Jerry Nottingham recently participated in the 30th Air Defense Artillery Brigade's Quarry Challenge and, had there been an age group for him, would have competed in it.

Nottingham, a 77-year-old civil service retiree who ended his career at Fort Sill in the resource management office, found an interest in upping his physical fitness midway through his life.

Looking svelte in a dress shirt and slacks, and well-polished shoes, it's hard to image this 5-foot, 7-inch, 165-pound man once tipped the scales at 215 to 220 pounds.

Speaking of his younger days, to his credit, Nottingham said he was well muscled, but also, he didn't shy away from the truth.

"I wasn't all hanging out, but I know I could have looked a lot better," he said.

Talking to a colleague at work Nottingham told the man, "I'm kind of heavy, but I have big bones," to which, he recalled, his co-worker replied, "Yes, and they're well cushioned."

At age 49, he began going to Weight Watchers meetings intent to make a change for the better.

"I was kind of overweight, didn't eat right, and didn't exercise," said Nottingham, who began a walking program that quickly progressed to fast walking.

How fast?

Try 11-minute miles.

Believing he was moving along at a pretty good clip, Nottingham tested his fleet feet in the Sooner State Games in Oklahoma City.

"I entered in my age group and finished dead last," he said. "I was really embarrassed, but later realized I was power walking and everyone else was race walking."

According to livestrong.com, power walking is slower and not as rigorous as race walking. For many people, it provides an effective and easy method for losing weight and staying in shape. Unlike going for a stroll, power walking involves swinging your arms in an exaggerated back and forth motion in rhythm to your steps, taking long strides and hitting the ground with your heel first as you propel yourself forward as quickly as possible.

In contrast to that, race walking involves both feet remaining in contact with the ground, and yet is done so in such a way that it propels the walker at speeds that can be faster than some runners. In fact, Nottingham said Olympic caliber race walkers can do 7-minute miles.

Talking to a friend about his humiliating finish, Nottingham received a bit of wisdom: "Every situation can leave you bitter or better. You decide which one you want to be."

So he learned the race walking technique and perfected his form. The following year he entered the 5K race again and finished first in his age division.

As his overall fitness increased, Nottingham moved on to running and completed a few marathons, his last coming at age 58. His running carried him from age 50 to 73 during which he won his age group in several races. After that, he returned to walking.

He said he's a regular at the Fires Fitness Center where he does cross-training exercises, and light weight training at least three times a week. Along with that he walks about 20-25 miles a week.

Nottingham added the Quarry Challenge was a tough route that slowed his pace to 15-16 minute miles. In contrast, he entered a 5K in Fort Worth on a much flatter course and walked at a 14:40 pace.

"I enjoy it, it's a challenge, as I get older it's tougher to maintain that 15-minute mile pace," he said.

Whether preparing for a race, or just getting his daily workout in, Nottingham prefers to do it as part of a group. He's the sort looking to build up and affirm others, and seeks that out in those he exercises with. He summarized what he can do as, "be thankful to God we can run and have fun. Whether we finish first or last, or somewhere in between, we're OK."

Looking back on his mid-life transformation, Nottingham reminds people starting into an exercise program to be patient.

"You didn't get out of shape overnight, so just do what you can do, and try to make it fun," he said.
For Nottingham, part of that fun derives from the satisfaction he gets every time he laces up his walking shoes.

"I feel really good being able to do something other people my age cannot," he said.