For John Byrd, it’s ‘never too late’

Former CHS teacher taking on Senior Olympics

You may recognize Clinton resident John Byrd from his work at the Clinch River Environmental Studies Organization, or his decades-long teaching career at Clinton High and Clinton Junior High.

Now, he’s made a name for himself nationally as a competitor in the Senior Olympics.

“Getting people off the couch is a pretty important thing,” Byrd said. “As you get a little older, you tend to sit around a little more. It’s not necessary to be some kind of super athlete.”

But it’s important to do something, and while athletic routines weren’t new to him, it was something he hadn’t made a lot of time for in the past few years.

“It’s an interesting story,” Byrd said when asked what inspired him to start running again. “I got this weird disease back when I was in my late 20s called Cat Scratch Fever. I was in the hospital for more than 30 days. I remember a big moment for me was when I was able to walk to the mailbox and back. I said to myself when I did that, ‘I think I’ll run a marathon.’”

So he did. He qualified for the Boston Marathon and participated in that. But when kids and jobs came along, he quit running for a long time.

“A friend of mine told me I could sign up for the Tennessee Senior Olympics,” he said. “So I did, and it was a lot of fun. Turns out us aging folks are pretty competitive, but when the race is over, everybody is just as sweet and kind and nice. But, you don’t lose that competitive push just because you get a little older.”

Byrd competed in the 70-74 age group in multiple running categories. He placed 10th in the 1500-meter, 800-meter and 5K.

There are more than 20 different sports available for people to participate in, according to Byrd. Categories range from corn hole to swimming.

The nationals were in New Mexico this year.

“That was a humbling experience right there,” Byrd said.

“There are some people that are pretty special when it comes to their abilities. Being able to participate with them was a big deal.”

Then he came home and won the state 5K.

Byrd picked running back up “in a serious way” when he was 69. He had been playing basketball with “some really nice people” in Norris, he said, but wasn’t really in running shape. He started running with a former student and personal trainer, then joined the Knoxville Endurance running group. He learned that recovery is the hardest thing for an older person who exercises regularly.

He hired a coach who made his life pretty miserable at times.

“But that’s what you’ve got to have,” he said. “Somebody that pushes you really hard, then backs off.”

If you push too hard, your recovery takes a little longer, he said.

But it’s never too late to start.

In addition to running, he does CrossFit.

“I really like CrossFit a lot,” he said. “For older people, you’ve got to be really careful about throwing around heavy weights, though.”