Ham Lake man inducted into hall of fame for older runners

A Ham Lake resident is now one of 10 people to be in the Minnesota Grand Masters Track and Field Hall of Fame.

Jim Sheehan, 64, of Ham Lake was recently inducted into the Minnesota Grand Masters Hall of Fame. Only 10 runners have been inducted into this elite group of over 60-year-olds since organizers started it in 2008. Submitted photo

Jim Sheehan, 64, of Ham Lake was recently inducted into the Minnesota Grand Masters Hall of Fame. Only 10 runners have been inducted into this elite group of over 60-year-olds since organizers started it in 2008. Submitted photo

While competing in USA Track and Field Masters Track competitions for runners over the age of 50, Jim Sheehan, 64, from 2006 to 2012 earned eight All-American honors and 12 national championship medals. He was on teams that still hold state records in their age categories for the 1,500-meter and 4×400 relay team. He has also held state records in the 400, 800 and one-mile run.

“It’s an awesome recognition,” Sheehan said. “To be in that group is an honor.”

Since 1996, USA Track and Field has a Hall of Fame for Masters Track athletes who are over the age of 30. However, George LaBelle of Zimmerman and other runners in Minnesota felt the national organization was overlooking some great athletes.

“We thought it was time for someone to look after the older guys,” said LaBelle, 74.

With this thought in mind, a group of competitors started the Minnesota Grand Masters Track and Field Hall of Fame for runners over the age of 60. They also factor in a runner’s results when they were in their 50s.

The first two inductees in 2008 were Tom Langenfeld and Ralph Maxwell. Both still compete. According to LaBelle, Langenfeld, 78, is a business owner. Maxwell, 93, is a retired judge and is still setting world records for his age group in hurdles. Maxwell was a 2010 inductee into the national USA Track and Field’s Masters Hall of Fame.

LaBelle has earned over 9,000 medals and trophies throughout his running career and is also a member of the Minnesota Grand Masters Track and Field Hall of Fame and continues to run to this day, Sheehan said.

Another member of this hall of fame class is William Andberg, who started the Grey Ghost 5K run in the 1970s as part of the Anoka Halloween celebration. He died in December 2007 at the age of 96.

“What a group,” Sheehan said.

Past recipients meet every year to discuss the merits of potential inductees, LaBelle said. Three people were inducted both in 2009 and 2010, but nobody was inducted the last three years until two were inducted this year.

Overcoming health challenges

Sheehan has not competed since 2012 because of back problems. He is used to overcoming health ailments to do what he loves.

After his junior year on the Mankato State cross country team, he did not run for 35 years because of four bulging and two herniated discs in his back.

He never had back surgery, but one day in 2006 he decided to start running and felt no pain. He would soon compete against world class athletes in Masters Track and Field competitions and do quite well.

Two weeks after placing third in the 1,500-meter race of the Masters World Indoor Championship, Sheehan in early March 2010 had a terrible pain in his groin that slowed him down in a 400 race and drop out of a one-mile competition when he was in Boston.

After hearing conflicting medical diagnoses, Sheehan eventually learned that he had a groin hernia and aneurysm on the ascending aorta of his heart. He did not need open heart surgery, but had a procedure done to take care of the hernia.

Later in 2010, Sheehan had meniscus surgery on both knees to take care of pain. He started easing into a running routine and in late July 2011 he was on the 4×400 and 4×800 relay teams that won national championships at the Masters Outdoor Track and Field Championship in Ohio.

“What I like is the feeling when you’re running at full speed,” Sheehan said. “You think, I’m in my 60s and how can I run so fast? What a rush. What a gift from God.”

Eric Hagen is at eric.hagen@ecm-inc.com

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