Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollectionsFixme

Another shot at glory

Former high school athletes discover, years later, that it's not too late to recapture the joy of sport.

February 26, 2007|Jeannine Stein | Times Staff Writer

THE muscles may not fire as quickly and the bones might creak a little, but all-out, hard-driving competition doesn't have to stop after the diploma's in hand. Men and women who gave up their favorite sport after high school or college are discovering that you can go home again decades later -- be it to the track, the pool, the softball field or the ice rink. And they're doing it in droves, finding coaches and teams and meets and matches that allow them to tap into that competitive nature that never waned. Testing themselves against their peers, or even younger athletes, they're coming back invigorated, perhaps after experiencing burnout, failing to fulfill goals, or simply missing their sport. The four people here -- a swimmer, pole-vaulter, figure skater and wrestler -- will never make it to the Olympics, but that's OK. As vaulter Bernie Miller puts it, "You have to go for it, over and over again. Even if you failed at least you can say, 'I attempted it and I felt good doing it.' You have to pursue that dream."

---

Ready for another round

---

TORD BENNER

SWIMMING

BY the time he was 14, Tord Benner had racked up seven years of competitive swimming in his home state of Pennsylvania. He was doing pretty well, usually finishing in the top tier. But, he says, "I was way burned out.... It was so frustrating and boring, going back and forth and back and forth."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday March 10, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 93 words Type of Material: Correction
Glory days: A Feb. 26 Health article about people returning to the sports in which they'd participated in high school and college included profiles of four individuals, among them 40-year-old figure skater Elizabeth Chase, reporting that Chase had not competed since she was a teenager but got serious again about the sport last summer. Although Chase said in an initial interview that she had not competed in the ensuing years, she has, in fact, competed in the U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships and other adult skating competitions in the late 1990s and since.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday March 12, 2007 Home Edition Health Part F Page 8 Features Desk 2 inches; 93 words Type of Material: Correction
Glory days: A Feb. 26 Health section article about people returning to sports in which they'd participated in high school and college included profiles of four individuals, among them 40-year-old figure skater Elizabeth Chase, reporting that Chase had not competed since she was a teenager but got serious again about the sport last summer. Although Chase said in an initial interview that she had not competed in the ensuing years, she has, in fact, competed in the U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships and other adult skating competitions in the late 1990s and since.

So at 15, he switched to wrestling, then in college played tennis and excelled in boxing. After college came biking, windsurfing and city-league basketball.

About seven years ago, some friends suggested a triathlon. Always looking for a new athletic challenge, he gave it a shot, but during the event quickly realized he wasn't prepared for the rigors of the combination swim-run-cycle race. His resulting resolve to start working out more seriously sent him back to the pool.

Benner, a chemical engineer from Costa Mesa, hooked up with the Nova Masters Swimming Program in Irvine -- and found that jumping back in the water wasn't as easy as he had thought. "All the stuff I did when I was little primes you mentally," the now 47-year-old says, "but physically I wasn't so prepared. You swim one race and you're blown."

Instead of throwing in the pool towel, Benner worked harder. For starters, his technique needed an overhaul. "My stroke has changed 100%," he says. "I generate energy from the core, and that's not how it used to be. I'd go out there and kind of thrash around. It's learning to get the right rhythm, then driving with the arms and the legs. It's way more complicated."

With life experience and maturity, Benner says he now approaches competitions differently. "I'm so much more cognizant of what's going on now," he says. "When you're younger it's more, 'You get there and you do it.' "

Benner says his friends and family "mostly think I'm crazy," even though he's become a veteran of the triathlon circuit. "But ever since I was young I've been way more over-the-top athletically. It's fun as long as you keep it in perspective. There's a balance between training and overtraining."

Benner's not sure yet how far he'll take swimming now, but like any die-hard competitor, he thinks about it as he continues to shave off hundredths of seconds off his best time (he's made the top 10 rankings in United States Masters Swimming): "If I'm not improving anymore, but I still enjoy it, is that enough?" he asks. "I see that coming, and it's a different mental thing. ... I think that's the next hurdle for me."

*

BERNIE MILLER

POLE VAULTING

WHAT might have been ... those thoughts tumbled around Bernie Miller's head years after giving up pole vaulting in college. He had loved the feeling of sailing through the air the very first time he had launched himself with nothing more than a steel pole when he was in the seventh grade.

What might have been finally was -- albeit decades later when, three years ago, he picked up a pole, planted it in the ground and once again flew. "It felt exhilarating," the 46-year-old Miller recalls. "Like I finally woke up from a nap or something. It was unbelievable to get back out there and pole vault again. It was fabulous."

Miller's athletic youth was spent in something of a tussle between his twin devotions to pole vaulting and baseball. He got his first taste of vaulting in junior high when he joined the track team, largely because there was no baseball team. Vaulting wasn't much different from jumping over creeks with a stick, part of his childhood growing up in Vermont and North Carolina. Of course, vaulting in a small town in the 1970s wasn't exactly state of the art athletics; Miller says he used an inflexible steel pole, landed on less-than-cushy mats (sometimes beanbags) and received virtually no instruction from his coach on proper technique.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|