New Castle News

August 14, 2013

National Senior Games: Age doesn’t slow down local gold medal winner

David Burcham
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Joe Fennick refuses to let time pass him by.

At age 86, not much gets past Fennick.

The Hickory Township resident won a gold medal last month at Baldwin-Wallace College in the National Senior Games in Cleveland. He also placed among the leaders in four other events. Other sports events were staged at venues in and around Cleveland. More than 1,100 men and women participated in the games for people 50 and older.

Fennick was fifth in the 400 meter and 800 meter races, sixth in the 1500 meter and seventh in the 200 meter. But he earned gold as the second leg of the winning relay, joining forces with Truman Hershberger of State College, Pa., and runners from Iowa and Texas.

It was Fennick’s sixth appearance in the National Senior Games, which are held every other year at different locations. His previous best finish was second place in the 2007 games in Louisville, Ky.

Todd DeHays of Columbus, Ohio, marvels at his grandfather’s commitment.

Having played three sports in high school and later college baseball, DeHays know what it takes to compete. He is an admirer of all the participants in the Senior Games.

“To watch someone in their 80s and 90s break a record is inspiring,” DeHays said. “I’m impressed by all of them. Some that age are confined to a wheelchair or can barely get out of bed. But my grandfather never stops moving, and that’s good.”

You mighth ave guessed that Fennick is not your typical grandfather.

A childhood accident at his family’s home in Harlansburg took his left eye more than 80 years ago, but it didn’t slow him down.

He dropped out of Eastbrook High School after his junior year in 1945 (he later got a GED). He planned to join the Navy, but was rejected because of his vision handicap. Instead of giving up, Fennick took another route. To be accepted by the Merchant Marines, he had to gain eight pounds to reach the 130 limit. He did it in one afternoon by devouring bunches of bananas and drinking a gallon of water.

Soonafter, Fennick found himself on a troop ship in the Pacific bound for Okinawa just prior to the first atomic bomb being dropped. The ship was rerouted to Nagasaki, which was the target of the second bomb. Even with one eye, he saw more than he could handle. “The devastation was unbelievable,” said Fennick, who ventured out a few blocks before turning around and going back to the ship.

Fennick married the former Marian Booher in 1949. They lived in New Castle for a year until moving to Eastbrook. They 64-year marriage has produced three children, six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Fennick has always loved a challenge. He has been overcoming obstacles all of his life.

The former Sears Delivery Service employee competed against himself. “I pushed myself to deliver everything on time,” he said. “And they really loaded my truck.”

As director of the October walk/run at the Cathedral, Fennick’s efforts helped raise $22,000 for a dyslexic running center. He is 33rd Degree Masons, having been in the organization for 40 years.

At age 65, Fennick began walking at the invitation of his wife, but soon he was running.

“That’s probably why my knees are still good,” said Fennick, who has competed in several 5 and 10k races.

He runs every other day for an hour at the Laurel High School track, but preparation picks up three months before the Senior Games.

For Fennick, who plans to compete in the 2015 games in Minneapolis, there is no end in sight.

“People are staying healthier and living longer,” he said.