The next sedentary period in Richard Klein’s life will be the first.
Sure, he may be 90 — but when he says, “I feel like I’m 39,” one believes him.
After all, he and Miriam, his wife of nearly 62 years, rarely sit still.
At least five days a week, the couple train in the fitness center at the Tower at MorseLife — where they’ve lived since September.
And when not lifting weights, working out on the treadmill or attending various fitness classes, Klein enjoys tooling around the spacious campus on his recumbent bike.
Of course, Klein is merely doing what’s always come naturally for him: displaying the innumerable benefits of a physically active lifestyle and irrepressibly upbeat temperament.
California roots, northeastern upbringing
Born in California in 1927, the preternaturally athletic Klein learned to play tennis at age 5 and was an accomplished junior player.
When his family moved to the New England region a few years later, he put tennis on the back-burner to concentrate on his new passion: track and field.
He became a high school state champion in Rhode Island, competing in the quarter-mile, half-mile and javelin events.
With World War II still being fought in the Pacific when he graduated high school in June 1945, he didn’t wait to be drafted.
“I wanted to be a pilot so I enlisted in the U.S. Navy.”
The war ended before Klein finished his pilot training, so he completed his military stint during peacetime.
“That worked out well for me,” he recalls. “After the military, I used the G.I. bill to attend the University of Rhode Island.”
In college, Klein excelled athletically. He was a star during both the indoor and outdoor track seasons, as well as on the cross-country team. And, though he hadn’t played competitive tennis in more than a decade, he was one of URI’s top singles and doubles tennis players, helping the school win multiple New England collegiate championships.
As glorious as Klein’s athletic career was, he doesn’t hesitate when asked what his most memorable victory in the state of Rhode Island was: “Being set up with Miriam on a blind date after college.”
The couple dated for a year and married in May of 1956. They made good livings — he as a heating engineer and salesman; she, with her operatic singing voice, as a music and vocal teacher. They have one son and one grandson.
Dreaming about running
As fulfilling as Klein’s personal and professional lives were, he longed for athletic competition.
“I actually started having dreams about running.”
In his 30s, he entered a few local 5k and 10k road races but found they didn’t satisfy the way track and field did.
Once he turned 40, though — and thus became eligible to compete in masters track and field competitions — Klein unleashed all that pent-up competitive energy.
“I entered as many local meets as I could and began qualifying for national meets.”
He became an active member in multiple track clubs (including the New York City Masters Track Club) and relishes having run in the legendary Penn Relays — one of track and field’s most famous annual meets.
When Klein laced up his track spikes, he always put in a full day’s work: “I ran the 100-meter, 200-meter and 400-meter races, and also threw the javelin and discus.”
He racked up first-place trophies and gold medals by the dozens — and once the National Senior Games (formerly the National Senior Olympics) were established in 1987, he competed in that biannual event well into his 70s.
Always looking for new athletic challenges, at age 60 he tested himself in a 1-mile race — and clocked in at 5 minutes, 35 seconds.
Klein also proudly notes that the following year “I ran a quarter-mile in 61 seconds — at age 61.”
Organic nutrition, high-intensity training
To provide the right kind of fuel for Klein’s athletic pursuits, the couple have always followed a healthful nutrition plan — one full of as much fresh, organic food as possible.
Richard even inspired Miriam, 85, to become a competitive racewalker so she could compete at the meets they traveled to together.
At 5 feet 10 inches and 165 pounds during his competitive peak, Klein maintained his fitness with high-intensity interval training.
When the couple retired and moved to Boynton Beach nearly 30 years ago, Klein was initially dissatisfied with his complex’s fitness facility.
So he put all his accumulated fitness and training knowledge to good use: “I became a certified personal trainer and learned all I could about commercial exercise equipment. Eventually, our homeowners association asked me to revamp the fitness center.”
Meanwhile, he kept on competing.
In the early 2000s, when Klein heard about Hall of Fame NFL wide receiver Cris Carter’s FAST Program in Boca Raton, he wanted to train there.
The highly acclaimed facility that Carter ran at the time was designed for elite high school, collegiate and professional athletes — not senior retirees.
“The oldest person they’d ever trained before was 50 — and here I was in my mid-70s.”
They politely agreed to let him test on the treadmill — but were skeptical.
“I think they were scared I would have a heart attack,” Klein recalls with a laugh. “So they turn it on — 5 miles per hour … 6 miles per hour … 7 … 8 … 9 … by the time they got to 12 miles per hour — which is a five-minute-per-mile pace — they were like, ‘OK, Mr. Klein — we’ve seen enough. You’re in.’”
In fact, the folks at FAST were so anxious to have Klein train at the facility, he says they didn’t even charge him for the three months they spent preparing him for his final few national track competitions.
Klein’s last national meet was in 2003 — at age 76.
“I stopped racing because I needed to have both knees and a hip replaced — but I’m happy to say I went out on top.”
Throughout his 80s, Klein maintained his competitive edge by playing tennis — and notes that if MorseLife ever adds tennis courts, “I’ve still got two rackets in my closet that I’m ready to pick up anytime.”
In summarizing his impressive athletic career, Klein is fond of saying, “I’ve experienced many thrills of victory and very little agony of defeat.”
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