August 13, 2014

Veterans Games medalist Isiah Morris relishes athletic 'rebirth' at age 75

Isiah "Ike" Morris, 75, was one of 17 local athletes to medal at the annual National Veterans Golden Age Games — an Olympic-style event for veterans 55 and older.

At the golden age of 75, Isiah "Ike" Morris claims he's found the fountain of youth.

No, the Vietnam veteran didn't follow Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon to Florida.

Instead, Morris says he got "addicted to winning."

Last month, Morris was one of 17 local athletes to medal at the annual National Veterans Golden Age Games — an Olympic-style event for veterans 55 and older.

Morris won gold in race-walking and cycling and bronze in swimming in the 75-79 division.

As a kid growing up in the small town of Mansfield, La., Morris says he was never athletic enough to keep up with the big kids. He was one of the smaller kids on the playground and in a rural town where schools had only one team per sport, bigger kids often dominated and the smaller ones were left behind.

He said that situation created a mental block that led him to believe he was not athletic for the majority of his life.

Morris joined the military at 17 after graduating high school and served 20 years. In the military, he lived an active lifestyle with training and even started jogging daily in his mid-20s.

But Morris still never felt he had that competitive edge when it came to sports.

That was until some fellow veterans, John Martinez and Fernie Velez, pushed him into joining the Golden Age Games as a way to stay in shape and be healthy.

Still in doubt, Morris started in the less-physical events, like horseshoes and shuffleboard.

Three years later in 2005, Morris tried cycling and he won the bronze medal for the ages 65-to-69 division. Morris said it was the first time he had won anything for his athleticism.

"That first win was encouraging," Morris said. "It helped me overcome that mental block that I wasn't athletically inclined."

Toni Lopez, a recreation therapist at the Fresno VA Hospital and also the veterans' coach, said when Morris "got that bronze, he started practicing and practicing, and is now in better shape than some of the veterans in younger divisions."

Since then, training for the Golden Age Games has become a year-long venture for Morris.

"It's a hook to run your A-game," he said. "I never saw any of this coming initially. But once you get caught up in the camaraderie, you get sucked in. It's become a way of life."

A vegetarian for the past 15 years, Morris trains five to six times a week, rotating between cycling, swimming and race-walking. He cycles regularly with Martinez and Velez down Friant Road, swims at Break the Barriers and walks laps at surrounding tracks near his condo across the street from Fresno State.

His three medals from July are just the newest additions to his collection that now totals 15 medals at the games, medaling every year since 2005.

"It's kind of a rebirth," he said. "It's like finding the fountain of youth."

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