13-Year-Old Record Setter Throws His Weight Around

Leon Joslin suffered a shoulder injury last weekend at a track meet in Eugene, Ore., when one hand slipped off the 25-pound weight he was about to throw. The West Seattle athlete further injured the shoulder by landing on it in the high-jump event.

"I strained it, but I'm a fast healer," he explained yesterday.

College athlete? High-school star getting in extra competition this summer? Hardly. Leon Joslin is 85 years old.

At an age when athletic accomplishments are just memories to most, Leon Joslin continues to set and chase national and world records.

Joslin got hooked on senior age-group track and field at age 68 and has been running, jumping and mostly throwing ever since.

"Golf is for old people," cracked Joslin, who carries shots, assorted discuses and hammer-throw equipment in the trunk of his car. "This is a lot more fun and more physical. . . . Throwing weights is good exercise."

Joslin works out four mornings a week at West Seattle Stadium. He begins his workouts with a brisk 2-mile walk.

Joslin was born March 27, 1912 - "about two weeks before the Titanic sunk." He grew up in Grand Rapids, Mich., and was a high-school football, basketball and track teammate of President Gerald Ford, who still sends him notes and Christmas cards. Joslin donated a discus and shot they both used in high school to the Gerald Ford Museum in Grand Rapids.

Joslin was a freshman teammate of Jesse Owens on the Ohio State track team. One of his Buckeye frosh football teammates was Tippy Dye, who later coached basketball at Washington.

The Depression interrupted Joslin's college education and he wound up at Western Michigan, where the former Michigan prep runner-up had a solid but unspectacular discus career.

Joslin and his wife, Betty, moved to Seattle in 1950 after he had worked at Ford Motor Co. and had owned a knife-manufacturing firm. In Seattle, he worked at Chubby & Tubby, was a salesman for hair products and then went into real estate with his wife at age 57 until about age 70.

Age 57 was a benchmark year in another way. Joslin was overweight and suffering from asthma, indigestion and headaches.

"I had to do something," he said. He started working out at a South End gym and his ailments disappeared. Then at age 68, he discovered senior track.

This great-grandfather's dozen or so world records include:

-- Age 84, 56-pound weight throw, 11 feet, one-quarter inch.

-- Age 85, 25-pound weight throw, 24-3 1/4.

-- Age 81, 16-pound shot, 22-2 1/2 feet.

-- Age 78, 1.6-kilogram discus (high-school discus), 87-3.

-- Age 78, 2-kilogram discus (college discus), 77-9 1/2.

-- Age 85, 4-kilogram hammer throw, 79-11.

At this year's Senior Olympics in Arizona, Joslin won three gold medals (shot, javelin, discus) and a silver (long jump, 8-10 1/2) in his 85-89 age group. He has his eyes on the age-85 U.S. long-jump record of 9-1 and the world record of 10-6.

He hasn't done as much competitive running as throwing but did set a meet record in Eugene once in the 80-84 age group with a 100-meter clocking of 18.5 seconds. When he was 80, he cleared 3-11 1/2 in the high jump. He got hurt last weekend trying to clear 3-4.

Joslin has won more than 150 gold medals since he started competing in Senior Olympics.

"I've got shoe boxes full of medals," he said in a matter-of-fact tone.

He has represented the United States in two world senior meets, one of them in Finland.

Joslin said he has benefited from a "real supportive" wife in his quest for age-group track success. Although Betty hasn't competed much since running the 100-meter dash a few years ago in senior meet in Spokane, she still jogs. They have been married for 59 years.

Joslin lost two of his closest supporters in the past nine months when brothers Jack, 90, and LaVern, 87, both died. Jack, a three-sport athlete at Michigan State, was the heavyweight alternate on the U.S. Olympic wrestling team in 1932. LaVern played football and wrestled at Illinois.

"I lost both of them within three months," Joslin said. "I haven't got over it yet. . . . I've dedicated this season to them."

Joslin is the oldest of 30 members of the Seattle Masters Athletic Club.

"There aren't too many like Leon left in the country," said Ken Weinbel, the semi-retired businessman who is national track and field chairman for the national masters association.

Masters track is open to anyone over age 30 and Weinbel (telephone 206-932-3923) is eager to talk to potential recruits. Weinbel and a fellow volunteer, George Matthews, were working yesterday on the throwing pits at West Seattle Stadium in preparation for upcoming meets. Weinbel went out of his way to praise the cooperation his group is receiving from the Seattle Parks Department.

The stadium will be the site of a U.S. regional meet July 19-20 and a national weight-throwing event Aug. 16. Joslin plans to be at both meets and is evangelical about the benefits of age-group track for senior citizens.

"People don't have to sit around and do nothing," he said.