A tribute to the late David Pain, A Masters Athletics Legend!

Death claims the Founder of US Masters Athletics and instigator of WAVA.

Masters athletes all over the world are mourning the passing of David Pain on 14 February aged 96 and according to his family he passed away peacefully in his sleep.

 

It was back in the Sixties that awareness of the dangers of smoking was to lead to non smoking areas being introduced in restaurants and in other public areas. There was also a simultaneous awareness of the importance of keeping fit after the late President Kennedy’s famous speech a few years earlier wherein he said a man should be able to walk 50 miles to consider himself fit; it was to set off a lot of people attempting the distance.

David Pain, taken by Ken Stone 2003

British-born David Pain would then be in his early Forties, a father of four children; the Senior Partner in a Law firm and now a USA Citizen and living in San Diego. He was contemplating a return to competitive running having kept himself reasonably fit competing in handball etc. At North Hollywood High School he had run 2.15.for the 880yds, then joined the Naval Reserve on leaving school. He was called into active service in 1941 but based in the USA where he managed to continue his Law studies. When World War 11 ended he enrolled at USC Law School, passing the Bar exam in 1949.

 

As a member of San Diego Track Club, his opponents were in their Twenties and his awareness that Handball had older age categories may have sparked an idea in his head. But it was a jog around the perimeter of his local Municipal Golf Course that was to lead to running at aged over forty hitting the news. A Golf Course employee tried to stop him, the Police were called. David did not have an admission ticket or any personal identity. Unfortunately for David his off-the-lead Labrador Retriever bit the hand of one of the five Policemen. In the ensuing argument David was called a “troublemaker”, handcuffed and taken to the County Jail and his dog quarantined! As a confrontational publicity savvy Lawyer, he took full advantage asking his family to contact the local Press aware that the Editor was also a member of the San Diego Track Club. David would contest his right to run and would pursue this to the US Supreme Court if necessary.

 

In Court some months later, David’s Lawyer asked the City’s Attorney if he would have sold David an admission ticket knowing that he was not going to play golf but only going to run around the perimeter of the Municipal Golf Course; the Attorney replied that no, he would not. The Judge ruled that that applied only to golfers as the City had no provisions for granting use tickets to runners, it could not charge a jogger for failing to have one!  David was found not guilty. His publicity efforts had demonstrated that no Law in the land was going to stop him exercising his right to run, he now had a huge following, including the then influential Sports Illustrated. San Diego’s Parks Department subsequently declared the public Golf Course open to joggers as long as they did not interfere with the golfers. David was to meet up with many like-minded forty-plus when out jogging.

 

There were various road races aimed at the over 40 and over 50 runners in that district of the USA and it inevitably followed that David’s enthusiasm would extend to organising a track race for men aged 40-plus. He contacted the organiser of the elite San Diego Invitational Track & Field Meet in early 1966 to discuss a special 1-mile track race for men aged over 40. He coined the term “Masters”.  On 11 June 1966 the first ever Masters Mile Race was run at the Invitational Meet in the Balboa Stadium. It proved popular. David may not immediately have realised it, but he had planted a fertile seed that was to culminate in the founding of the US Masters and a World Association that now has more Sovereign Nations affiliated than many Olympic sports and that can rightfully claim to be the World’s largest Track & Field Championships Organiser.

 

He promoted the first ever US Masters Track & Field Championships in 1968, continuing to organise another five in his home city. Overseas athletes were welcome to enter and David went on to make contact with Australia, NZ, Great Britain and other European countries. The 1972 Munich Olympics was looming on the horizon. He and his wife Helen organised a European tour, they would compete in Track & Field Meets with Veteran Organisations in Europe en route to Munich and post the Olympics. Canadian and Oceania athletes joined the touring Group. The first Meet was in Crystal Palace, London. From there the Group travelled all over Europe, met, socialise, enthuse and promoted the Masters athletics concept at every opportunity.

 

On that trip was the late much lamented Canadian, Don Farquharson. Roland Mitchener was the Governor General of Canada at that time and he was a keep fit enthusiast. Farquharson knew he would likely get the Governor General’s backing and he offered to organise a World Masters Track & Field Meet in Toronto in 1975 to which all Masters Associations would be invited to compete. It included a few events for women. It was a huge success. At an open Forum there, mature fit and enthusiastic competitors who had enjoyed this Track Field Meet so much wanted more. They wanted this to be a biennial affair; a World Championships with 5-year age categories and would cover all disciplines. Step forward the Swede, Konrad Hernelind, he would organise this in Gothenborg in 1977.  A Steering Committee was formed of Farquharson, Pain, Jack Fitzerald (GBR), Wal Shepherd (Australia), Clem Green (New Zealand), Bob Fine (USA), Maeve Kyle (N. Ireland), Ian Hume (Canada) and Konrad Hernelind (Sweden).

 

IAAF President, Adrian Paulen, came to Gothenborg to see the 2,750-plus athletes in action and after sitting through some events and witnessing the “Also Ran” competing against ageing Olympians, he commented: “the competitors obviously enjoyed themselves so much that something should be done about a special status”.  Some months later, the IAAF gave the newly formed World Association of Veteran Athletes, (now World Masters Athletics), the right to decide who would take part in its events, provided these events were confined to men 40 years and over and women 35 years and over. We now had Masters athletics established and the rest is history.

 

David passionately believed that any person aged over 40 (35 for women at that time) whatever their level of fitness, religion, colour, or former Professionals, had a right to enter the World Masters Championships. His belief was to clash with the Amateur Rules rigidly enforced by the AAU at that time, confrontational, he would defend his stance. He took groups of athletes to countries that had only a handful of older athletes, or who could not travel to competitions, and helped to set up a Masters Association there. A knee injury curtailed his own running, he switched to cycling. He organised some Biathlons in San Diego. He lived to see the acceptance that track was not just for young athletes and that older people could still run, jump, throw, cycle etc. competitively.

 

If you are struggling to finish your competition at a World Masters Championships, just look to the sky. A smiling face will be watching you reassuring you that you have every right to be there; to keep fit and to enjoy the camaraderie of the wonderful sport he helped to create.

 

David, you are an inspiration, you have changed the lives of many people for the better. We will always remember you with grateful thanks.  Rest in peace.

 

Bridget Cushen

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