As he sorts through a dinner table covered in medals, 75-year-old Les East explains how he can compete in a dozen or so track and field events each year.
His medals – about 150 of them – are grouped into bunches of threes or fours, and sometimes more, as he enters into multiple events at every Games he attends – not just his specialities: the triple jump, high jump and long jump.
Arizona, Utah, California and Nevada read prominently in the crest of the medallions.
Some years there’s more events and sometimes other events get in the way, such as his October favourite, the Huntsman World Senior Games in Utah. East will skip it this year, as he and wife Betty will instead be with their son and daughter-in-law to welcome the arrival of a grandson.
“We have an RV based in Arizona, which we use to attend these Senior Games,” the Saanich man says. “We’re big-time snowbirds.”
The couple recently celebrated 50 years of marriage, though there’s no medal for that loving achievement, but there is a series of wedding photos on the Easts’ mantle.
Last weekend they rode their bikes onto the Coho ferry and East competed in the Washington State Senior Games in Olympia. He won bronze in the shot put and discus, two events with plenty of competition. And as it happens, he was the only male in the 75-to-79 age group to throw the hammer, earning an automatic gold for that category.
“It’s something I’ve really accepted. When I first started competing (in 2004) I really wanted to win, but now I’m most excited about having people there to compete against. That’s what matters most,” East says.
Thusly, he has pushed a box brimful of first place blue ribbons to the side of the dinner table. He won’t be sorting them.
“The ribbons are from some of the smaller track and field competitions on the Island or around B.C. It’s great to have them, but the truth is the smaller events are often without a deep field of competition so many of my first place ribbons can be misleading.”
Soon after ’04 is when East was regularly competing in track and field meets for the first time since high school in Vernon. He was “hooked” after he made it onto the high jump podium at the 2005 World Masters Games in Edmonton.
The super septuagenarian is driven, but he’s humble, too. East was in the Navy and flew a Sea King helicopter for 27 years. He was well into retirement when a decade ago he drove past the Senior Games going on in Chilliwack and “that was that.”
“I thought, ‘What the heck are all those grey-haired people doing?.’ The field was hopping busy with different track and field events. Nobody was watching.”
Well, there will be plenty of people watching when East and many of his training partners with the Peninsula Track and Field Club attend the B.C. Senior Games in Langley, Sept. 9 to 13.
The only drawback is East’s left knee, which is hampered by stretched ligaments. If it doesn’t heal by Sept. 9 he’ll be kept from two record attempts in the 75-79 age group for triple jump and high jump. It’s his first year in that age bracket, as he owns the 70-74 B.C. records with 8.41 metres in the triple jump and a 1.3-metre high jump.
Instead of jumping, he’s taken to throwing events until his knee can repair itself. He had a similar injury on the right knee a few years ago, which required surgery.
In Langley, East will compete in the weight pentathlon, the hammer, shot put, discus, weight and javelin.
Earlier this summer East won seven medals at the B.C. Masters Games (35 and up) in Kelowna, June 27 to 29.