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Coming of Age

Vincent Malizia Began Running at 73 and at 83 Is a Champion


NORTHRIDGE — Most people figure it's time to slow down when they hit their 70s.

Not Vincent Malizia.

The 83-year-old Northridge resident took up running 10 years ago and shows no signs of stopping any time soon.

He won the 400-, 800- and 1,500-meter runs in the 80-84 age group in the California Senior Games at Occidental College on June 13-14.

Next up: the USA Track & Field Masters championships in Orono, Maine, from July 30-Aug. 2, and the World Masters Games in Eugene, Ore., from Aug. 10-22.

Malizia's times of 1 minute 40 seconds in the 400, 3:47 in the 800 and 7:38 in the 1,500 at the California Senior Games might sound pedestrian to younger runners, but they place him among the elite in his age group.

His passion for running--he trains six days a week--also sets him apart.

"I wish I had some young people that had the enthusiasm for running that he has," said Laszlo Tabori, Malizia's coach with the San Fernando Valley track club. "Young people could learn a lot from him. Here's a guy who's in his 80s, but is running around like a young chicken and enjoying himself."

Compliments from Tabori mean a lot to Malizia because the coach was initially hesitant to work with a runner just starting out at an advanced age.

"When I first asked him how old he was, [Malizia] said, 'I'm 73 and I was a couch potato all my life,' " Tabori recalled. "But he said, 'I want to learn how to run and if anyone can teach me to, it's you.' "

Malizia had tired of walking as his primary form of exercise.

After seeing runners train at Van Nuys-Sherman Oaks Park, he inquired about local running clubs and was told about Tabori.

Malizia recognized Tabori's name because the Hungarian native was the third man to break four minutes in the mile when he ran 3:59.0 in 1955.

"He was a big star," Malizia said. "So I figured that he knew as much about running as anyone."

One of the first things Tabori noticed was Malizia hardly lifted his knees when he ran.

He was a shuffler--in running terminology--and still is to some extent. But that hasn't prevented him from excelling at his age level.

After training with Tabori for two years, Malizia began to do well in 5- and 10-kilometer road races in the 75-79 age category in 1990.

When he was 78, he won his age group in a 5k for the first time and proudly told Tabori, "I've never been No. 1 in anything until now."

During that period Malizia posted bests of 1:28 in the 400, 3:23 in the 800 and 7:34 in the 1,600 on the track and 26:12 in the 5k and 56 minutes in the 10k on the roads.

"I was younger then," Malizia said. "You slow down as you get older."

Perhaps, but Malizia hasn't become less competitive.

His wife Gina and his daughter Patricia Hamm say he hates to lose.

"He's out to knock anybody out if he can do it," Gina Malizia said of her husband of 55 years. "He doesn't want to come in third place. He wants to win."

Added Hamm: "He hates coming in second. He missed several months of training a while ago because of a groin pull, yet he expected to be winning everything when he came back. I'd point out to him that his times were getting better each race, but if he got second, he would say, 'Yeah, but I should have beaten that guy.' "

Malizia's competitiveness was no doubt honed over the course of a life that could be characterized as an American success story.

As the third of five children--and the oldest of three boys--Malizia was raised by his mother Carmela on a small farm in Sette Fratelli, Italy, about halfway between Rome and Naples.

He rarely saw his father Michael, who lived in Dearborn, Mich., where he worked at a Ford plant.

Michael, who originally left Italy for London when he was 12, would return home for two or three months every three years. Not coincidentally, the Malizia children were all born three years apart.

When Vince was 14, he moved to the U.S. at his father's request.

His mother, brothers and sisters followed soon after, just months before the stock market crashed and the Depression began in 1929.

Times were lean for the Malizia family for several years, but Vince managed to get a job on the Ford assembly line after graduating from high school in 1935.

The job paid $24 a day, a nice salary at the time, but Malizia couldn't envision himself drilling holes in crankshafts for the rest of his life so he started taking classes at a nearby art college.

His skills as an artist helped him land a job in the design department at Ford in 1937 and he had other jobs as a commercial artist before he, Gina and 2-year-old Patricia moved to the Los Angeles area in 1948.

Gina gave birth to a son, Anthony, a year later and in 1952, Vince began a two-week trial job in the art department at Universal Studios. He did so well he ended up working at Universal until 1972 when he opened up his own studio in North Hollywood, where he specialized in air brushing for movie posters and advertisements.

He worked that job until January.

"The computers put me out of business," he said. "But I was ready to retire anyway."

Malizia still produces oil-based paintings on acrylics. But running is his favorite activity.

"I want to keep running as long as I can," Malizia said. "I want to be sort of a [role] model for older people. I want to show that it's never too late to start something. That you're never too old to start something new as long as you're in good health."

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