This Best of the LPJ for 2022 story was originally published on November 14, 2022.
By Kyle Roberts
Robert Reeder has quite a story.
I was alerted of this by a dear friend and loyal reader of the Lincoln Parish Journal a few weeks ago. At first, it seemed like his story would be about his race running and finishing with some impressive hardware in a few interstate competitions for track over the past year.
But it was over a cup of coffee in the Reeder’s home that I realized there was a fantastic story to tell: one of a man with deep roots in the North Louisiana running circuit back in the 50’s and who will never know the words “old” or “quit.” As we visited together in his living room on a Friday morning in north Lincoln Parish with his adoring wife and biggest fan, Lajuana, I found myself humbled in the presence of a soft-spoken man who rediscovered a deep passion for running and racing just three years ago after hanging up his shoes for nearly five decades.
Robert Reeder literally learned how to run again at the age of 79 and has now, three years later, become one of the top runners in the southern United States in the 50-meter, 100-meter and 200-meter dashes with recent times of 9.33 seconds, 18.57, and 41.26, respectively.
Hailing from Haynesville just a few parishes away, Robert graduated from Haynesville High School in 1958 and that was the last time he ran competitively in track for about 60 years.
“Growing up in Haynesville, I ran track, and I loved to run,” Robert said. “I’ve been in track meets with Ruston people such as Pat Garrett, James Anderson, and Sammy Simonton. I’ve always had a passion for it. It was probably my favorite sport; that and baseball.
“We were in Shreveport about three years ago, and I was getting fitted for some new shoes. The salesman there was the ex-principal of Haynesville High School Frank Trammel. (Trammel was also a member of the Northwestern State track team that won a national championship). He’s still involved in track, and he said ‘Robert, you need to get involved with the Senior Olympics.’ I couldn’t even run anymore. I had been working in the oil field for the last 45 years, and I hadn’t even seen a track in so long. I let the comment pass at first, but I couldn’t get it off my mind.”
The comment gnawed at Robert for a while. Four or five months went by, and Robert dug into the courage deep within and decided to give it a shot. But first, he would have to relearn how to run.
It was at a meeting at his gym that the stars aligned perfectly; a trainer willing to take him on and lead him back into running shape.
That trainer is a very familiar face to Lincoln Parish residents: Ed Jackson, former Bulldog football player, Los Angeles Raider, assistant football coach, and now Assistant Athletics Director for Student Development at Louisiana Tech.
“Ed Jackson was a miracle,” Robert said. “I still see him three times a week, and he’s got me where I’m competitive. He’s become a very good friend, and I just love him to death. He’s a self-made man and has really done well being a trainer. He can look at me and tell me what I need. He really brought me back where I could compete.”
Jackson shares the same affinity for Robert; you can easily tell by the way he talks about him.
“What inspired me the most about him is that he never seeks any fame or fortune,” Jackson said. “I’m amazed at how many medals he’s got; he gets three medals nearly every time he goes. He originally tried to do it all by himself. When I got him, his rhythm and coordination were off. He had to relearn how to run. He’ll tell you that himself.
“I told him that once he built strength back in his body that running would be natural again. Your body is designed to get the flow of it. We started leg work, squats and lunges; then we started flexibility in his back and shoulders. He got better and better. He doesn’t ever stop working.”
Working with Jackson proved incredibly beneficial.
Over the course of three years, Robert has become a force as a senior runner. He’s medaled in the 50-meter, 100-meter and 200-meter in races in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Mississippi. He’s run in Texas, as well, but given the high regard and demand for senior runners in the Lonestar State, he was not able to medal there. Larger states have complete track teams for seniors. Louisiana does not – racers register and compete individually on their own.
Right now, Robert trains on Choudrant High School’s track, the closest track to their beautiful home, something for which he and his family are very appreciative.
Recently, Robert has started showing interest in pole vaulting, which track and field enthusiasts will understand requires a specific setting and equipment (they’ve even priced putting in a pit in their backyard at home, but the cost for even a used pit is very extensive). Unfortunately, there are no available pits for Robert to train locally – they understandably cite liability issues – so, he travels hours away to Jonesboro, Ark. for vaulting practice.
Robert laughs at how he found a vaulting coach.
“I saw an ad from a trainer that said ‘Accepting all ages,’” Robert said. “So I went ahead and called him. He’s a man named Earl Bell. He answered the phone, and I asked him if he was serious about taking all ages, if his ad was true. So he asked me, ‘Well, how old are you?”
Robert answered honestly. Earl sat on the phone and paused for a long period of time.
“He said ‘I haven’t had anyone your age call me,’” Robert said, and followed with a hearty laugh. “Finally, Earl just told me to come on up. That’s how I got started with vault practice.”
And so, Robert will press onward. It seems now that it has become less about winning the hardware and more about raising awareness of what opportunities are available to seniors.
“You don’t have to sit and do nothing,” Robert said. “There are so many ways to stay active and healthy. I’m glad that I’m running again.”
In speaking with Jackson, he summed up this entire story perhaps best of all with his last quote of our interview.
“I enjoy every moment working with him,” Jackson said. “I tell him all the time that he ought to be on national TV for his story. People don’t know that he has accomplished a lot; he’s a hidden gem for this area.”