Staff Photo: Karen J. Rohr
Conyers resident Charles Ross, a member of the Atlanta Track Club, displays the gold medals hes won in the USA Masters Track and Field National Championship competitions.
Too many gold, silver and bronze medals to count. Holder of national record titles in 1-mile, 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter runs and the 2,000-meter steeplechase. Champion in pole vaulting, running and the high jump. Favored to win this month in regional track and field events.
Who is this Olympic-worthy athlete? Eighty-seven-year-old Lt. Col. Charles G. Ross of Conyers.
Not one to sit around and grow old, Ross lives up to what one imagines a retired U.S. Army Ranger is supposed to be in his golden years.
A member of the Atlanta Track Club for 17 years, Ross first became involved in competition when he learned about the Georgia Golden Olympics six years ago at the Olivia Haydel Senior Center in Conyers.
He signed up for six events at the contest in Statesboro and won six gold medals later that spring. The following year he signed up for 15 events and won 14 gold medals.
Ross continued to rack up the gold medals and compete in more senior athletic events, including his first steeplechase run last year, which resulted in his being ranked No. 1 for his age bracket in the USA Masters Track and Field events.
Up until his first Golden Olympics game, Ross had never participated in such competitions, except running a favorite past-time for more than two decades. Winning so many track and field competitions has shown Ross to be an extraordinary athlete at a decidedly late stage in his life.
As a young man, Ross, an Indiana native, enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army and was commissioned through Officer Candidate School. He distinguished himself on the battlefield, earning two Purple Hearts and commanding several companies during his military career.
He was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame for his service during three wars, including WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
Ross retired from the military in 1972 and moved with his family to Georgia. He and his wife of 53 years, Joan, are the parents of Alexandra, Steven, Andrew and Katheryn, and the grandparents of four.
Perhaps Ross' military training and determination are part of the reason he is able to face overwhelming odds in these latest physical endeavors.
Last June, he participated in the Alabama USA Track and Field Masters Championships. During the pole vault, after he made his all-time highest jump, Ross ran to clear the bar at an even greater height and tore the muscle in his left calf.
Back home, Ross saw a specialist and began physical therapy. He had his eye on the USA Masters Track and Field Championship set for July, days after his injury.
"I had intended to use those days for intensive training, however, for 18 days, I was unable to jog a single step," he said.
"My training for the remaining 14 days was limited to two short sessions of throwing the hammer, an attempt to high jump off my right leg and four short 20-minute sessions of 50 percent jogging and 50 percent walking. When I tried to tighten up my calf muscle in my left leg, it stayed soft and flabby and I briefly considered whether or not to go."
Determined, Ross made it to the championship and entered his first event the 5,000-meter run, which is about 3 miles. He said he wondered if his leg would even allow him to finish the run.
Ross not only finished, he won the gold. He entered nine events and won nine medals seven gold and two bronze, taking home awards in running, a 2,000-meter steeplechase, pole vaulting, the hammer throw, a 400-meter dash and the high jump.
"The idea that I was able to do that was unbelievable to me," he said. "I had a certain amount of pain and I took it day by day."
The USA Masters Track and Field 2009 Outdoor rankings show Ross is No. 1 in the country in the 85 to 89 age group in four events: 1-mile run, 5,000-meter run, 10,000-meter run and the 2,000-meter steeplechase.
In 2009, Ross qualified for 14 track and field events in the State Senior Games, participating in five events in last summer's National Senior Games. He won two gold medals, one silver and two bronze medals.
In the USA Track and Field State Level Championships and in the Georgia and Florida Golden Olympics, Ross has won gold medals in his age group in 18 track and field events, including the 100-meter dash, the 5,000-meter run, the discus, the triple jump and the pole vault.
In the 85 to 89 age group, Ross has won first place in a half-marathon at Robins Air Force Base, a 10-mile run in Washington, D.C. and the 15,000-meter U.S. Army Ranger Mountain Run at Camp Frank D. Merrill in North Georgia.
At September's awards dinner for the Georgia Golden Olympics, Ross was presented the Barney Ochs Sportsmanship Award, given to the athlete who demonstrates a love of the games, enthusiasm for life and consideration for others.
The USA Masters Track and Field consists of local, regional, national and international competition opportunities for athletes 30 years and older. Masters meets typically include sprints, distance running, hurdles, throws, jumps, racewalking and relays.
"I do a lot of different events," Ross said. "Usually a lot of guys specialize in one thing like javelin or shot put. Some specialize in two or three things. I like doing all of them. I'd like to do the decathlon. I've got gold medals in nine out of 10 events."
The Senior Olympian has a definite philosophy that goes along with his success.
"Every person is unique," he said. "Most don't know what they can do until they try. I believe it's better to try and fail than to not try."
Ross also adheres to the belief that "we are what we eat."
"Beware of the three S's salt, sugar and saturated fat. I eat fruits and vegetables and read the labels on everything. I get my sleep eight hours a night. I train a lot. I just joined LA Fitness and work out three times a week," said Ross
"I try to do the very best I can. I try to win. I take these things seriously."
Ross' breakfast foods include bran flakes, shredded wheat, bananas, raisins and skim milk. Lunch is usually a banana and small orange with steamed frozen vegetables, with occasional beans and brown rice. Dinner includes chicken or fish with very little red meat. Powerbars are also a staple of this athlete's diet.
"I really try to stay healthy," he said. "I'm looking at the future. I'd still like to compete when I'm 90."