From: Gdańsk, Poland
Born: 2 February, 1938
I MET Henryk after my first running race. His diminutive figure was standing on the podium, having won first place in the over 80-year-old category Starogard-Gdański, 5.8 kilometre running race in April. He had completed the event in 27:38 minutes. At the age of 49, I had rather nervously finished in 40 minutes. OK, I’d only been running for three months, but to see someone aged 81 finishing in the top half of a field of 600 competitors amazed me. What an inspiration! I had to meet him…
I drove to Gdańsk from my home near Starogard-Gdański to talk to Henryk. He invited me into his modest apartment on the outskirts of the town. We sat down for a coffee in his sitting room, surrounded by hundreds of medals and trophies, where he told me about his life.
For my health
Henryk was born in Toruń, Poland. He studied civil engineering and then took a job as a accommodation manager for six years on a fishing ship, travelling to Labrador in Canada and Newfoundland. “The money was good, but I didn’t like being away from home,” he said, “so I returned to Poland to finish my studies.” He worked in Gdansk as a civil engineer until his retirement.
“My passion was football,” he said. “Running was an extra, just to keep fit, but when I moved out of the city centre 20 years ago, after my wife died, I started running more as there was lovely countryside around me. Perhaps due to my wife’s death I started suffering from very high blood pressure. It was so high, in fact, that my doctor was shocked. However, I noticed that after my runs the pressure went down, so I decided that the sport would help with my health.
“Eventually I told my doctor that I would stop taking my medicine. I found that if I ran regularly my blood pressure remained normal, although if I stopped for three days or more it would go back up again.”
Henryk only started running competitively six years ago. He entered his first marathon in Lembork, Poland, aged 75, which he finished in a very respectable 3 hours and 50 minutes. “When I run a marathon my blood pressure drops dangerously low, to 60/40 (healthy blood pressure is about 120/70) so I have to lie down for at least half an hour after the event,” he said. “Last August I finished a marathon in 4 hours and 13 minutes, and this year I will run my last marathon, accompanied by my two grandsons. Marathons take so much out of you.”
Henryk uses the Jeff Galloway training programme, especially for half and full marathons (distances of 21.09km and 42.2km). He has competed in events in Hungary, Spain, Italy, Turkey and Poland. “My favourite medal is for the 2014 European Indoor Championship three kilometre race,” he said, “where I took second place with a time of 12.41 minutes. I really didn’t expect to get anywhere in that event. I have lots of gold medals from the Polish Championships, as well as silvers and bronzes from the World and European Championships. I don’t run marathons abroad as it’s too expensive.”
Henryk said he used to get very stressed before an event, but not any more. “When I went to compete in Madrid I was so nervous I forgot to take my running shorts, so I ran in my trousers. Amazingly I took fourth place!”
Technique and form
So what does he think of when he’s competing? “I don’t look at the views!” he laughed. “I sometimes think about tactics, who I should be following and focusing on the road so I don’t trip over, especially when I’m in a group. I don’t look up much. I also run from my heels, which I’ve been told by the professionals is incorrect, but I’ve been doing it for so long there’s no point in changing.”
Recently Henryk, who is 161cm tall and weighs 62kg, had a medical efficiency test, which put his age at 66 years old. “Young people should do sport,” he said, “as it’s so beneficial for their health. I will continue running for as long as I am able.”
Age is only a number
Henryk is an inspiration, and not just for runners. He’s a man who has refused to give up, who lives life to the full and who is not afraid to push himself, despite his age. And for anyone who runs, he’s a shining example of what people can achieve.
There’s hope for me yet!
Olly’s portrait of Henryk has captured his calm and energetic character. A subtle combination which works well with the vibrant colours and soft facial features.
*A BIG thanks to Hania for her translating skills, who is an award winning blogger herself: Niezły ze mnie ananas (here link)
Jojy Gorski (April 2019)