Since learning about masters track 10 years ago, Roger Vergin has won 52 national titles while competing in everything from sprints to shot put to pole vault. Yes, pole vault
As a youth in Brainerd, Minnesota, Roger Vergin never competed in track because the coach didn’t let him run, jump or toss heavy objects in a meet.
I guess you could say Vergin was a late bloomer. And the part-time Fort Myers resident is more than making up for his inactivity as a youth.
Returning to track more than 50 years later, Vergin has proceeded to dominate senior competition.
Now 80, Vergin has won 52 national titles the past nine years.
Last month, in the USA Track & Field Masters Indoor Championships at Prince George’s County Sports & Learning Center in Landover, Maryland, Vergin won seven golds, three silvers and a bronze. He won more golds than any of the other 1,217 athletes competing.
Over the competition’s three days, he took part in 18 events.
“I always enjoyed watching track, I always thought it was a great sport,” Vergin said. “I followed it through my youth. I went out for track as a sophomore in high school but the coach never picked me to do a single event.”
Usually, most athletes compete in track early in their lives and golf late.
Vergin is just the opposite. He didn’t know there were such things as seniors and masters track until he was in his 70s. He started running in long-distance events and marathons in his 40s.
“I went to my first race 10 years ago at the Washington Senior Games,” he said. “Afterwards, I thought, ‘Man I don’t know if I can keep up with these guys.’ A couple of years later, I was winning a national championship.”
Vergin won his golds in the long jump, triple jump, 60-meter hurdles and pole vault.
That’s right, pole vault.
He also won gold in the pentathlon (hurdles, long jump, shot put, high jump and 1,000-meter run) and 800- and 1,600-meter relays. He was part of a foursome in the 1,600 relay that smashed the American record at 7 minutes, 20.95 seconds, more than a minute faster than the previous mark.
“I usually compete in the most events,” he said.
LeDondrick Rowe coaches Vergin at Shady Oaks Park. He remembers Vergin asking if he could train him while working with some youths.
“I didn’t know what to think, I didn’t know he was a competitive athlete,” Rowe said. “Then I find out he’s competing in decathlons and heptathlons and pentathlons. He came out and he’s a very hard worker. The first couple of sessions, the kids were pretty impressed. I didn’t train him any easier. I don’t take it light on him.”
Rowe works with Vergin three days a week, for 60-90 minutes. They work on technique and endurance as well as technical and explosive training.
How explosive can an 83-year-old guy be? Rowe said you’d be surprised.
“He has both speed and strength and does the things he needs to do,” Rowe said. “He can do pretty much everything the kids can do. He can last for most of the workout.”
Vergin moved to Southwest Florida from Washington state because training was easier. He said he left a lot of good friends in the Pacific Northwest but has made up for it by attending the various senior track meets.
One of his idols is Dallas’ Orville Rogers, 100, who has five world records.
When the two had breakfast, Vergin said, “I told him, ‘I want you to run fast because I’m going after (the records) in 20 years.’”
So how long does Vergin want to compete?
“As long as I can,” he said.
Rowe chuckles as he hears that.
“I don’t want to set any limitations,” he said. “If anybody can do it, he can.
“I think about training when I get to his age. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do the things this man does.”