Originally created 04/08/00

Senior runner logs many miles



He was a logger by trade and a marathon man by choice. Actually, he was a logger by choice, too, and one thing followed the other.

And last fall, 87-year-old O.B. Poole won a gold medal at the Senior Olympics in Orlando to add to the hundreds of ribbons, trophies and awards that fill a room in his historic house just inside the Burke County line.

Mr. Poole took up logging in the 1930s so he could be his own boss, and he took up running at age 65 at the prompting of his daughter -- and a desire to live to be 100.

"Two days before my 65th birthday, I put on my old swimming trunks and got my German Shepard dog, and I got to the pecan tree way down there," Mr. Poole recalled. "I said, `This is foolishness. I'm too old for this."'

But then he did it again.

"And I said, `You know, it ain't as bad as I thought it was,"' he said.

His first race was in New Orleans on Thanksgiving Day 1977.

"The next spring, I ran the Broad Street Ramble in 1978. And in '78 I ran my first Southeastern Master Championship at Lovett Stadium in Atlanta. I ran that twice."

When he was past 70, he ran from the Confederate monument on Broad Street to Jackson and back, a distance of 28 miles.

He's run in the Peachtree Road Race 10 times.

And he's not slowing down.

"If I expect to be running when I'm 90, I've got to run from now until I'm 90," he said. "I don't run every day, but every week and every other day. If I go around the block, it's just a little bit over six miles."

That's a country block.

Mr. Poole was born in 1912 in Warren County, "The backwoods of the world," and was raised in Matthews. When he was 21, he and his brother moved to Burke County but couldn't make a living farming. They were so poor that if a family member died they would have been hard-pressed to attend the funeral because they had no dress clothes, Mr. Poole said.

"There wasn't nothing to do but just plain work," he said. "And I did love to see big trees fall. It's taken them several seconds -- a long 25 to 50 foot tree -- to fall.

"And I was fascinated. I was just obsessed. I've got to get me a logging outfit. And I did for about 60 years. I didn't have nothing but short days.

"I worked, and I was the boss. Self-employed. That's the life to live."

In 1936, he had money and a 1936 Ford, and that's when he saw his future wife, Sarah, for the first time.

"I said that's the prettiest little girl I ever saw," he said. "It took me about four months to get that little girl to forget about school and marry me."

The couple had three children, and Mr. Poole's logging business was thriving.

"In 1944, Hitler's war was raging, and the war in the Far East was raging," he said. "OK, I'm logging away. And I'm logging out of this piece this side of Wrens, and I just bought this piece of timber. I was so happy. I wasn't pressed financially. We had everything we basically needed. A new car.

"There was three pine trees. If they had been left in there, you'd want to build a park under it. The prettiest, tallest, 150 feet to the bough. One of those logs, the prettiest, yellow pine logs. Three chains and new Ford truck to haul them with a tandem trailer. I unloaded them at Norton's Sawmill Lumber Co. I was selling my pine there, my hardwood as far north as Virginia"

He was trying to get the log loose when it fell on him. When he regained consciousness, he didn't know whether he had been hit by the log or lightning, he said.

Workers put him in the car and took him to town and laid him down in front of a doctor's office. As they carried him he heard one man say, "Let's put him down. You can see he's dying."

His arms, pelvis and ribs were crushed and he was "chewing on broken teeth," he said. An old woman put some ice in a baby diaper and pressed it to his face.

Dr. Jim Pilcher took him to Augusta, where he was given up for dead. But five weeks later, he was up walking on crutches. In six months, he was pulling a cross-cut saw, he said.

There was permanent damage, though.

"I was measured to be 6 feet, 6 inches in 1936 in a drugstore in Burke County," Mr. Poole said. "They offered a bicycle to the one whose man was the tallest man in Burke County. A man stopped me on the sidewalk and asked me to go in and let them measure me. He said if I was the tallest man, his son would get the bicycle. So I learned he's the one that got the bicycle.

"But when that log crushed my bone so bad, it shrunk."

The pine log did something else besides crush Mr. Poole's bones.

"It just made me tougher," he said. "Praise the Lord! If you don't stop, you don't stop. You just keep going."

Among the awards in Mr. Poole's den is a certificate of appreciation for sharing his inspiration and insights with the Medical College of Georgia School of Medicine Class of 2000.

"About four years ago, the big doctor -- she's a she over there at the Georgia School of Medicine -- decided she would locate the wellest, oldest man or woman," Mr. Poole said. "And the one who could run and do the most is the wellest."

She asked him to address the new class Aug. 19, 1996.

"I told them to eat right and live right and leave tobacco off and take plenty of exercise and of all things look forward to a long life of self-employment," he said.

"And y'all have chosen a vocation that will go all the way with you through life and bless your fellow man, too. Praise the Lord. My hat's off to you. You've chose a most valuable thing to give to society, to be a doctor. And I said I'll be back when y'all get through. Man, a standing ovation to a poor, dumb fourth grader."

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228.