Alma alum Hilary Goerge ’70 is one of the top competitors in his age group
LANSING — Hilary Goerge ’70 was a self-described “pretty good” athlete during his time at Alma College. But as he has aged, Goerge has become one of the top track and field athletes in the world for his age group.
Goerge, now 73, won four national championships in 2019 for men ages 70-74; competing in the shot put, weight throw, super weight throw and the ultraweight pentathlon. His efforts in the shot put and pentathlon were good enough at the time to place him No. 1 in the world for that year. He ended the year ranked No. 1 in pentathlon and No. 3 in the world in shot put (No. 1 in the United States).
“I’ve always been a little on the understated side,” said Goerge, a retired government auditor with the state of Michigan. “It’s taken me a number of years to come to the realization that in my events and age group, I am one of the better throwers in the country. Every time I go into a new age group in these various events, I’m setting new Michigan records and nobody in Michigan can beat me consistently. It’s nice, but a little strange.”
Goerge came to Alma College from Fowler, where he said he built up his physique and work ethic by putting in long hours on his parents’ farm. He also played high school sports and enjoyed varying degrees of success. He was “the 11th man on an 11-man basketball team,” but he was also honored as All-State for his class as a fullback in football. Goerge also competed in track and field at Fowler, where he was a league champion shot putter and pole vaulter.
Goerge was recruited to come to Alma in 1966 by hall of fame football coach Denny Stolz. Perhaps in a way that is true to his character, Goerge said it was a rather unspectacular courtship.
“Even though Alma College was just 30 miles from my house, I have to admit, I had never heard of it,” Goerge recalled. “But (Stolz) came down to Fowler and talked to me and it sounded like a cool place. I don’t remember if I ever took a visit before I came — I just signed up. And it was a great decision, such as it was. I got a great education and friends that remain to this day.”
It was also through Alma that Goerge picked up his first serious experience with track and field’s throwing events. He learned to compete in the discus and javelin while at Alma, and eventually became the team’s best discus thrower, winning an MIAA championship in 1970. Goerge said he enjoyed playing sports in high school and college, but after graduating with a degree in business, started to focus more on his family and professional life.
“A lot of people who don’t pursue sports professionally just give it up after college. I kind of had the same impression after graduation,” Goerge said. “It wasn’t until a little later in life when I started to think, ‘I should do more to get active,’ and when I was in my 40s, I picked up track and field again.”
Finding a new passion
Goerge found a home with the USA Track and Field (USATF) Masters program, which is designed for competitors ages 35 and older, as well as the Senior Olympics designed for competitors 50 and older. He has competed in USATF and Senior Olympics meets for roughly the past 30 years, traveling across the country to compete when it’s feasible. In order to accommodate for knee and back issues that have come up in recent years, he has learned new techniques, and he’s even learned to compete in new events, like the hammer and weight throw.
“People at these events, for the most part, are not afraid to try to help someone improve what they are doing, and that’s nice to see. For my part, I’ve been at events, watching people compete, and thinking to myself, ‘I could do that.’ It’s fun to try new things — to experiment and see yourself get better,” Goerge said.
In these new events, and in his older ones as well, Goerge has improved with his age. At the USATF National Masters Track and Field Championships in July 2019, he threw the shot put 47 feet, 3 1/2 inches, and in the weight throw, he totaled 59 feet, 7 1/2 inches.
In August 2019, at the USATF National Masters Throws Championships, he placed first in the 35-pound super weight throw, with a distance of 29 feet, 8 inches, as well as in the ultraweight pentathlon, in which he scored 3,878 total points (throws of five different weights ranging from 16 to 100 pounds). For his age group, he took home national championships in all four events.
Goerge remains modest about his success. He’s quick to point out that while his shot put and pentathlon marks were tops in the world for 2019 at the time he threw them, they are not all-time world records. He also notes that the shot put “ball” he throws weighs less than the ones his younger peers throw in their respective events.
“The majority of my success, athletically, has come as I’ve aged. The better guys are getting hurt, aging out or dying. So far, I have managed to hold up well,” he said with a laugh. “I would say I’ve been very lucky to avoid serious injuries.”
Goerge gets a little more serious when he talks about remaining fit as he grows older, and the benefit it has had on his health overall. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions it brought forth, he regularly went to his local gym to use weight machines. The events in which he competes strongly favor the agile, so his sense of balance has to remain strong to do well. The motivation to continue doing well also benefits his mental health, he says.
“I’m thankful that I don’t have to worry about some of the things that people my age have to worry about,” Goerge said. “I see people up in their 80s and 90s — at some of these meets, I even see people in their 100s — that are still doing this stuff, and I think to myself, ‘That’s my goal. I want to do this when I’m 100.’”
The pandemic resulted in cancellation of most USATF and Senior Olympics events in 2020 and may threaten them in 2021. Thankfully, over time he has also gained a sense of patience, and is ready to compete again just as soon as it safe to do so.
“I think you have to go with the flow of life and COVID-19 has taught a lot of people that lesson,” Goerge said. “I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve been able to do. I’ve made a lot of friends that I haven’t been able to see in a while, and I’m looking forward to seeing them again.”
Goerge added that he typically wears Alma College gear at his meets — either a hat or a shirt — and sometimes receives recognition from fellow alums for it, which he is always happy to receive.