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Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015

Senior Games medal winner Joe Liechty goes quietly about his winning ways

Friday, January 4, 2008

Recently it's been very difficult to find something remotely positive in sports reporting.

Professional, collegiate and other amateur athletics are rife with instances of corruption, gambling, cheating allegations, doping and immoral behavior.

It's enough to make one question the very nature of sport in present-day society.

Surprisingly enough, not too far away is an extraordinary athlete who embodies the spirit of competition in the most benevolent sense of the phrase.

Greencastle resident Joe Liechty, who at age 70 would seem to be well past his athletic prime, continues to amass an amazing collection of accolades in distance running.

He keeps winning ... and winning ... and winning ... and winning.

Liechty, whose slight frame personifies the body of a racer, nevertheless is somewhat of a dichotomy when compared to athletes who are proven winners.

There isn't even a slight hint of bravado in Liechty, who was hesitant to be featured in this story: "I don't know ... it's kind of embarrassing," Liechty told me when I contacted him by phone to set up our interview.

Once I was in his home, however, Liechty was gracious and politely and matter-of-factly shared his experiences.

Gold medal Liechty was awarded at the 2003 National Senior Games in Hampton, Va.
Liechty, who is arguably obsessed with competing, keeps meticulous records. When faced with a specific question, he was able to locate the answer quickly in one of the many journals, each encased in chronologically arranged binders, that document his running and racing career.

Under the advice of a doctor, Liechty took up running late in life, simply to get in better shape. The fitness aspect of the activity quickly evolved into competitive fever.

Liechty's first race was the Clover Fest 5K in 1996, but he didn't start to get serious about competition until 2001, when he competed in 19 events.

Going into 2008, Liechty has taken part in no fewer than 308 events, with a high of 53 races in 2005. It doesn't take a math major to realize that's more than a race per week.

Participation is all well and good. However, the amazing fact about Joe Liechty, who logs in excess of 1,500 miles a year, isn't the fact that he competes with such regularity. Joe Liechty wins.

Take the New England Patriots, New York Yankees and even the venerated Cal Ripkens of the sporting world: Liechty has lost three races in his competitive running career ... three.

That equates to an astounding .990 winning percentage in a sport where factors such as injury and mental preparation and focus are as crucial as in any other athletic endeavor.

It could be argued that Liechty is a big fish in a small pond, but that would be an uneducated assumption. He has certainly competed often at the local level, but Liechty routinely wins at top echelon events, including the Indy 500 Festival Mini Marathon.

Liechty, who is coming off a lengthy period of inactivity due to a ligament strain in his calf, recently ran against some premier southwestern runners at an event in Plano, Texas.

Liechty, as usual, took home top honors amongst athletes aged 70-74. What was remarkable, however, is that the Plano race used a unique scoring system which graded all participants on a combination of factors, including time and age group.

Liechty's cumulative rating of 92.3 was nearly eight points higher than that of any other competitor in the race, including the overall race champion.

Arguably the pinnacle of Liechty's competitive racing career came in 2003, when he was awarded the gold medal for the 5K Road Race at the National Senior Games, formerly the Senior Olympics, in Hampton, Va. Liechty defeated the silver medalist, Joseph Fodor of Ohio, by 39 seconds.

Liechty shared that the Senior Games organizers, "put on a good show."

He went on to say that the race was a particular challenge for him because all of the competitors, regardless of their age group, began the race at the same time.

"In the actual race, I didn't know who I had to beat. I usually look around for the old guys, but that didn't really help me," he said.

But beat them he did. Witnessing the medal ceremony at the winner's podium was Joe's wife Suzanne, who Liechty credits as his greatest supporter and source of inspiration. Suzanne has missed only three of Liechty's races throughout his career.

As a result of his Senior Games victory, Liechty was the top-ranked American runner in the 65-69 age group of the Master's Divison of the U.S. Track and Field Association in 2003.

Liechty's best 5K time was 20 minutes flat in 2004.

What is it that motivates the lonely distance runner?

"The time is what's important ... I'm always trying to beat my best time," said Liechty.

Joe Liechty is clearly a family man, evidenced by grandchildren running through his house, and a smattering of family photos scattered amongst his running accolades, which literally fill the den of his home from floor to ceiling.

When asked to prioritize running in his life, Liechty offered, "God is first, my family is second, and running is third."

It's clear that Joe Liechty runs for himself, not for the notoriety that winning brings along with it. As the interview concluded, Liechty said, "Don't go to too much trouble."

In a society awash in chest-thumping self-promotion, that kind of genuine humility is indeed refreshing.

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What an inspiration!!!! Keep it up Joe.

-- Posted by bannerstuff on Fri, Jan 4, 2008, at 7:37 AM

Very well written.

-- Posted by South of 40 on Fri, Jan 4, 2008, at 1:11 PM

That is great Joe, It is good to hear about someone that has their priorities all in order -- go Joe go , best wishes always,

The Huber's , Fl.

-- Posted by huberi@bellsouth.net on Fri, Jan 4, 2008, at 3:43 PM

Joe: It is a blessing to know that God is in control of your life. I know that every step you run, he is with you. You set the standred on how to live my life and also everyone who knows you. I am so glad that I can call you my friend. Gary Hanlon

-- Posted by ghanlon on Fri, Jan 4, 2008, at 7:11 PM

Congratulations to you, Joe! We are proud to be friends with a Christian athlete who has his priorities in the right order. Buck & Barb

-- Posted by Buck & Barb on Sat, Jan 5, 2008, at 12:34 AM

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