Before there was Tom Brady and before there was Serena Williams and before there was LeBron James…there was Dixon Hemphill and there was Richard “Dick” Soller.
Dixon and Dick are not superstars, but they have one key thing in common with three of the greatest of all time who are extending their expiration dates.
They don’t know how to write The End.
It is not just that they won’t quit. Hemphill and Soller have expectations. What’s more, they are motivated by more than pride and ego. It’s fun. So they refuse to go away.
Soak them up for a moment…
Dixon Hemphill, 97 years old, struggles in offering just a smidgen of forbearance to Dixon Hemphill, 97 years old. He answered the phone Tuesday, four days after competing in the National Indoor Masters Championships in New York, and immediately said, “I was disappointed.”
The high-banked track at the Armory kept him out of four events because he felt dizzy with the tilt of the track.
“I’ve got to get this issue taken care of,” Hemphill said, as if he was a 20-year old embarking on a career.
He wouldn’t so much as acknowledge the dizziness was age-related. Yesterday he tested positive for Covid. “Maybe that has something to do with it,” Hemphill said.
He didn’t say “Oh my God, I have Covid”. He related it to track & field, not life and death.
Dixon won the 400 in New York as the only competitor, but he said, “I wasn’t up to my regular speed.”
Soller, 95, beat Dixon in the 95-99 age cohort in the 60 and 200 and Long Jump. “I am not what you call a record-holder, or record-breaker,” said Soller, who has lived in the Cincinnati area since 1951. “I am a middle-of-the-packer.“
His pack has noticeably thinned, but Soller gravitates to any one in track shoes.
“I love to be at these meets with all these people,” he said. “So many people have motivated me over the years.”
Soller said he is part of a 1,000-mile a year run, walk, or crawl challenge. That’s 10,000 steps a day! At 95.
This is why Hemphill and Soller remain icons in USA Track & Field Masters events and the National Senior Games. Hemphill, a Navy veteran, and Soller, an Army veteran, are walking billboards for “What’s Stopping You”, the push from one older person to another about the benefits of exercise.
It is never tedious for me to write about these Geezer Jocks and tell their stories. These grinders fuel us with a certitude that exercise matters.
Hemphill and Soller compete independent of the time clock. Their appearances at these meets is about body maintenance and staying connected to all the friends they have made in track and field.
Soller’s motivation is more personal than just seeing people. His wife, Jean, has Alzheimer’s and is 88. They have been married 62 years.
“I love her dearly,” Soller said.
Soller does 10,000 steps a day and his physical fitness allows him to help with Jean’s care. If he was feeble, chair-bound, they would struggle to carry on together. Their daughter, Mary, is a rock, too, Soller said.
The digitization of everything does not obscure the foundation of everything that is important. Dixon and Dick have obligations—to themselves and others—so they refuse to sit home and ferment.
“My motto,” said Soller, who ran the Chicago Marathon at 85, “is to keep moving.”
Soller said he has had just one injury in the 45 years since he started running competitively again (he quit at 18 after tearing a hamstring). He dislocated a shoulder in his late 60s and it is still dislocated. There was no operation, or popping back into place.
“The doctor told me he was going to go ahead and have me rehab it,“ Soller said. "He told me maybe I should get my suits realigned by my tailor.”
Are you kidding? The man shrugs at an injury that can be pure pain. “I know it’s there, it doesn’t bother me,” Soller said. “People know it takes a lot of mental acuity to push through if you are hurting all the time, but you just keep going.”
He likened the dislocation to a cut on his finger.
Soller and his wife were smokers at the age of 50 and the light finally came on about how unhealthy that was. They quit and started moving. Dick first entered the National Senior Games in 1989 and has stayed with it these 33 years.
Hemphill has the same disposition when it comes to staying active. Once upon a time, he was a triathlete so you can understand the fierceness of pride in competing.
He took the train to New York for the national indoor meet from his home in the Washington, D.C. area. There were steps to climb and people to navigate around and cars to get into and out of. Hemphill is not going to tell you it is easy to travel at 97. But he got there, with help from Craig Chasse, who is the president of the Potomac Valley Track Club.
Dixon will not run again until Memorial Day, not so much because of the dizziness, but to get ready for his next bucket list item: a trip to Normandy, France and the scene of the Allied Invasion in 1944. There had to be something going on important enough to keep him off the track for two months.
For anyone who feels 80 or 90 will be a cataclysm, Dixon and Dick are evidence it doesn’t have to be. They offer a simple, yet poignant vision and way forward.
“I think we both understand that there are circumstances in people’s lives physically that they think they just can’t overcome and they think there’s no way to change that,” Soller said. “But, you know, we think it makes it easier if you take the attitude that we take, which is to keep moving. Just keep moving. Do anything, something. Just keep moving.”