High Jumper Turns Lifetime Of Fitness Into A Silver Medal

July 07, 1991|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,Staff writer

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Charles Irwin has seen some Broadway magic over the years, but he had never seen the strange magic he saw this past Tuesday.

In the finals of the high jump competition for men age 70 to 74 at the U.S. National Senior Sports Classic that morning, Irwin was entrenched in a battle for the gold medal. He and defending champ Hamilton Morningstar of Ann Arbor, Mich., had cleared 4 feet, but each had missed once at 4-foot-2.

Morningstar was up first. He clipped the bar as he went over and what happened next seemed like a little miracle from one of the Broadway musicals Irwin performed in 40 years ago.

Before Morningstar landed on the mat, the bar jumped up in the air, turned on its side and dropped perfectly back into place. Nobody at the Sunnycrest Track had ever seen anything like it.

Irwin, 74, cleared the bar on his third try, but had to settle for the silver medal when neither man could jump 4-foot-4.

"The gods were definitely with him today," said Irwin of his competitor for the gold.

An hour later, Irwin was still shaking his head and Morningstar, with the gold medal around his neck, was counting his lucky stars. "I must be living right," said Morningstar, who holds the national games record, 4-foot-6, in the 70-74age group.

A track star at Bel Air High in the early 1930s, Irwinhas only competed in field events a few times in the last several years. But he remains in the same kind of shape that, along with voice training at the Peabody Conservatory, helped the Aberdeen native landa couple of roles on Broadway.

His first Broadway job came after a stint in the Army's 29th Infantry Division in Europe during World War II. Irwin started out as understudy to Gordon MacRae in "Three to Make Ready." After MacRae left the show, Irwin stepped in to the role.

The showed played 18 more months at the Adelphi Theatre and thenwent on the road for a year. After that, Irwin landed a featured role in "Charley's Aunt" with Ray Bolger.

The daily grind of Broadwaykept Irwin in shape, but then he gave up the stage for a new role asdevoted family man. He is still Jackie Irwin's leading man after 40 years of marriage and three children.

The decision to quit the stage and move back to Harford County came shortly after the two were married. Irwin landed a prime role in a road production of "South Pacific," and the company was actually headed for the South Pacific. The newly married Irwin thought about going with the company to Australia,but Jackie couldn't join him for a couple of months. He decided to stay home.

Irwin began working in radio at WASA in Baltimore and eventually became vice president of the station. Working at the radio station, however, did not keep him in the kind of shape his previous job had, so he began to jog.

"I started jogging before it was fashionable," recalled Irwin, who first hit the pavement in the early '60s. "People would always say, 'Who's that old man running around the neighborhood in his underwear?' "

Irwin didn't get back into competition until he heard about the Maryland Senior Olympics six years ago.He started out running, but didn't like it, so he switched to his high school specialty -- the high jump.

Last October, Irwin won a gold medal in the Maryland Senior Olympics, making possible his first trip to the national senior games last week. He also threw the javelinand discus here, although he didn't pick up a medal in either one.

"If I was going to do anything here, it was going to be in the highjump," said Irwin, who retired from radio 12 years ago to start his own advertising business. "But training is a real problem, because there's no place to go to jump. I would like to refine the way I jump, but I just don't have access to the pits."

With this year's Maryland Senior Olympics coming up in October, Irwin said he might add a couple of sports -- like triple jump and broad jump -- to his retinue. Still, he doesn't have any plans for intensive training.

He has the same plans he had when he retired from the stage -- to stay home and enjoy his family. He might, however, finally take his wife on that trip to the South Pacific.

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