Top Masters Sprinter Aaron Thigpen —
Looking Ahead to Sacramento’s 2010 & 2011 Masters Competitions
By Bob Burns
Helping people get faster is Aaron Thigpen’s business. He runs a training center for athletes in a variety of sports called Gamespeed. On his Web site, he says, “I live what I teach.”
That’s not some blustery ex-sprinter talking. A speedster at San Diego State who qualified for the 1992 U.S. Olympic Trials in the 200 meters, Thigpen, 44, has aged as well as any sprinter in the world. He holds the U.S. men’s 40-44 record in the 100 meters (10.73 seconds) and won the 60-meter dash by more than three-tenths of a second at the USA Masters Indoor Track & Field Championships in March.
“Speed is a skill,” Thigpen said. “It’s like anything else. Carpenters get older, but they still keep the skill. They might not be able to work as long as they used to, but they still know how to pound a nail. Athletes who don’t use that skill will lose it.”
Aside from a short break in his late 30s, Thigpen has never really stopped sprinting long enough to lose it. He clocked a remarkable 10.34 in the 100 meters when he was 38 years old – not all that far off his career best of 10.18.
“Once I got to 40, I knew there would be masters track,” Thigpen said. “Masters doesn’t demand as much time as professional track did. I just go on the track two days a week and the weight room once or twice a week. That’s enough to keep me competitive. On the flip side, my body can’t handle that volume any more.”
Thigpen took a leave of absence from his job running a construction personnel firm to take one last crack at making the Olympic Trials in 1995. He didn’t run fast enough to qualify for the Trials, but he did look at what he wanted to do with the next 10 or 20 years of his life. Since he had been coaching people since his days at San Diego State, he decided to start his own sports performance business.
“My niche is that I help raise the athleticism of people … their speed, power, agility and movement,” Thigpen said. “I take the specific sport into account when I customize a training program. For instance, speed for a baseball player doesn’t require a fast 40-yard dash, and speed for a catcher is different from speed for a middle infielder.”
While he understands the ins and outs of sprinting, Thigpen doesn’t have a ready answer for why he’s been able to maintain his speed for so long.
“If I knew, I’d bottle it,” he said. “I just love to compete, and it keeps me going.”
Bill Collins, the highly decorated sprinter who at 51 became the oldest man to break 11 seconds in the 100 meters, is glad to see Thigpen keep going.
“He’s one of the best up-and-coming masters athletes of my time,” Collins said. “You can tell Aaron loves what he does. Many athletes with his reputation feel that paying your way to a masters track meet is beneath him. We’re finally moving beyond that point, and it’s refreshing to see the younger runners with great ability continue.”
Thigpen holds Collins in something close to awe.
“I look at Bill Collins and I’m like, Wow. Part of what keeps me going is the challenge of setting records, but Bill keeps putting them out of reach,” Thigpen said. “He’s killing me.
“But it’s not just about records. They don’t last. I’m having more fun running masters than I ever did before. You leave behind the politics, the posturing and the drugs, hopefully. You run and hang out with your buddies. Track and field is a way for a bunch of guys to get together and have fun.”
Thigpen, who lives in Brentwood with his wife and two children, plans to skip this summer’s USA Masters meet in Wisconsin to gear up for three big meets in 2010 and 2011. The 2010 USA Masters Outdoor Championships will be held in Sacramento, as will the 2011 World Masters Association (WMA) Championships. The 2010 WMA Indoor Championships will be held in Kamloops, British Columbia.
“I’ve talked to guys who haven’t been racing for years who are interested in running in Sacramento,” he said. “I’m also looking forward to moving up to the 45-49 class. They get a lot of participation in that group.”
Thigpen says he plans to stay in top shape at least long enough to coach his son and daughter when they get to high school. Since they’re 11 and 8, respectively, it doesn’t sound as though Thigpen is planning to shut it down anytime soon.
“I’ve trained people this long, I’d at least like the opportunity to coach my kids,” he said.
He’ll lead them the say way he leads his business clients – by example.