Even at age 70, Assink is still run­ning

Af­ter heart-by­pass surgery, he re­habbed to get back on the track

Albuquerque Journal - - SPORTS - BY PA­TRICK NEWELL

Al­bu­querque’s Roger Assink didn’t fol­low the usual path to masters track and field suc­cess.

He didn’t run in high school or col­lege, and his move to the track came af­ter peo­ple no­ticed how quickly he ran the base paths in men’s soft­ball.

Four decades and a heart­by­pass surgery later, Assink, 70, is still com­pet­ing in his “se­cond sport” and do­ing so at a medal-wor­thy level.

Satur­day, Assink qual­i­fied for the fi­nals in the men’s 70-74 age divi­sion at the USA Track and Field Masters In­door Cham­pi­onships at the Al­bu­querque Con­ven­tion Cen­ter.

“It’s a pretty tough field,” Assink said, as­sess­ing his com­pe­ti­tion be­fore his sched­uled start.

The masters track and field cir­cuit is a cul­ture unto it­self. All of the top com­peti­tors in each age divi­sion know one an­other from their cross-coun­try trav­els to big meets.

For Assink, though, he has win­nowed his 2016 masters rac­ing sched­ule down to the in­door and out­door na­tion­als.

He still trav­els with his se­nior soft­ball team to at least one big tour­na­ment a month, al­though Assink pointed out that he is miss­ing a big tour­na­ment this week­end to com­pete in the in­door na­tion­als.

“It’s a team sport, and you win and lose as a team,” Assink said about soft­ball. “This thing (track and field) makes me so ner­vous. It’s once a year, and you only have one shot.”

It’s a tes­ta­ment to Assink’s per­se­ver­ance — and per­haps some ob­sti­nacy —that he still runs at a highly com­pet­i­tive level.

In 2009, Assink un­der­went heart-by­pass surgery. That he even knew he had a 90 per­cent­age ar­te­rial block­age came as a re­sult of an­other mis­for­tune.

“In the sum­mer be­fore I had the surgery,” Assink

said. “I was in­volved in a soft­ball col­li­sion, and I broke a lot of bones in my face. The doc­tor who worked on me said that ev­ery­thing was back in place, just don’t move.”

Assink as­sented, and he didn’t move through­out the late fall and early win­ter months.

“For three or four months, all I did was sit on the couch,” Assink said. “It was get­ting close to spring, so I said to my­self that it was time to get go­ing.”

With his face healed, Assink — a life­time fit­ness en­thu­si­ast — be­gan his usual reg­i­men to pre­pare for the com­ing soft­ball sea­son.

Assink knew that his seden­tary ex­is­tence the past few months would af­fect his early work­outs, but he fully ex­pected to re­turn to his usual form in a mat­ter of weeks.

To his dis­may, he wasn’t able to work out with the same in­ten­sity as he did the pre­vi­ous year. In fact, even mild ac­tiv­ity was a grind.

“It was killing me,” Assink said. “I couldn’t do any­thing like I was do­ing be­fore. I thought I had re­ally lost it.”

Af­ter try­ing dif­fer­ent work­out meth­ods with no suc­cess, Assink vis­ited a doc­tor. He un­der­went the usual bat­tery of tests, which re­vealed his ar­te­rial block­age. By­pass surgery was sub­se­quently sched­uled within a week.

Assink re­ha­bil­i­tated af­ter his surgery for three months. Even though the gist of his post-surgery work­outs in­volved walk­ing, Assink ad­mit­ted the re­turn to full strength was much more dif­fi­cult and slow-go­ing than he ex­pected.

He was also given some dis­heart­en­ing news by his doc­tor.

“My car­di­ol­o­gist told me that I could never run full speed again,” Assink said. “My wife got on­line, and she found an­other doc­tor who spe­cial­ized in the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of ath­letes.”

That doc­tor was less than a mile from Assink’s home, and he said some of the same things as Assink’s pre­vi­ous doc­tor — but with less con­vic­tion.

“He said I could run, but at about 70 per­cent,” Assink said. “I told him that that would not do. My doc­tor just shrugged, and I took that to mean ‘What­ever.’ ”

A year af­ter get­ting his se­cond opin­ion, Assink com­peted in the 2011 USATF Masters In­door Na­tion­als tak­ing third in the 60-me­ter dash and se­cond in the 200 me­ters.

Five years later, he has barely lost a step, and he plans to con­tinue to com­pete for as long as he is able.

“You see that 98-year old (Orville Rogers) out there com­pet­ing to­day,” Assink said. “That’s where I want to be in 20 years.”

SATUR­DAY’S HIGH­LIGHTS: An un­prece­dented five world records went down. In two con­sec­u­tive races, three 60-me­ter fin­ish­ers broke marks.

Ty Brown, a world record holder in the hur­dles, tested his dom­i­nance with­out the ob­sta­cles to fin­ish the 60m in 8.11 to break the men’s age 70 mark.

Bill Collins ran a world masters record of 7.76 in the 60-me­ter hur­dles pre­lims in the men’s 65 age group be­fore run­ning 7.69 in the fi­nal. Collins, who is re­cov­er­ing from Guil­lain-Barré syn­drome, low­ered the pre­vi­ous world stan­dard of 7.81, which was set in 2012.

Joy Up­shaw started the day with an Amer­i­can record of 8.48 in the women’s age-55 60 me­ters be­fore blaz­ing to a 9.71 world record in the 60 hur­dles. Both Up­shaw and Liz Palmer out­ran the pre­vi­ous world record as the sil­ver medal­ist Palmer crossed in 9.82.

In the women’s age-75s, Kathy Ber­gen broke a pair of her own records. She went 4 feet, 1¼ inches in the high jump af­ter break­ing the age­group’s 60 me­ters record in 9.49, which she set last year.

Orville Rogers be­came the first male-90 ath­lete in his­tory to run the 1,500, which he fin­ished in 16:32.19.

Myrle Mensey set an Amer­i­can record in women’s age 65 shot, toss­ing 30-8½ to take down her own 2015 record of 30-4¾.

Mary Ro­man went 25-8¾ in the shot put to break the pre­vi­ous mark of 25-6¼.

JIM THOMP­SON/JOUR­NAL

Roger Assink runs the 200-me­ter dash in the men’s 70-74 age divi­sion at the USATF Masters In­door Cham­pi­onships.

JIM THOMP­SON/JOUR­NAL

New Mex­ico Sec­re­tary of State Brad Win­ters heads down the run­way as he tries to clear 10 feet, 6 inches in the pole vault.

Hous­ton’s Bill Collins sets a world record in the 60-me­ter hur­dles in the men’s 65 age divi­sion Satur­day at 7.69 sec­onds.

Steven Ross lets the shot fly for a throw of 46-8¾-inches to take se­cond in the men’s 60 age divi­sion.

Pro­fes­sor Bill Jankovich clears a hur­dle in the 60-me­ter hur­dles event of the men’s 80 age divi­sion at the USA Track and Field In­door Cham­pi­onships at the Con­ven­tion Cen­ter.

Ty Brown of Wash­ing­ton, D.C., runs the 60-me­ter dash in 8.11 sec­onds, a world record in the men’s 70 age divi­sion.

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