For a moment there in 2006, Frank Condon forgot who he was, what he represented, what he was trying to teach. And in the process he humiliated himself.
At the National Senior Games Championship in Boise, Idaho, Condon, then 64, approached Frank Levine, 82. Levine had just competed in the 80-and-over mile. In the course of telling Levine how he remembered him in 1964 when they both were on the track at Villanova University, Condon asked a simple question he regretted.
"So how did you get here?" Condon asked. He was acknowledging age bias. After all, when purchasing alcohol, Levine hadn't been asked to show his I.D. in over a half century.
"Well," began Levine, a retired tax attorney, "I woke up yesterday morning in Philadelphia and got out of my bed, went to my shower, cleaned myself, put on my clothes, drove my car to the airport, got on my airplane, rented my car in Boise and checked in to my hotel room.
"How da hell did you get here?" Levine said tersely to Condon.
Condon turned 30 shades of hot pink and painfully got the message: "He didn't want me treating him like an old man. I was so embarrassed."
Embarrassed because he not only knew better, Condon had felt and still feels to this day the sting of a dismissive glance at his white hair. As if somehow that color immediately exposes him as ancient history, a story already told, a life already lived.
Oh, how such a stereotype would be destroyed if a simple question was asked.
"Frank, are you active?"
Condon, who competed in the Sonoma Wine Country Senior Games this past weekend, would control an impulse to scream ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Condon holds three age-group world track records, a 5:11.44 for the indoor mile in the 65-69 bracket, a 2:17 in the 800 meters for the same age group, and the fastest time ever run by a 68-year-old in the 800 meters, 2:18.
Now 71, Condon has the American record for the 65-69 bracket with a 5:12.3 outdoor mile.
Condon has been a national senior champion 15 times in various events and age groups.
In other words Condon is no lumpy bag of marshmallows sitting on the sofa. He ain't no cupcake waiting for some more icing. He ain't a scoop of Haagen-Dazs wanting the hot fudge.
"The older you get," said his wife, Jan, 72, who was the national 65-69 champion in the indoor 400 meters in 2006, "you care less what people think of you. You get braver."
Appearances, like wrinkles or more hair growing out of your ears than on top of your head, become less important. Condon was a scholarship athlete at Villanova, ran a 1:47.5 800 there and may be more inclined than some other card-carrying AARP members to get out there and burn it. While the desire to run might flame hotter for Condon than others, the desire to live is universal, or it should be.
And technology — as odd as this may read — is helping to make it easier. It helps for one simple reason: It removes the isolation of working out with no one around, with no high school or university friends or teammates on the field or in the stands.