Eighty years ago, Ellery H. Clark held his baby son's hands and helped him walk like a man. Then he taught him to run like the wind.
It was a lesson Ellery Clark Jr. never forgot.
Long after his father capped off a brilliant racing career by winning two first-place medals at the first modern Olympics in 1896, Ellery Clark Jr. still is sprinting in his shadow.
The two-year running champion of track-and-field events at the Maryland Senior Olympics faithfully gets up four mornings a week to run laps at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. As he heads around the track, his sweat jacket whipping in the wind, the 81-year-old retired Navy captain can almost hear the roar of the crowds cheering his father to victory in Athens, Greece.
Clark hopes to keep on his toes during the next six years, spurred by his dream of running a 400-meter ceremonial -- in his father's honor at the 1996 Olympic Games.
He wants to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the international athletic contest by paying tribute to his father, the first American to bring home coveted medals in the running long jump and running high jump.
"That's my one remaining track dream," Clark said. "I would love to run 400 meters in Atlanta in memory of all the 1896 champions, and especially my late father and his American teammates."
The fit, energetic officer and retired professor at the Naval Academy will have a chance to hone his skills this week when he competes in the 11th annual Senior Olympics. He won a gold medal and set a new record last year by running the 400-meter -- in just under 2:23.
"It's great fun," Clark said about the competition that attracted more than 1,200 senior athletes last year. "If you get some enduring good breaks throughout your years and show proper respect and care for your body, you will be able to enjoy athletics for what they should be -- good for the mind and body and, best of all, very good for new friendships and companionship."
Growing up in Cohasset, Mass., Clark followed in his father's footsteps, running track in high school and college. He set records in relay and middle-distance runs, but became equally famous for his fast stride as a race walker for the Boston Athletic Association. In top form, he sped along racetracks at the remarkable pace of 132 strides per minute.
Although he enjoyed the challenge, Clark quit running competitively in his sophomore year at Harvard University to concentrate on his studies. A year after he graduated with a bachelor's degree in English and naval studies, he could list an even more important accomplishment: He hooked his wife, Grace, after falling in love with her on their first date.
"It was my first and only blind date," Grace Clark said with a smile.
"He just grabbed me the minute he saw me."
The couple, who will celebrate their 56th wedding anniversary in November, moved to Annapolis in 1940. Grace Clark, who studied with the famous ballerina Margot Fonteyn and danced with a company founded by Ruth St. Dennis and Ted Shaw, began teaching ballet and eventually set up her own studio while her husband was stationed in the Pacific.
Toward the end of World War II, Ellery Clark was home on leave when a young officer suddenly knocked at the door bearing an announcement that he had been appointed to a special committee on reorganizing the Navy. Clark later returned to the academy as a captain in the 1950s, to teach Naval history and "a little English on the side."
"I got back into running while I was the assistant track and cross country coach," he said. "I used to work out with the boys."
When he retired after a distinguished 38-year career at the Naval Academy, Clark missed his daily exercise. He devoted more time to writing books on the Boston Red Sox and puttering around his spacious, historic home in Murray Hill.
Several years ago, Clark suffered a serious aneurysm and had to undergo an operation. Following the advice of his physician, Clark laced up his running shoes again. He has worked out religiously since then.
Four times a week, "like a postman in snow, rain or sleet," he heads for either the Naval Academy or Hospital Point to race walk and run sprints.
He prefers race walking, a sport he calls his "second love next to my wife." But Clark also enjoys running middle-distance races. He has competed in track events ranging from the 100-meter -- to the 1,500-meter run, although his specialty remains the 400-meter event.
In the Senior Olympics at Towson State University this week, Clark hopes to compete in the 800-meter run, the only shorter distance event missing from his repertoire.
"I like shorter distances," he said. "A track coach of mine once said the farther you run, the crazier you are. I would rather run less than a mile. Keeps you healthy and sane."