Miller: At 86, Hoeppner sets a high bar for himself
Don Hoeppner is 86 years old.
At an age when most people are watching where they step, he’s watching his steps to the long-jump takeoff board.
Or watching for an open teammate on the basketball floor.
Or keeping an eye out for the finish line in the 100-yard dash.
“I’m a participator, not a spectator,” the rural Whitewater resident says.
Hoeppner said he has 500 medals from participating in the Wisconsin Senior Olympics, which go along with his National Senior Olympics medals.
In the latest National Senior Olympics held in June at Birmingham, Alabama, the former Wauwatosa certified public accountant earned silver medals in the long jump and triple jump, and he finished fifth in the high jump and seventh in the 200.
Instead of considering assisted living, Hoeppner was dishing out assists as his 3-on-3 team finished third.
In the upcoming Wisconsin Senior Olympics, Hoeppner plans on participating in basketball, softball, volleyball, tennis, swimming, track and field, lawn bowling, shuffleboard, horseshoes and pickleball.
Hoeppner has had the pedal to the metal his entire life and doesn’t plan on slowing down, even though he has suffered a few bumps and bruises in his athletic endeavors.
“A few operations to fix up when a guy crashes, you know,” he said. “A hundred years ago, I hurt my knee skiing. A half hundred years ago, I slid into third base and broke both bones in my arm. You have to be crazy to do that when you’re up 7-0 in the last inning.
“And I tore my Achilles just practicing basketball.”
But there are no artificial hips, knees or shoulders.
“I’m all natural,” he says.
Those natural parts carry Hoeppner 100 yards in 25 seconds.
He finished second at the National Senior Olympics in the long jump with a leap of 7 feet, 6 inches. Hoeppner was second in the triple jump with a distance of 14-8 3/4. He was sixth in the high jump, clearing 2 feet, 9 1/2 inches.
“The high jump is not too high anymore,” Hoeppner said.
Hoeppner competes in the 85-89 age division. He could not help but comment on that.
“Of course, when you’re 90, you might have one or two competitors,” Hoeppner said. “At 95, you only have yourself.”
The fact that there is anybody at those ages that can do that is amazing.
Paul Miller of Illinois, the only competitor in the 50 in the 100-plus age division, finished in 39.7 seconds. Howard Hall of Kentucky was the sole 50 runner in the 95-99 age division and he finished in 22.29 seconds.
“It is enjoyable watching a guy 99 years old, or something like that, run 50 yards,” Hoeppner said. “It’s a slow trot, but it’s still moving without stopping.”
Hoeppner hardly ever is at a stop. He attempts to do some activity every day. He stretches in the morning. On Wednesday night, he played tennis for an hour.
One of Hoeppner’s best friends is Richard Naslund of Oshkosh. Naslund is 92, plays pickleball and coaches basketball.
Another friend, 80-year-old William Jankovich of Racine, just broke the American men’s 80-age-division record at the USATF Masters Outdoor Championship held at Wake Forest University. Jankovich finished the 200-meter hurdle event in 41.68 seconds.
For the past 10 years, Hoeppner has been helping out at Dunham’s Sports in Janesville.
While many folks his age are forced to give up driving, Hoeppner and his 84-year-old wife, Nancy, drove to North Carolina to visit relatives in their 17-year-old Ford Ranger earlier this year.
Even Hoeppner’s vehicle exceeds expectations.
Hoeppner now is preparing for the Wisconsin Senior Olympics, which is coming up in August. He took home 21 medals from that annual event last year.
“I’m usually able to medal in them because either they aren’t anymore, or they aren’t able anymore, or they lost interest,” Hoeppner said.
Hoeppner is certainly still able to and definitely is not losing interest.
“I attack it from all directions,” Hoeppner said of his longevity. “You have to be exercising in your sports. You have to be eating right, you got to be thinking right and you have to be praying right.”
Tom Miller is a sports writer/page designer for The Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.