Ninety-two-year-old John Boots competes in national track events – and wins. But he discovered his talent at an age when most people slow down.
The Slidell resident says he began having irregular heartbeats in his 50s. “I went to a doctor, and he said that I was headed for heart trouble,” Boots says. “That alarmed me, and I began to find ways I could lessen the bad news.”
One of them was running.
“I started running because I heard it was a good idea,” he says. Boots lived in the New York City area at the time, where he faced four hours of commuting each day. He often ran in the dark after work.
Boots, who was born in Pennsylvania, lived for many of his school years in Korea with his missionary parents.
After graduating from Yale University, he fought in World War II.
“Having lived in Korea, I knew we were headed for war,” he says. Boots fought from June 1941 until the war ended in 1945. He fought on both fronts: working first on a destroyer in the Atlantic swapping convoys with the British and then landing in Normandy on D-Day. He was stationed in the Mediterranean and later fought in several naval battles in the Pacific. He was on his way to China when the war ended.
Boots’ employer, McDermott International, transferred him to New Orleans when he was 59. “I kept up my running, and I got to be known among some of my friends,” he says. When the company entered teams in the Corporate Cup Race in New Orleans, Boots got his chance to compete for the first time.
Boots filled a spot on a team when another runner dropped out. Cup rules stipulated that one team member be older than 36; the then-63-year-old qualified.
Boots ran the 5K in 27 minutes and continued to shave time off subsequent races.
“I said, ‘Wow, I must be a genius at this,’” he says.
Then, at 64, Boots entered his first USA Track & Field regional meet in New Orleans. The meets divide runners in the master’s category by age, so Boots competed in the 60-64 age group. He won three medals.
“That really got me excited,” he says. Boots began working with a coach and continued competing. Next, he headed to the national USA Track & Field championship, and again he won three medals, including first place in the 1,500-meter run.
In his late 60s, Boots was at his most active, running three events: 800-meter, 1,500-meter and 5,000-meter. He gradually found he was best at the 1,500-meter and 800-meter and has since dropped the 5,000-meter.
Over the years, Boots has won 21 national championships. He’s held many records, though only one USA Track & Field record still stands: the record for the fastest indoor 2-mile run. “The reason I hold that is because they don’t run it anymore,” he says.
Now competing in the 90-94 age group, Boots admits he’s slowing down. He’s had a few injuries that have held him out of recent competitions, and he says he adds 15 seconds to his 1,500-meter time each year.
Boots competed at the end of June in the National Senior Games, where he won the 800-meter run, a milestone that gave him the No. 1 ranking in the country for his age group. In 2010, Boots was ranked No. 1 in his age group for both the 800- and 1,500-meter runs.
Boots says his training is “standard for a middle-distance runner.” It consists of an age-defying five-day-a-week regimen that incorporates distance running, speed training and flexibility and strength training.
“I’m very lucky that I have pretty good health and can carry on a pretty brutal training program,” he says.
Boots says a few factors keep him running: “One thing that keeps me going is scientific curiosity. It’s fascinating to see how much I can improve with proper training. It seems impossible I’m going to get there. My main motivation is my health. It’s a good feeling, to be in shape.”