An asphalt runway for a backyard pole vaulting pit has led from rural Chebanse to Lyon, France.
Larry Lagesse, a Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School athlete in 1966, has proven to be the best all-around athlete — in his age group — in America, again. He won his third National Masters Athletics-sanctioned combined events championship recently in San Antonio.
And, now, there is no place for his typical humility: He belongs among the best 67-year-old athletes in the world. He outscored the former national champ by 500 points, even though a hamstring pull curtailed his run in the pole vault; limited his javelin toss and eliminated any chance of finishing his final run.
“I had broken my personal best records in four of the first five events. And, I was on my way to my best pole vault when I felt something in my right leg,” he explained. “So, I had to quit the pole vault at 10 feet, 6 inches. I wanted to go farther, but I couldn’t.”
Lagesse still managed to win the pole vault, and the javelin, but he estimates if he was healthy, he could have added another 500 points to his total.
“As it is the Europeans and the other veterans there … they’ll just see this American who won with 5,700 points [actually, he garnered 5,753] and I don’t think they’ll be impressed,” he noted.
There is little time, though, to focus on the psychological angles. Lagesse has to get that hamstring ready before he gets on the plane for France, Aug. 1.
“The hamstring won’t be a problem,” said his coach Kris Kalmese, who has run his own fitness center in Bourbonnais for five years. Lagesse is only one of the senior athletes he preps. He also works with all levels of soccer, football, basketball, baseball, hockey and softball players.
“The problem with his hamstring is really in his lower back,” he explained. “His problem is that he’s too tight in the lower back, the groin and the hamstring. We can work on that. He will be ready.”
Lagesse will do his part, exercising with Kalmese, getting treatments at Accelerated Physical Therapy, working out with weights and still getting some practice in his backyard athletic field.
“Every day, the hamstring feels a little better. I’m jogging now. I’ll get back to running,” he said. “I don’t want to overdo anything, but I don’t want to be stale. I have to keep my muscle tone.”
So, what separates Lagesse from his fellow 67-year-olds, who gave up athletics a half-century ago?
“He works hard, but mostly I think it’s what he eats,” Kalmese said. “He’s cut his dairy. He eats a lot of seeds. He’s a tournament fisherman, and he eats a lot of fish, a lot of vegetables. He reverses inflammation before it starts.
“He’s very good at the pole vault, but he’s not the fastest or the strongest,” he added. “He’s just in the upper middle of everything he does.”
The combined events competition requires him to excel at short dashes and a longer run. He has to clear hurdles, the high jump and the pole vault bar. In the field events, he tosses a discus, a shot put and the javelin. He also must have the techniques down for the long jump, and he must learn to pace his efforts over the two-day ordeal.
“But all I have to do right now is get as healthy as I can before I get on that plane,” he said with a winning smile.