Messick competes in national senior games

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, August 20, 2009

Luther Messick is almost apologetic in saying that he didn’t bring home any medals from the Summer National Senior Olympic Games in Palo Alto, Calif. this month.

But, Messick represented Alabama in the track and field events with pride and determination.

“I did my best,” the 71-year-old Trojan said.

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“There are some incredible athletes in the Games so the competition is tough. An 84-year-old man caught air in a 2.57-meter long jump, and the gold medalist in the pole vault was a 75-year-old woman that vaulted 6 feet and 7 inches. I was just proud to be there.”

Messick qualified for the nationals at the state trials and competed in four events, the 100, 200, 400 and 800 meters.

“I think I tired to do too many events,” he said with a smile.

“I should have concentrated on my two best events. That’s what most competitors did. Some of them are competing in a track event and a field event. That’s better for us seniors.”

Messick is no stranger to athletic competitions.

He has competed in triathlons, half marathons, marathons and in long distance biking events.

He laughingly said he was a late blooming athlete.

“I had to drop out of school in fifth grade to plow a mule,” he said.

“I didn’t get to participate in any sports. I didn’t even start running until I was in the military.”

In 1955, Messick was a member of the Alabama National Guard’s 900th Maintenance Company in Brundidge.

“That was back during the crisis in Cuba and Berlin,” he said. “The 900th was activated and sent to Fort Polk, Louisiana. That was the first time that I did any real running.”

When he came home to Pike County, Messick continued to run and began to run with a pack that included Rick Stetson and Nick Costes.

“They had started a little track club and I got in with them,” he said.

“Now, they were serious runners and good runners. I just tried to hang in there.”

But Stetson wasn’t content for Messick to just hang in with them.

He pushed him to his limits.

“Rick wanted me to run a five-minute mile, but I didn’t think I could do it,” he said.

“Rick worked with me and showed me how to train. When it was time for me to try to run the five-minute mile, he ran with me – to pace me. We had to run three 75-second quarters and a 74-second quarter. When I’d slow down, he’d say, ‘Come on, Luther, you can do it.’ When we got to that last quarter mile, he said that we had to push it. We crossed the finish line in 4 minutes and 59 seconds. I was 47 years old, and it about killed me. I didn’t want to do that anymore.”

But Messick didn’t stop running. He loved the competition. He has competed in three National Senior Olympics, and his top finishes have been seventh and eighth. “I don’t worry about winning,” he said.

“I just enjoy the competition and meeting so many really nice people. There were 10,000 athletes at the 2009 Senior Games and 1,500 of those competed in track and field. But you could compete in anything from badminton to water polo. It was amazing.”

Messick said he hopes to compete again in 2011 in Houston. “The Games are held every two years because we’re so old we may not be around in four,” he said, with a smile.

“I really enjoyed competing. And, I hope that I presented myself in a good light out there. I hope that the people I came in contact with knew that there’d been a Christian running out there.”

Now that Messick is back home, he plans to keep moving.

“Rocking chairs have killed a lot of people,” he said. “So as long as I can be up and running, I want to do it. I don’t run for trophies. I’ve got a room full of them. Staying active is good for you physically and mentally. I want to keep hanging around for a while and staying active is the best way I know how.”