At 76 Howard Booth is going strong as Masters Athlete

Bob Dylan could have very well been describing Dexter Township resident Howard Booth when he wrote ‘may you stay forever young.’ And now in his 70s, Howard is still competing and collecting the medals and trophies to prove it.

I had a chance to sit down with him and hear a little more about his astounding athleticism at his age. My first question for him was, “How is this even possible at age 76?”

“By basically staying fit,” he says. “I was a high school athlete who played all four sports in Mio, Michigan. There were a lot of opportunities to play sports and enjoy them. Growing up, there just wasn’t a lot of fun stuff to do in town other than sports. There wasn’t a lot going on.”

Howard has lived an active life regularly competing in one way or another in various sports. This year at age 76, he went to Torun, Poland and won the World Masters Championship for indoor pole vault thus remaining the ranking world champion in his age group. He also set an American record in the short hurdles becoming world champion in that event as well. He also runs the 100-meter dash and 400-meter relay for Team USA.

World Masters Athletics (WMA) is the organization behind worldwide track and field, cross country, and road running events for people 35 years of age and older. Along with sanctioning worldwide events, WMA outlines the rule modifications for different age levels. Separate worldwide championships are held for indoor events and outdoor events.

Pole vaulting at a Washington DC event

As a kid playing pick up games with friends in sandlot baseball and basketball, Howard moved on to varsity sports in high school and then on to collegiate sports at Eastern Michigan University.

Surprisingly, in spite of his athletic prowess, Howard went to college on an academic scholarship. His father felt his diminutive size at 5′ 6″ tall and 130 pounds would only get him hurt playing against bigger players. Howard found other ways to keep moving and stay active. He caught the eye of coaches anyway and was recruited for the gymnastics team, the track team, and cheerleading. And then after graduation, he settled into road running for the next 30 years just for health. He did many 5K, 10K, and half-marathon events like the Dexter-Ann Arbor Run.

“My brother talked me into doing the Pikes Peak Ascent, which is the half marathon from the bottom of Pikes Peak up to the top,” said Howard. “So you go a mile-and-a-half vertical while you’re going 13.1 miles horizontal. It’s a really challenging race.”

Competing in the 80-meter hurdles.

“So, after a lifetime of staying in one sport or another, as a 60-year-old, friends suggested I try the Senior Olympics,” Howard explains. “I looked up what they were jumping with a pole vault. I went out into my backyard and cut a maple sapling which I had done back in my high school days. I took some jumps and figured ‘Okay, I can I can still do this.’”

At Howard’s first outing at the Michigan Senior Olympics, he set a Michigan age group record for the 60-65 age group. From there his athletic ability spread out into running and long-jump events.

Fast forward 15 years and at the 2019 Michigan Senior Olympics, Howard won five gold medals and set five records in pole vault, long jump, 60-meter sprint, 60-meter hurdles, and the 300-meter dash. He scored a plethora of other medals and records at other events as well.

It is no surprise that this past summer Howard was selected as one of the three inductees into the Michigan Senior Olympics Hall of Fame. It is quite an elite club with only 19 members before this year’s ceremony.

But back to my original question: How is this possible for a person of Howard’s age?

Team USA in Torun, Poland

“You ask how a 76-year-old is still pole-vaulting within inches of the world record on a really good day?” Howard laughs. “A big part of it is consciously working at it but also never having let it go. I didn’t do the typical American thing which was after college get totally immersed in my job and gain 30 pounds. Athletics was a big part of my life in high school and college and I brought that along with me. Life was hectic. We had a young baby. I was finishing my Ph.D. but I still found time to get out for a half-hour to an hour run of some kind.”

Before retiring, Howard was a Professor of Physiology at Eastern Michigan University. I asked him if his profession gave him any special insight into how the body operates and ages.