Benefield: Wine Country Games bring out competitive spirit in all ages

At 53, discus hurler Cameron Bolles shows no signs of slowing down. He'll go for a world record in Santa Rosa this weekend.|

A few months after Cameron Bolles smashed every bone in his face, he was out spinning around on a concrete circle like a top.

It wasn't the spinning that hurt - it was the walking some 200 feet to retrieve all of those four-pound discs.

“It hurt me to go out there and get them,” he said. “It was harder to go and get them than to turn.”

But Bolles kept twirling, turning and tossing, and he kept trudging out to pick up the discs so he could turn and toss again, despite the pain. Because Bolles, now 53, is a world-champion discus thrower, and spinning and releasing is what he does.

Barely a year after that horrific August 2009 motorcycle crash left him with plates in his head, without his front teeth and with a broken hip, sternum, ribs and facial bones, Bolles earned the first of his two World Masters Championships.

Not bad for a guy who started throwing when he was 30.

And not bad for a guy whose athletic trajectory has been nothing near straight.

Bolles, who graduated from Montgomery High and Santa Rosa Junior College, will compete in the seventh annual Wine Country Games track and field events Saturday at Santa Rosa High. And he is a marquee name among masters athletes, the USA Track and Field classification for longtime competitors.

Bolles dabbled in sports in high school, but nothing serious.

When he was 30 and watching as his “life was going nowhere,” he returned to school and enrolled at Santa Rosa Junior College.

He wanted to be a writer. He was taking a basketball class when track and field coach Ron Whitney saw the 6-foot-7 Bolles bowling over opponents.

Bolles couldn't dribble around them, so he'd just go through them. Bolles says Whitney took one look and put a discus in his hand.

But Bolles never had a lot of instruction. He learned bad habits and muscled his way into monster throws, rather than learning the delicate dance of balance and power that discus requires.

“I'm still learning and it's 20 years later,” he said.

“One of my first coaches made me watch a video of ice skaters and ballerinas,” he said.

Bolles excelled at the JC, eventually getting second at the state meet as a sophomore. He was scooped up by the Division II program at Cal State Bakersfield, despite being a decade older than his teammates.

College proved an environment where Bolles could fine-tune technique rather than try to outmuscle everyone.

“It was awesome,” he said of having teammates a decade younger who had been throwing competitively a lot longer. “They knew more about throwing than I did, but I could just throw further.”

Bolles goes about his routine with a youthful joy.

He mocks his brightly colored shoes that he says make his massive frame move in a lighter way.

He talks to the disc as it flies through the air - knowing immediately if he's ripped off a good one. He calls his favorite disc “the pig.”

At an event like the Wine Country Games, defending champion Bolles' crown is not expected to be contested. He's king in these parts.

But still, Bolles works out like a madman. He ripped his biceps muscle a month ago.

“That didn't stop me,” he said with a shrug.

He's eying Al Oerter's 28-year-old USATF masters discus record for 50- to 54-year-olds: 205 feet, 10 inches.

Oerter is an Olympic legend - one of only two track and field competitors to win gold in the same event in four consecutive Olympics.

Oerter also set records at the 1956, 1960, 1964 and 1968 Olympics.

Of Oerter's masters record, Bolles says he's tossed that distance in practice - but it's a whole different deal in meet-day conditions.

“If one little thing is off, it's all off,” he said.

The Wine Country Games will have the requisite judges and official confirmation structure should a record-setting toss happen, according to Bolles. And he'll be using the discus ring that he trains on, which is no small deal in a discipline where the smallest tweaks or mistakes can torpedo a toss.

Bolles calls his chase of Oerter's masters record a big deal personally.

“A four-time gold medalist? That'd be cool,” he said.

But one also gets the sense that if he doesn't get it, he'll be just fine, too. He'll keep throwing, tweaking, figuring things out.

As he kept reminding me throughout his workout Tuesday, he's still got a lot to learn.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 and at, on Twitter @benefield and Instagram @kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

Kerry Benefield

Columnist, The Press Democrat

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