‘As long as you are driven, you can do it!’
— Jim Noonan
1964 IHS graduate describing his fitness hobby
In his seventh decade, Noonan isn’t slowing down
By PATRICK WEBB
If Jim Noonan was put on trial for being a fitness enthusiast, he would be found guilty.
The 1964 Ilwaco High School graduate delights in cycling and running in competitive events around the nation.
At 71, an age when many are slowing down, he is speeding up.
He competed in the National Sprint Distance Championship in Bend, Ore., earlier this summer, winning his 70-74 age group on a duathlon course which featured a 5-kilometer run, a 20K bicycle race and concluded with a 2.5K run.
A few days earlier, he competed in the National Senior Games in Birmingham, Ala., placing fourth in his age group in the triathlon and placing fifth and eighth in 5K and 10K cycling time trials. A triathlon usually consists of a 500-meter swim, a 20-kilometer bicycle course and a 5,000-meter run.
Noonan was a football player and track athlete during his years at IHS, graduating in 1964, the year Lyndon B. Johnson was elected president. “I was a solid 175 pounds and ran the mile, holding the school record for a short time,” he said. (His 4:57:4 still stands as 12th best men’s mile in IHS history.)
He attended Clark College in Vancouver then Western Washington State College (now university) in Bellingham, earning a degree in geology and playing for the varsity rugby team.
He spent many of his adult years in the Vancouver area working construction, resuming running in his early 30s. “On my first run, I was the only person that was still smoking,” he smiled. “I couldn’t figure out why people were giving me dirty looks!”
A more healthy, fitness-focused lifestyle with significant competitive running followed for the next 40 years, including a spell living and racing in New Zealand. Noonan ran the Boston Marathon in 1980, the year Rosie Ruiz made headlines by “winning” the women’s race in apparent record time only to be disqualified when she was found out to have cheated and only run the final part of the course.
Sleek and toned
At 160 pounds, his 5-8 frame appears as sleek as his lightweight Trek bike, and his toned leg muscles are a testament to his dedication. His basic weekly training regimen includes swimming one day (“I hate swimming!”), four bike rides of 30 to 40 miles and two runs of 5 or 6 miles.
Does he see himself as a role model for people his age? “I hope so,” he said. “I hope people can see and appreciate what I do — and can get off their asses and get involved. I would like to be a good example and want to do what I can to maintain myself.”
Since he retired at age 58, he has enjoyed participating in the U.S. senior games. The last handful have taken him to Louisville, Ky.; San Francisco; Houston; Cleveland, Ohio; and this summer in Birmingham, Ala. He is already looking forward to Albuquerque, N.M., in two years.
Fellow Ilwaco graduate Mike Matthews recalls Noonan’s childhood nickname was “Doughnuts” — because his parents owned the bakery in Ilwaco. Now he operates a retirement business bike shop, Matthews Cycle Works in Rosberg, and is Noonan’s mechanic. Last week they enjoyed a 40-mile bicycle ride.
“He trains very hard. He is very compact and very powerful. He has got a ‘good motor,’ as I like to say,” Matthews said. “Even through high school he used to train very hard.
“Running was his main outlet and then we got him into cycling. Swimming is not his best event — I think he is better at sinking than swimming!”
When asked to explain why he does it, Noonan doesn’t hesitate.
“It is just the pursuit of fitness,” he said. “It’s a somewhat healthy hobby. But it’s more than just a hobby: we are pretty serious about it.
“The biggest thing is it caresses my ego — especially if I win,” he said.
About a year and a half ago, Noonan had a serious bike wreck which laid him up for four months, including a six-week doctor-ordered period of recovery from surgery which meant no cycling. “Everything healed well,” he said.
Last week he came to Ilwaco from his Vancouver home on family business, and paused for an interview before heading to compete in Boise, Idaho. He has his sights set on more competition in Las Vegas in October, followed by a world event at St. George, Utah. There he will participate in cycling time trials and a triathlon, plus some mountain bike races. “There will be some outstanding athletes down there,” he said, when asked about his chances of success.
In triathlons, he said the initial swimming section hurts his chances. “Quite often I get my hat handed to me,” he laughed. “Swimming is not easy, and I have taken tons of swimming lessons. You go 400 or 500 meters, and I lose two to three minutes, but I make up for it on the bike because I am one of the best bikers. And I can run OK.”
His two grown sons encourage, but don’t imitate him. “Neither one of them wants to follow these footsteps. They were both good athletes through high school,” he said. But he is optimistic. “At some time they will do it, when their families are all settled.”
As for his future, Noonan is quietly adamant. “I am going to do it till I drop,” he said. “I am probably one really serious bike wreck away from retiring, but I am pretty strong. I bounce back pretty well.”
And his advice for peers? “As long as you are driven, you can do it!”