Sprinter makes the run
of a century
THE morning is cloudy and cold. It is windy, with rain looming. The crowd is sparse for the Hawaii Senior Olympics. At Kaiser High School, there are 25 people in the stands. But they will see history. They will see magic.
Erwin Jaskulski is 100 years old. One hundred and two months, as he would tell you. He's here to run. He's here to break the world record.
Jaskulski is all smile and bright eyes and white, wispy beard. He's grown his hair long, the way old men sometimes do. It blows behind him in the wind.
He's a sprinter.
He's a sprinter, and you've come to watch him run.
Then, an ambulance. That's a bad sign. Is it for our man? After all, he is 100 years old. It is for him. He hadn't seen some starting blocks sitting on the track, and he tripped over them, and he fell. And he was bleeding.
"If they let him run, we're going to do this," the Hawaii Senior Olympics' Mark Zeug says. "He's determined to run."
He is. The paramedic beams. His day has been made. If most 100-year-olds fall, they go to the hospital. They get operations. They break hips. This guy gets wrapped up and he's going to run the 100 meters.
The other age groups line up and take off. Jaskulski starts to warm up, one arm out stiffly, like a bird. Then, he and his heat walk down the track. Those going for age-group records must run against the wind. The volunteers set up the electronic timing system to make everything official. They test and test again. It begins to rain.
Jaskulski waits it out in the timers' tent. Someone offers him a jacket. Everyone is gathered around him, ready to soak up anything he might have to offer on this special day.
You perch under the stadium, in a storage dugout, with a running enthusiast who had the idea first. He tells you he has come to watch the 100-year-old man run for the record. You too, you tell him.
"This buggah," he says, "he's tough. He's a real runner."
He thinks Wheaties should hear about this guy.
THE EQUIPMENT IS ready at last. The record chasers take their mark. Raindrops fall on the soaked track. But they will run.
The gunshot jars them to life. They run, and the applause grows. There are whoops, "Woo! Go Erwin!" The record for 100-year-olds is 43 seconds. Here he comes.
He runs, his eyes squinted, his mouth wide open. A picture of pure joy.
You walk along with him for a second, and then he passes you. You find yourself jogging, then, along with a handful of other spectators who can't help but run for the finish with him.
A throng meets him there. All the competitors and all the volunteers and all the younger runners in his heat who beat him across the line. Everyone is around him. The hand-held timers yell out unofficial times. He'd done it. The men who had run with him gather for a picture. Everyone is around him. Everyone feels great. Everyone smiles.
"Thirty-six-two," someone says. "Not bad. World record."
And the rain comes. Harder now.
Jaskulski suggests we all get out of the rain.
You learn a few things, when you've lived to be 100.
The crowd squeezes under the medical and volunteer tent. Almost everyone in attendance is there. You almost can't get in, and water pours over its edges.
There, Jaskulski sits. He has blood stains on his shorts and his hair is wet. He has a sense of humor and an easy laugh. A hand-held digital video camera records his every move.
He's done it.
He jokes that he can't wait for the 200 meters. "I have no competition," he says. "Then I can walk."
No 100-year-old has ever run the 200. That record will be his as well.
Zeug looks over the official electronic results. "Your time was 36.49," he says.
"Thank you," Jaskulski says.
"That's a new world record," Zeug says.
"Thank you," Jaskulski says.
The rain pours down, and everyone in the crowded tent is peacefully, comfortably quiet. Jaskulski sits in his chair, a slight smile on his 100-year-old face. He'll only run the 200, he says. That's enough. He won't also set the 400 record, as previously planned. Not on this day. As the rain pours down, he's made his decision.
"I'll leave that for next year," he says.
Kalani Simpson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org