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The 101-year-old Spearchucker: Gallantry in Slow Motion

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By William Thomas

So, I open up my morning paper to the sports section to see how Philadelphia Flyers’ captain Claude Giroux is being greeted by teammates at training camp after being arrested in Ottawa at a bar on Canada Day for “repeatedly grabbing the buttocks of a male police officer.”  (I hope you’re sitting down for this one – police say “alcohol may have been involved!!!”)

Instead, I spot a photograph of a very elderly lady in a track suit who appears to be competing in a pole vaulting event!?!  The mental image of that woman sprinting down the track, jamming that pole into a metal slot and then slingshotting herself up and over a bar high above her head made me cringe.  My first thought was that she must be on the same kind of performance program made famous by Ben Johnson.  Then I double-checked the article to make sure it was a genuine sports story and not an ad for hip replacement surgery.

Then I read the article.  Florence Storch, 101-years-old, of Sherwood Park, Alberta is the oldest competitor in the over-55 javelin throwing event and indeed the oldest participant in the entire tournament. That six-foot pole balanced on her shoulder was a spear.  Centenarian Florence Storch is a spearchucker, not a pole vaulter.  Wisely, ice climbing, volcano surfing, wingsuit flying and pole vaulting are events not sanctioned by the Canada 55-Plus Games. These senior events are meant to be inspiring, not insane.

Florence is described in the article as “a little old lady with a really big stick.”  I’m sure the reporter was safely back in Ontario by the time Florence read that description of herself.  “Impaling” is not part of Florence’s javelin throwing per se … but still a possibility.

Florence was born in 1913 when throwing spears involved wild African animals who became highly vengeful when you missed with your toss. Back then, you could pretty much toss a coin to predict who … the thrower or the runner … would become dinner.

Hardly looking her age, Florence likes to joke that she looks more like 110 years old instead of 101.  She got into her sport innocently enough when, while helping organize the seniors’ games, she noticed nobody had signed up for the javelin.  So she put her name down.  She was a bust that first year, so she got the local high school athletic coach to set up a training program for her.  After a few years of practice, she started winning medals and has dominated the sport in her age bracket ever since.

Today during training sessions, Florence needs the help of a friend.  Her companion stickhandles the javelin through the halls and doorways of Hanna’s Seniors Lodge and then they practice on the back lawn.  Florence throws the javelin and her friend, a really good friend, fetches the missile after every toss.  Not to be critical, but this sport of seniors throwing sticks could really use dogs.

Unlike a red wine with a lot of tannins, the years are not helping Florence become better. While once she took a run at the starting line before releasing her toss, she now throws from a standing position.  As the javelin leaves her right hand, her left hand latches on to the walker to steady herself.  And while the instrument remains an aluminum shaft that is about six feet in length, Florence has shrunk to below five feet.  Florence also admits her eyesight isn’t what it used to be, which has caused a shortage of volunteers who go out onto the pitch to measure throwing distances. All it takes is one guy coming into the clubhouse with a spear in his back and all the other volunteers start phoning in sick.  Florence’s son Ed also competes in several events at the seniors’ games, but at 70 years of age, she dismisses him as a “rookie.”

Although Florence Storch may not be an athlete in her prime, she’s got game. Unlike the shortstop from the Toronto Blue Jays who believes you could die from getting grass stains on your uniform, Florence does what it takes to get the job done.  A collection of gold medals underscores this woman’s determination to go out year after year and slay the real enemy with a spear … aging.

“You’ve got to make up your mind and I’ve made up mine – I’m going to get the gold.”

Memo to kids – there it is, the secret to a great career.  First, try things— lots of things— until you find the one that kind of fits.  Then get serious, then get better and soon you’ll be going for the gold.  Later in life when you’re down and disappointed and find yourself bent over picking up the pieces of your chosen career, imagine Florence Storch standing behind you about to unleash that spear.  And yeah, she’s got the pointy end at the front.  If that doesn’t get you up and running, nothing will.

Spear in hand, walker at the ready with every toss, Florence proves, that although her performance might be beatable, the human spirit is not.  Florench Storch – a spearchucker extraordinaire and an inspiration to us all.

For comments, ideas and copies of The True Story of  Wainfleet, go to www.williamthomas.ca

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