Congrats to Joe Barger, who just returned from the National Senior Games in Minneapolis, where he scooped up an impressive six medals.
Barger, 89, nabbed gold medals in the 5K and 1,500 meters, silver medals in the 10K and 800 meters, and bronze medals in the 200 and 400 meters. He also collected a bronze medal in the 50 meters – because, as he says, “it was too short and I couldn’t get started.”
That’s six medals in seven events, an almost Michael Phelps-esque performance.
To qualify for the National Senior Games, athletes must first qualify at the state level. The 2015 games marked Barger’s fourth trip to the national competition. He competed, in accordance with official rules, in the 90-94-year-old age group, because he turns 90 later this season.
Relatively speaking, he hasn’t been running long. He started about 25 years ago, when he was 64.
“The fact is my daughter got on me about my big belly. She said, ‘You’ve got to do something,’ so I’ve got to thank her for pushing me to running,” Barger says.
Barger’s daughter, wife and granddaughter traveled to Minneapolis to cheer him on at the competition. He’s modest about his accomplishments.
“The older you get the slower you get, but there’s less competition,” he says. His secret to success? “I just keep doing it.”
Barger stays in running shape by participating in numerous road races around Austin. Among his favorites are the Statesman Capitol 10,000 and the Thundercloud Subs Turkey Trot. He does longer events too. In 2014, he completed the 3M Half Marathon in 2:59:15.4. This year he clocked a 3:04:09.
“(Running) takes your mind off everything else,” he says. “You’re your own person and really competing against the clock and yourself. It’s a good way to clear your mind.”
He runs in thin-soled New Balance shoes and trains with coach Valerie Hunt, who teaches what is called the “pose” method of running. “I started to quit a couple years ago then found out I could use a little less energy and still run,” he says. “She’s an inspiration.”
He didn’t participate in sports growing up in Tennessee. He served in the Navy during World War II, then earned a degree in engineering. He worked for IBM for almost 30 years.
The Senior Games are held every other year, and Barger already is planning to compete in 2017. To compete, athletes must be at least 50 years old.
In past years, his older brother and sister competed with him at the Games. They were unable to participate this year.
“They got me started in it,” he says.