At 67, Jim Law has just hit his stride as a sprinter. Once an overweight, two-pack-a-day smoker with a stratospheric cholesterol level, Law, the nation's fastest senior citizen, has turned back the clock, split second by split second. Modem Maturity has described him as an "African-American Clark Kent," but it's hard to imagine that a sexagenarian Superman would look as fit as the bespectacled Law does in a Lycra bodysuit. "When people think their difficulties are tied to the aging process only, they haul off and die," Law says. "And hang that."
Running in the 65-to-69 bracket of the U.S. National Senior Sports Organization (USNSO), an eight-year-old association that governs competition in 18 sports for people 55 and over, Law has set world records outdoors in the 400 meters (58.79 seconds) and indoors in the 200 (26.92) and 400 (60.67). He also holds the American outdoor marks in the 100 (12.71) and the 60 (8.14). Law hopes to improve on those outdoor records this week at the USNSO's biennial championships in Baton Rouge.
Law works out thrice weekly on a high school soccer field near his home in Charlotte, N.C. He doesn't like to run long or hard—or even stretch. "The older you get, the more time you need to rest your body from the assaults you have visited upon it," he says.
A psychology professor at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, Law knew nothing of the USNSO until he won a table tennis event at a local seniors competition in 1985. He advanced to the state tournament, where he saw other seniors heaving discuses and dashing across finish lines. Law, who had been a sprinter in college, was inspired. After training for a month, he entered the next local competition and won the 100 and the 400. Before heading to the state meet, Law decided to get a physical. His doctor told him that he was overweight, that his cholesterol count was too high and that he suspected Law had some blockages in his coronary arteries. Law's passion for deviled eggs was replaced by a passion to extend his life.
He began to experience "a nostalgia of the body," as he puts it. He started on a macrobiotic diet, gave up cigarettes after having smoked for 49 years and persuaded his wife, Aurelia, to train with him. The rec room in their house now contains a rowing machine, a cross-country ski machine, a stationary bike, a stair machine and a shelf of books, which includes Growing Old Is Not for Sissies, Hydro Robics and Over the Hill but Not Out to Lunch. The weights are out on the patio. "As a sprinter you'd jolly well better have a strong upper body or you'll lose out," says Law. He now packs a fit 168 pounds on his 5'10" frame.
Law, who has been on a leave of absence from the university for a year and a half so that he can work as a spokesman for Total cereal and for the USNSO, has had to overcome hamstring pulls, sore Achilles tendons and the wearing away of cartilage in his left knee. He says he doesn't suffer the pain for the glory—though he admits, "If the opposition is snotty, I can get galvanized fairly easily." Law says he competes because of the feeling of vitality he gets and because of the inspirational competitors—some of them 20 years his senior—he meets. For Law's elders, aging is not an evil; it's the means of advancing to the next five-year age bracket. "People can't wait to get there," he says. "They wake up every morning and ask, 'Am I 80 yet?' "