By Contributing Editor Blair Drake
For nearly 20 years, former Air Force 1st Lt. Jack Eckenrode has competed in the National Senior Games, a 20-sport, biennial competition for men and women age 50 and older. Though he has won medals over the years, he had never earned gold in an event — until this year.
During the 2022 games in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Eckenrode, who turns 95 in November, won gold medals in five events: three cycling races and the 50- and 100-meter dashes in the 95 to 100 age group.
“It felt really great to finally [win gold],” he said.
Now he’s setting his sights on the 2023 games in his hometown of Pittsburgh, where he competed in his first games in 2005. Eckenrode has a goal of his improving his times and perhaps even setting a record. To accomplish that, he said he will continue with his daily training.
“It’s so simple,” he said. “All I do is work out every day for about an hour in my garage. I enjoy it. I listen to Neil Diamond or John Denver. I feel good after I do it.”
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His regimen includes riding his stationary bike, using a rowing machine, and doing a series of exercises he learned and did daily as an Air Force cadet.
Eckenrode enlisted in the Air Force in 1950. After a year, he went on to become an instructor/trainer pilot. He graduated from flight school in 1952 and flew and trained pilots and radar observers on T-6s, B-25s, and T-29s, serving in Florida, Alabama, and then finally in Houston for three years.
After he was discharged from the Air Force in 1955, he worked in the insurance industry in Pittsburgh to support his wife and 12 children.
Today, in addition to training and biking 15-plus miles on the trail by his house almost daily, Eckenrode regularly gives back to his community, as a member of the Pittsburgh Chapter of MOAA, of which he is a past secretary; as a Meals on Wheels volunteer; and as blood bank donor. During the past 20 years, he’s given blood over 120 times.
“That’s a routine,” he said. “I think everybody should do it if they can.”
He also urges others to make exercise a part of their routines, especially as they get older.
“I encourage others to try and do what I’m doing … not so much competing, but exercising and keeping healthy.”
He attributes his longevity to his exercise routine — and, jokingly, his success at the games to his longevity. “My motto is, ‘If you can’t beat them, outlive them.’”
Blair Drake is a contributing editor for MOAA and lives in Souderton, Pa. She previously served on the editorial team of Military Officer magazine for nine years.
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