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Burnaby sprinter, 81, powers his way to B.C. records

Norm Lesage, 81, of Burnaby is a B.C. champion masters sprinter who trains regularly under the power lines near BC Hydro's Newell Substation.

Sprinter, who trains under BC Hydro power lines, ran his first race at 68

Posted by Rob Klovance

"Papa, when I'm 40, will you still be alive?"

"Yes, I'm planning on it."

"And will you still be able to play soccer with me?"

"I hope so. You'll just have to take it easy on me."

That's a common line of questioning with my 7-year-old son, who recognizes the age gap between us and starts doing the math. It's one of the reasons I often run, rather than drive, to pick him up at school. It's why I play hockey twice a week.

I want to be strong and active into my 70s and 80s. I want to be like Norm Lesage.

Norm is a Burnaby man who emailed us to report that he'd just set a couple age-group running records at the Trevor Craven Memorial Track and Field Championships, records he already owned. He contacted us because he trains regularly under the powerlines near BC Hydro's Newell substation in Burnaby.

Norm Lesage
Norm Lesage hopes that spreading the word about fitness among seniors can help alleviate the pressure on our health care system.

Norm is 81 and covers the 100 metres in just over 16 seconds. He is not the senior you help to make it across an intersection before the light turns red. He's more likely to beat you to the other side, regardless of your age.

"I was training near the substation the other day and one of your employees looks at me and says: 'Wow, are you ever fast!," recalled Lesage in a follow-up interview. "I say, 'And I'm also getting faster. And I think the reason I'm getting faster is I think you guys are running a better grade of electricity through your wires."

Lesage follows this with a hearty laugh. He knows it's not true, but he also thinks his track accomplishments at least prove there are no negative health effects to be being in proximity to power lines.

"For all the talk of powerlines, my [running] times are getting better running under power lines," he says. "It's unbelievable when you think about it. My coach says: "Do you realize your time is faster than last time? At your age?"

A late-bloomer, in the extreme, Norm didn't run a race of any kind until he was 68, coming in last in a sprint at the Arizona Senior Olympics. And it took a lot of persistence, and training, before he was in the medal hunt.

"I came back from Arizona, ran in Port Alberni and came last again," he says. "Then I joined this club, the Tri-City Greyhounds. And from the time I was 68 until I was 77, I never won a race.

"And then 78 came along and bang, everything fell into place. I was running with guys for nine years, four guys I never ever beat. And then I went to a race in Penticton and I beat 'em all. The coach is standing there with his mouth open. What happened here?"

Since then, it's been "gold medal after gold medal" for Lesage, at least here in B.C.

"The coach says, everybody peaks in his lifetime," says Lesage. "He says you had the potential to run fast, but you never developed it. But it's there in ya."

How fast can Lesage get? Ranked somewhere around No. 6 in the world for the 80 to 84 age group, it's unlikely he'll be able to catch the likes of Japan's Saburo Ishigami, who ran a sizzling 15.08 last September in Tokyo and who sits 5th among the all-time fastest over-80 sprinters, with American Payton Jordan holding the record (an amazing 14.35 seconds in 1997).

But if Lesage hits his peak after 84, he may have a shot at a world mark. The fastest ever in the 85-89 group is Suda Giichi of Japan, who ran the 100 metres in 16.16 seconds in 1998.

Next up for Lesage is the B.C. Seniors Games in Trail in August, then a trip south to George, Utah for the Huntsman World Senior Games in October. He's chasing the fastest guys on the planet, but it's not the real reason he runs.

Lesage says he loves to run and train, but he also likes to spread the word that seniors can be active. He argues that fitter, healthier seniors would take some of the stress of our overloaded health care system.

Of course, he doesn't encourage octagenarians to start sprinting.

"I used Google and found a story on me," he says. "And one guy – a kinesiology professor up at SFU – said 'That kind of exercise isn't good for everybody at this age. I don't recommend what this guy is doing!'"

Rob Klovance is managing editor of bchydro.com and runs the 100 somewhat slower than Usain Bolt's world record time of 9.58 seconds.