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AROUND TOWN / BEVERLY BEYETTE

A Man With Nerve Enough to Outrun Old Age

September 16, 1993|BEVERLY BEYETTE

At 71, retired San Diego attorney David Pain delights in having been dubbed "the godfather of grandfather jocks."

Back in the mid-'60s, before city streets were awash with joggers, Pain and his Labrador retriever could be seen taking their daily 5- or 6-mile run.

A competitive personality by nature--he was a trial lawyer, he points out--Pain was hungry for a good race. But, at 40-plus, "obviously I was a little bit past my prime."

One day, inspiration struck: "I thought, 'Gee whiz, why don't we have age-group competition?' "

His idea evolved into the first Masters Track and Field championships, held in San Diego in 1968. Two years later, one of the competitors, Warren Blaney, expanded the concept to multi-sports and staged the first Senior Olympics in Los Angeles.

The idea caught on. In 1975, Pain helped organize the World Assn. of Veteran Athletes, in which some 40 nations are now represented.

Last June, 7,500 not-so-over-the-hill athletes--men and women 55 and over--competed at the recently revitalized National Senior Olympics in Baton Rouge. The State Senior Olympics will be held Friday through Sept. 26 in San Diego, with about 1,200 athletes vying.

Pain has had surgery on one knee and "they're both kind of creaky." So, three years ago, he switched to cycling and has been winning medals.

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Q: What, exactly, has been your role in the birth and growth of competitive athletics for older men and women?

A: I'm credited with being the father of Masters Track and Field. Certainly, it's true in the United States. The British had division competition for a number of years, but it was based solely on performance, not age. As you slipped a cog, you moved down a division until you hit the bottom rung. They abandoned that when we introduced our concept.

We started out with 10-year age groups, but found that after five years you were no longer competitive. For example, if you were in the 40-50 group, when you got to be 46, 47, 48, you were drifting back in the pack.

Now all masters sports have adopted a five-year age division. Occasionally outstanding athletes defy their age, but we've made it a rule that you have to compete in your age division.

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Q: What have been your personal bests?

A: In track and field, it was 2:18.7 for 880 yards. I set it five years after I started competing. In cycling, it was 32 minutes and 15 seconds in the 20-kilometer time trial, which is almost 24 miles per hour over 12 1/2 miles. To put that in proper context, Tour de France riders will do 35 miles per hour for a comparable distance.

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Q: There's always controversy over whether running is good or bad for you. Do you blame it for your knee problems?

A: I ascribe my knee problems to running. If I were to play golf I could have a back problem. If I were to play tennis, I could develop a tennis elbow. I would not trade my years of masters competition in track and field. I have no regrets whatsoever.

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Q: What are the rewards?

A: An inner sense of satisfaction in having defied, to a degree, the aging process, having delayed it. I consider myself a very youthful 71. I see people much younger than I who have sort of degenerated physically. They say, "Oh, I wouldn't get on a bicycle and ride around town. Too dangerous." Hell's bells . . .

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Q: What lifestyle changes have you made as a result of being in competitive sports?

A: It's not that you say "I'm going to stop smoking" or "I'm going to stop drinking" or "I'm going to eat nothing but alfalfa sprouts and nuts, unsalted." You become involved in an athletic discipline and other things kind of fall by the wayside.

You go to a meeting of master athletes, there can be 500 people there and not one is smoking. You won't see one obese person. They're either now thin or the fat people are doing other things.

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Q: Are you strictly a fish and chicken person?

A: I'm a meat and potatoes guy. I make no compromises. I like to put butter on my toast. I eat whatever is put in front of me, and large quantities of it. Obviously, I'm not overweight. (At 5 feet 11, he is about 160 pounds.)

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Q: Do you imbibe of the grape occasionally?

A: I have my drinks every night before dinner, a couple of glasses of wine or a Scotch and soda. I enjoy life. To me, eating well, having a few drinks, having a good time is as important as winning a national championship.

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Q: What does your doctor say about your physical condition?

A: He doesn't have much to say because he's a pudgy couch potato.

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Q: Do you cycle every day?

A: When I'm in training, I try to ride seven days a week, but family obligations, mowing the lawn, tend to cut in on that.

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Q: Will you be competing in the San Diego Olympics?

A: No, because I'm in charge of the cycling. I'm also treasurer and responsible for T-shirts and medals. My wife, Linda, and I are helping out in the office. I don't have time to compete.

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Q: What motivates people who've never been athletic to take up a sport at, say, age 55?

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