” he says. “You don’t have time to get any rest to speak of. The best part of it is you just train all year long.” He retired as a University of Washington professor of wildlife science in 1993, but the last thing he wanted to do was slow down. The bigger the challenge, the better. “You can’t go up to throw a discus and have a misthrow and blame it on anybody else.” Watch him high jump and you think, wow, how does an octogenarian even get his body in that position? As he throws the javelin, you can’t help but wince. He sure doesn’t look like Luke. In the 100-meter, he takes twice as long to finish as the rest of the pack. He doesn’t care. “If you could run like you did when you were 19,” he shrugs, “there wouldn’t be any competition.”
Maureen O’Hagan is a Seattle Times staff reporter. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific NW staff photographer.

Al Erickson


JUNE 10, 2012