Birthdays can be sore subjects. While most are glad to make it to another, the date can be a reminder of old age, aches and pains, and goals unmet.
Not for Orville Rogers.
When this longtime Dallas resident turns 100 years old on Nov. 28, opportunity will knock. Rogers currently holds 13 official world records for track and field at the masters level, a USATF designation for athletes over age 30. In fact, he has claimed all of the USATF records for running in the 95-99 age category, and he still holds four in the 90-94 category.
As you might imagine, the competition in Rogers' age category has thinned dramatically in the 10 years since he's been competing in track and field. He doesn't mind. It's the thrill of the race.
"I live life with a capital L," he told GuideLive.
One race brought him international fame early this year. With no one to compete against in the 95-99 age group in the 60-meter dash at the 2017 national championships, Rogers was pitted in a heat against 92-year-old Dixon Hemphill, seven years his junior. Hemphill took a quick lead and held it for most of the race, but Rogers doubled down with stunning grit. He pulled out a victory by just 0.05 seconds.
It wasn't Rogers' first world record, nor was it his fastest race of all time. But the resulting video became an exhilarating record of both men's mettle. It inspired runners and those who simply love seeing humans at their toughest.
One person captivated by Rogers' story was another Texan who had experienced his own brush with instant, viral fame. San Antonio artist Jake Danklefs watched a segment of Texas Country Reporter in May that featured Rogers.
Danklefs owns Dank & Co., a custom sneaker company. Self-taught, Danklefs began retrofitting shoes as a hobby when he was a teenager. The business has grown into a lucrative one: His popularity skyrocketed in 2013 when NBA superstar LeBron James posted a photo of one of Danklefs' designs on Instagram. Since then, he's created shoes for the San Antonio Spurs, a Whataburger fan contest and D-FW-raised rapper Post Malone.
Most people will wait over a year to own a custom Dank & Co. design; demand is that high. But, when Danklefs saw that Rogers would turn 100 in November, he decided to move a special pair to the front of the line.
He connected with Rogers' family via social media and made plans to have the shoes finished for Rogers' birthday celebration in Dallas.
"I just wanted to incorporate key points from his life and his birthday in the shoe and make it something he would enjoy running in and showing off," Danklefs said via email. The custom black sneakers feature the U.S. Air Force logo on the toe box, with the University of Oklahoma logo on the left tongue, a favorite Bible verse on the right tongue, and a 100 on the back.
When Rogers received the shoes, he knew just what to do: He ran with his pant legs rolled up to show them off during a family run Saturday morning at White Rock Lake.
More than 30 members of his family ran a cumulative 99 miles, with the group coming together to cover a final 100th mile en route to the family home. Rogers led the way, of course.
Coupled with his faith, he says maintaining a good attitude has led to his longevity and his profound sense of happiness.
He first developed those traits as a gutsy airplane pilot with a taste for calculated danger. This summer, he published an autobiography of his tales called The Running Man: Flying High for the Glory of God.
Rogers, who was named after Orville Wright, details his lifelong fascination with airplanes through daring tales as an Army Air Corps training instructor during World War II, an Air Force commander during the Korean War and during his long career as a civilian pilot for Braniff. A chance encounter with a copy of Aerobics by Dallas-based Dr. Kenneth Cooper inspired another passion: running.
He came across the book on a flight layover and took up running the next day, at age 50. He ran his fifth, "last and best" marathon in 3 hours and 39 minutes at 75 years old, he says.
These days, Rogers focuses on track, and he has faithfully kept up his active routine. He runs and lifts weights at the Cooper Center in Dallas, where he stays in contact with the man who first inspired his running career. Explaining his athletic successes, Rogers quotes one of Cooper's sayings:
"You don't wear out, you rust out."
Rogers' book details his workout regimen and tips for "training at age 90 and beyond." Now having lived to see age 100, his insight seems even more special.