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He's Still Throwing His Weights Around at 90

May 04, 1997|KIMBERLY SANCHEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MISSION VIEJO — Wearing a Stanford University T-shirt like the one he wore 70 years ago as a pole-vaulter, Burt DeGroot was back at the track, this time practicing his discus throw.

His injured legs and stiff upper body prohibit him from spinning to gain momentum before releasing the disc, but from a stationary position, he has launched it as far as 90 feet, a foot for each of his years.

"My distances have dropped off," he complained, while practicing last week at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo. After all, it has been a few years since he threw the discus that far. "I've been concentrating on the weight room to build my strength back up" instead of focusing on technique.

DeGroot, along with 250 other athletes, will compete today in the track and field events at the Crown Valley Senior Olympics at Occidental College in Eagle Rock. The three-week-long games, which began last week, include competitions for those 50 and older.

As the oldest athlete in the track and field competition, DeGroot may have a few more aches than the others, but that hasn't stopped him.

"Some of the guys are smart enough to quit," he said. "I like to compete."

He tore up his knee playing high school football; broke his wrist and severely sprained his ankle pole-vaulting at Stanford; and tore the rotator cuff in his shoulder while throwing the discus about 10 years ago. But he won't give up.

"You have to exercise to maintain your health," he said. "And it's fun because you meet people. It's a pretty good fraternity on the field."

Glancing at the schedule, he said he was looking forward to seeing a competitor from his college days, who pole-vaulted for USC.

"I haven't seen him in years," DeGroot said. "I'm going to have to give him a hard time."

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DeGroot began throwing the discus when he retired 25 years ago. He had given up competing in sports after college. But as the dean of student activities at Santa Monica College in the late 1960s, he would retreat to the weight room during his lunch hour.

"In order to maintain my sanity, I pumped some iron," he said.

With his energy renewed, his brother, Hugo DeGroot, track coach at Fullerton High School, suggested he give the discus and shotput a try.

"I'm not built to be a shotputter," he said. "Most shotputters are built like fire plugs."

Despite his lean 5-foot, 10-inch frame, he broke the American record for his age division when he threw the 9-pound shot 22 feet, 9 inches in 1983. In 1987, he broke the discus record with a 90-4 throw.

Today, DeGroot will compete in the shotput and discus for the first time in three years after taking a hiatus to care for his wife, who died in 1994. He has overcome prostate cancer and still is battling arthritis and gastrointestinal problems, which he developed last year.

"From 85, it goes down fast," he said.

To stay healthy, he eats plenty of fruits and vegetables and avoids red meat. Every morning, he stretches and does 100 push-ups from his knees. He lifts weights three times a week and throws the discus two days a week. He attends college meets to learn by watching the younger athletes. He also relies on his brother, an 81-year-old track coach at Saddleback College.

Today's competition is a warm-up for the National Senior Olympics May 21 in Tucson, which he qualified for last summer by placing first in the discus at the state meet. He then has three months to prepare for the more prestigious Masters track and field championships in August in San Jose.

He will keep competing as long as he is able. It not only helps him keep fit, but boosts his self-esteem.

"It's the satisfaction of being the best, no matter what your age," he said. "The mountain is there, so you've got to climb it."

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