"The Long and Short of Bob Lida" December 2017 Athlete of the Month

Bob Lida, 81, Wichita, Kansas

One of the names that appears repeatedly in National Senior Games track & field sprint records is Bob Lida. His name also appears next to age division world records and other high marks in masters track events, which has landed the Kansas native in the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame and earned a 2012 Best Masters of the World award from the International Association of Athletics Federation.

That’s all well and good, but the senior speedster traces his basic motivation in one sentence: “There’s nothing more fun than running as fast as you can.”

Bob didn’t start as a sprinter, and his career has had many setbacks. He began running the half-mile in high school, but a stress fracture sidelined most of his senior year and no scholarship was forthcoming. He walked on at Kansas University to run cross country, but that changed. “One day, they had us run 400s and I cleaned everyone’s clock. My coach said, ‘Bob, we may have you in the wrong event.’ From that day on I was a sprinter.” He went on to be Big Eight champion in the indoor 440-yard dash in 1959.

Then. a sciatic nerve issue seemingly ended his track life, and he turned his focus to an advertising career. At 40, he decided to start sprinting again in masters events, “but for some reason known only to God” he pursued road races and marathons. Yet, the nagging need for speed compelled him to return to the short track. “I was piling on the road miles, and always wanting to finish faster. I drove myself and broke down with all kinds of problems,” he recalls. “It took a good five years to come back completely. I decided to go back to sprinting when I was 60.”

At the 1997 National Senior Games in Tucson, Bob placed fifth in the 200-meter race, but the fire was rekindled. “My legs were so sore. But there were lot of the same guys running that I saw when I was 40. How much fun is that?”

Since that time, he’s turned on the burners. Now 81, Bob rarely finds himself behind at the finish and has avoided further major injuries. He trains hard and feels fit, buoyed by a study conducted by McGill University six years ago that revealed he had the heart of a 56-year-old. The records keep falling, but he says the social aspect of sport is of equal importance. 

“I want to win, and I prepare hard to win. My goal today is to beat the age curve. But that’s not why I show up,” he explains. “There’s a common bond that you have when you are in masters track. I have made long friendships in this country, and also in places like Germany, England, and Australia. We keep in touch and it’s great to see them at world championships every year.”

Bob has also given back to his sport as a sprint and cross country coach at local high schools in Wichita for the past 15 years. “Nobody’s gone to the Olympics, but I’ve seen a few with talent and work ethic go on to Division One colleges. I stay in contact and go see them in meets whenever I can.”

He also enjoys the unique blend of longtime tracksters and less experienced athletes at National Senior Games. “When you go to other masters events, you won’t see as many people walking around with medals around their necks. You see a lot of them at Senior Games. I think that’s neat. These people went to the local games, they got qualified, and earned the right to represent their state. They are proud when they win. I think that’s fantastic.

“These Games give people a goal. There’s nothing worse than just working out.”

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