Lou Billinkoff running the 50 metre dash June 22/exulting after setting what is the fastest time for anyone 95+ in 2019

By SCOTT TAYLOR
Winnipeg’s Lou Billinkoff didn’t become an internationally-recognized athlete until he was 89-years-old.

 

 

 

 


Until then, Billinkoff had no interest in playing sports. In fact, when he was a kid, he didn’t play sports because, “the other kids always chose me last, or wouldn’t pick me at all.”
Today, at age 96, however, Billinkoff has his own Athletics Canada Athlete Profile page. He’s an international track star, the current Canadian record holder in the 95-99 age group for the 60-metre dash.
“I had the record for the 100-metre dash,” he said with a mischievous smile. “But another guy broke the record six weeks after I set it. I think I might try to get it back.”

So how does an admitted lifelong non-athlete, who was an engineer with Winnipeg Hydro for 40 years before retiring 36 years ago, become a nationally-ranked age group track star? How does a nonagenarian (yes, we had to look up the word) become one of the most famous Masters’ sprinters on the planet?
It’s easy. Have a heart attack.
“It all just fell on me,” he said. “I never expected this to happen to me. I never saw myself as an athlete. I never was an athlete.
“What happened was, I had a heart attack when I was 89. That was seven years ago. After the operation – it wasn’t a very big heart attack – my doctor recommended that I go through a program at the Reh-Fit Centre, which I must say is a really wonderful place. I think the Reh-Fit is the most marvelous place there is.
“So, while I was doing the different exercises and walking, I reminded myself that when I was younger, I used to run. So, I said to myself, ‘I wonder if I can still do it?’ So, I started running and I enjoyed it. Nobody took any notice of it. I didn’t think anything of it. But one day, my son Errol, timed me and then looked up my age group on the Internet and he said, ‘Do you know, your times are right up there with the top runners in the world?’ I just said, ‘No, it can’t be.’ And he said, ‘You’re one of the best.’”
Billinkoff was now 92 the day Errol’s watch came out for the first time. Since Lou had committed to his program at the Reh-Fit, he had given absolutely no thought to running competitively. In fact, it was the furthest thing from his mind. He was only running to stay alive.
“I never thought I would do anything in competition,” he said, still a little shocked by his recent celebrity. “Errol insisted that I enter a competition. I didn’t have any idea what it was. I had no idea how you did it. How you entered. I knew nothing about it. But through Athletics Manitoba, I entered a meet and ran the 100 metres in 29.55 seconds.”

It was July 8, 2015, and Billinkoff was entered in the Men’s 90-94 age group 100-metre dash. He was the only runner and yet he set the Canadian age group record for the 100.
From that point on, he tried to run at least one competitive race a year. In 2016, he ran 100-metres at the Manitoba Provincial Age Group championships in 28.29 and moved up in the rankings to No. 7 in Canada and No. 18 in the World.
On Dec. 8, 2017, he ran his first Indoor competition at Athletics Manitoba’s Last Chance Meet at the University of Manitoba’s Max Bell Centre. He ran 60 metres in 17.33 seconds.
Then, in the summer, he turned 95 and ran 100-metres in the 95-99 age category at the Manitoba Age Group Championships in 29.73. He was now ranked No. 2 in the World and No. 2 in Canada.
On Nov. 10, 2018, he ran a 50-metre dash at a University of Manitoba indoor meet in 14.58 and then, on June 21, he set the Canadian record in the outdoor 50 at the Provincial Age Group championship by running the distance in 15.68.
“I never thought I’d ever have an official athlete’s profile, let alone be ranked in the official World Masters’ rankings,” Billinkoff said, laughing and shaking his head. “It’s unbelievable. In the 50-metre dash this year, I was the only person entered. I’m the only one running in the province at my age. In years past, there have been one or two runners and in the 90-94 age group there are a lot of runners, but now, I run by myself and there aren’t that many runners in the world.
“I picked the 50 metres this year because I looked at the world record and thought I had to chance to break it. It’s also getting hard to run 100 metres now. I’ve been running mostly 60s. Setting the Canadian record in the 50 metres was an easy cinch.”

Billinkoff still drives a car and he and Ruth, his wife of 68 years, still spend much of the winter in Palm Springs. They fly south and he drives around town when they get there.
“I’ve almost been retired as long as I worked,” Billinkoff said. “I’ve almost completely forgotten my working life. My goal now is to be retired longer than I worked. That’s a goal post for me. I’m going to celebrate when I get to 40 years retired. I’ll be 100. I expect to get there.”
Billinkoff admitted that when he was young he was a “terrible athlete.” Now, however, he’s become a star. When he’s training at the Reh-Fit Centre, people cheer as he runs by. He’s recognized in local restaurants and he’s even signed a few autographs.
He’s coached by Sheldon Reynolds, the co-founder of Stride Ahead Tough Track Club, but admits there isn’t a lot Reynolds can do at this stage. “What can he say to me? I’m 96,” Billinkoff said, grinning.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Billinkoff added. “But this has also been good for me. I feel great. I don’t have any pains in my ankles or knees, because I’ve never been an athlete and never had any injuries. So, I have no serious ailments. I’m a really happy guy.”

Watch a video of Lou running the 50-metre dash on June 22 at https://winnipeg.ctvnews.ca/still-sprinting-96-year-old-runner-smashes-2018-record-1.4478339#_gus&_gucid=&_gup=Facebook&_gsc=kOUNxJQ