Lifestyle

Harold Morioka at 69 – a sprinting legend on the comeback trail

Harold Morioka always had a passion for running but only at 29 did he decide to race the 100 metres at a 1972 Simon Fraser University track meet. No big deal, you say?

Well, he went on to finish second in 11.0 at the Burnaby Mountain campus, despite no formal training of any kind. Then he decided to train and by age 30 became B.C. champion in both the 100m and 200m.

Along the way, he achieved degrees in education and kinesiology, and would teach high school and coach track for many years at Coquitlam’s Centennial Secondary School.

That’s where it began for a man that would overcome adversity of all kinds and beat the odds to set multiple world records to go with at least 100 Canadian age group sprint records.

Morioka is the only athlete to break world records for all distances from 60m to 800m. Deciding at age 50 to focus primarily on the 400m, he still holds the masters 45 world record of 50.60 seconds and in fact, holds every Canadian age group record at 400m from 45 to 60. Still, one of his most impressive achievements was setting a world 45-49 record in the 100m at the Canadian Masters Championships in Toronto, his time of 11.11 representing, “I think the best race I’ve ever done,” Morioka said from the Richmond offices of his sponsor, Organika Health Inc. Resplendent in his athletic gear, he was fit, unassuming and friendly, looking much younger than his years.

Born February 2, 1943 at a Japanese internment camp in the B.C. Interior, Morioka lived there until age six when he moved, along with his parents, an older brother and two sisters, to a farm in Surrey. “I got my name from the nurse who delivered me at the internment camp.” Like many other Japanese Canadians, the Morioka family lost everything when they were forced to move to the camp. At the farm, they would have to share the work to make ends meet, leaving no time for extra curricular activities. But there was plenty of healthy food which would help lay the foundation for future successes.

“To this day I follow a healthy diet,” he said.

He has paid a huge price for his extended pursuit of excellence, enduring five knee surgeries since turning 54, while also surviving a genetic heart condition which led to open heart surgery in 2009. By now you will likely suspect none of this will keep Morioka down or stop him from getting into top competitive shape. When he wasn’t able to run after surgery, he added cross training such as deep water pool running to shorten the recovery road.

Morioka’s incredible story is not just about an amazing runner, but an extraordinary human being who against all odds beat adversity from his childhood growing up in the camp, to dealing with major health issues to making the world stage as a runner.

Athletes like Morioka come along about as frequently as 200-point hockey players. He even raced Canadian Olympian  Charmaine Crooks at 400m when she was in her prime and though she beat him, he ran his age, which means he was nipping at her heels in 51 seconds as a 51-year-old.

These days, if he’s not on the track training with his masters club, the Greyhounds, he is coaching. “I want to make a comeback where I will compete at the Brazil World Championships in October. I hope to run the 400 meters under 60 seconds and win the gold.”

Like Wayne Gretzky used to do so often, it should surprise no one if Harold Morioka continues to set records. And we’ll just continue to be inspired by what he does.

Christine Blanchette is a Richmond runner and writer. Follow her on Twitter (@christineruns) and at www.christineruns.com

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