When then 38-year-old Matt Denning told his family that he wanted to run as fast as he did in college, and that he was going to train to do it, they laughed.
“He said, ‘I think I can run as fast as I could when I was 22 or 23.’ And we all laughed at him and said, ‘You can’t. You’re old. There’s just no way,’ ” said his dad, Don Denning.
But Matt was determined to see how close he could get to his Utah State University track team times — 21.04 seconds in the 200 and 10.62 in 100.
And although he hasn’t hit those exact times, he’s picked up state records in his age group, national age group rankings, a silver and two gold medals in the USA Track and Field Masters Championships, and world rankings along the way.
Matt was a standout runner at Layton High School, helping the track team to their 1987 state 4-A track title. He then ran a year at University of Utah and then transferred to Utah State to finish his college career when the men’s track team was disbanded while he was on an LDS mission.
While he performed well at Utah State, winning the conference championship in the 100 and 200, he had missed the 1996 Olympic Trials due to a series of injuries and he felt he had some unfinished business on the track.
“One of my goals was to go to Olympic trials in ’96 and I never had the opportunity. I guess I regret that,” said Matt. “One of my aspirations was to try and see if I could reach my full potential, even though I’m old. I don’t know what that mark is or was, but I wanted to start by racing some of the younger guys. I thought maybe I could run as fast as I was in college, even though I was 40. But I’m finding out it’s not that way.”
Matt, who works at Wells Fargo as a mortgage consultant, began putting in the same kind of hours and training he did when he was running at Utah State, planning to compete in the 2011 Utah Summer Games against the college guys in the 100 and 200 meters when he turned 40.
“I wanted to go down to the Utah Summer Games and run with the college guys and see if I could beat them and prove that old guys can still run,” said Matt. “I wanted to be the guy that proved you could still do it. My main goal was just to see how well I could do as an old guy.”
While he initially intended to compete at only the 2011 Utah Summer Games, he extended his journey after he pulled a hamstring at that meet.
“I went to the Summer Games and my very first race I took seven steps and hurt my hamstring; I had to decide, ‘Do I want to hang in another year, or hang it up and say I tried?’ ” he said.
He had put so much effort into it that he decided to continue building his speed.
This year, when he raced at the 2012 Utah Summer Games, Denning competed against men half his age and won the 200 in 23.04 and was beat by just one man in the 100.
After proving to himself that he could run with college-age guys, Matt, now 41, was looking around on the Internet and discovered that his times were ranked with national master’s times, so he submitted his times to the USA Master’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships and was accepted to run at that meet this past August.
While he may have laughed at first, Don said that he’s enjoyed watching Matt transform himself back into peak shape and come close to those college numbers.
“I enjoy watching the competition,” said Don. “I haven’t missed many of his track meets along the way, and it makes it extra fun when he is doing well in his events.”
Don went with him to Nationals and watched Matt race against the top athletes in the country, including former Olympians. Matt won his age group in the 200 and placed second in the 100. He also joined forces with 3 other men to earn a gold medal in the 4x100 meters.
“It is a pretty good feeling to be able to be rewarded for all the hard work,” said Matt.
He plans to continue training, working his current personal records (22.3 in the 200 and 11.25 in the 100) down even closer to those college times. And as he does it he said he’ll use the lessons he’s learned during his journey to keep things in focus.
“I’m hoping the people I come in contact with, it can show them that if you really want to do something and have a talent for it, if you’re willing to put in the time and effort you can really accomplish a lot,” said Matt. “The second thing is you have to have realistic expectations with yourself. You have to be able to live with yourself and look at yourself and know that what you did was a really good accomplishment for yourself.
“You can’t compare yourself to where you were before. You have to start from scratch. I want to go to as many meets as I can while I’m conditioned to do it. I want to do it all, get it done, and live with whatever I’ve done and hopefully that’s enough.”