And to think, it almost did not happen.
It was by chance that Janet Freniere’s track career started. Sure, her husband Al had been a long time track and field coach and was an avid runner, competing in a number of meets annually, but Janet was not one for athletics. She had not even given them much time or thought since her formative years, even if she was the fastest girl in her class.
She had not given them much though that is until one Sunday about 10 years ago when she was in New Hampshire to watch Al compete. On the morning of the race, for no real reason in particular, Al convinced Janet to enter.
Unprepared as she was, no spikes, no blocks, no proper running attire, Janet went for it, if only to see how she would do.
She was 64 at the time.
“I always came to the meets and everyone would always say to me, ‘What do you do? What do you do?’ And I’d say, ‘I watch him,’” said Janet of the birth of her track career. “Then one day up in New Hampshire, it was a very bad weather day and [Al] suggested I run. It was a miserable, rainy day, I had jeans on, nothing I should be running in, and I beat everybody. That got me going.
“I hadn’t run since first grade. The teacher would line us up on the fence every recess when it was good weather and we’d have to run way over to the other side. I always beat everybody and I never gave it another thought all those years. I was busy with the children and working and everything. When [Al] started I would accompany him, but never really thought about it until he said it that time in New Hampshire, ‘give it a try.’”
A decade later and Freniere is still running, having carved out quite the career for herself since that meet in New Hampshire. Between her 10 and Al’s 20 years competing in the Senior Olympics, the Freniere’s have “lots and lots and lots of medals at home,” according to Janet, acquired from competing in meets against local, national and international talent at events all across the country. And for Janet, it is a career that just keeps getting better.
With wins in the Ocean State Senior Olympics in June, Janet qualified for the 2013 National Senior Games, hosted this year in Cleveland, OH, from July 19 to August 1. It was her fourth time qualifying for the national event.
After finishing ninth two years in a row, Janet had her best performance to date at the nationals in Cleveland. She reached the finals for the first time, advancing in the 50 and 100m races – she also participated in the 200m event – earning her first ribbons with a sixth place finish in the 50m and seventh in the 100m. Al and Janet also served as the flag bearers for the start of Rhode Island at the Games.
“This was her year, she did great,” said Al, who also competed in Cleveland, but injured a hamstring on the first day of competition. “She went against some people from all over the world.
“She’s getting better and better. …She’s come a long way. I’m very proud of her.”
Despite being at an age when so much of the population starts to slow down, with the exception of both having to give up competing in the javelin throw in recent years because of shoulder injuries, the couple has no intentions to stop competing any time soon. Just this past weekend, the Freniere’s were back where it all began, up in New Hampshire for the Granite State Senior Olympics. Though the hamstring injury suffered in Cleveland kept Al from competing in his customary 50, 100, 200 and 400m races, as well as long and triple jump events, Janet shined, taking home gold in the 50, 100 and 200m races.
The winning, however, is not what keeps driving the Freniere’s to push themselves and continue track careers they hope last “until we’re 89, maybe,” according to Janet. They understand the importance of continuing to stay active in life and challenge themselves. The Senior Olympics are their way of keeping that healthy lifestyle, and hope continued growth of Rhode Island’s two events – the Ocean State Senior Olympics and Rhode Island Tides Senior Games – will help more people join them on that path, even if it means they have to face stiffer competition.
“It’s not so much winning and losing,” Al said. “It’s finishing the race, getting out and doing your exercise and enjoying life and meeting people.”
“It’s just plain fun,” said Janet, while her husband continued, “It also keeps us in shape, keeps our energy up.
“It’s good to get out there and run, especially because we are running together now. …The reason we go out is we keep in shape and because we love to run.”