Humans of Speed: A Day at the Races with Dr. Michael Day

November 17, 2017

headshot of Dr. Michael DayA fixture of the department of Mechanical Engineering for almost forty years, Dr. Michael Day still leads a fast-paced life, even with his retirement looming in the near future. Approximately ten years ago, the National Senior Games was hosted here in Louisville. Motivated by health and a desire to compete, Day decided to participate in the event, a decision he has since repeated every year since starting.

“It’s kind of like the mid-life crisis. I was in my 50s. I went to the doctor and my blood pressure was up and I was heavier than I’d ever been," he said. "I’ve always been really thin. The doctor told me to lose some weight. When you start to exercise, you tend to start eating better. You can’t survive on donuts and fried food, if you’re going to stay in shape. If I eat this donut, how far am I going to have to run to get this off here?”

Senior Games

The games are held every two years, with qualifying events every other year. In 2016, the games were held in Birmingham, Alabama. Day qualified for three events, tennis, bowling, and the triathlon in the 66 to 70 age range, the youngest in that group. Allowed only two games, tennis and the triathlon, setting some moderate goals along the way.

“The bowling, even though I qualified, I was the last one to qualify there. Some of these old farts are good bowlers. They were all bowling in the 200s. But I decided to do the tennis. I thought I was in better shape than I thought I was," said Day. "When it got to the Senior Games, I was totally out of my league. Most of them are ex-college players that are 23 years removed, but they play at clubs. I made it to the semi-finals of the constellation bracket, but I was totally outclassed there."

For the triathlon, Day set his sights on two targets, beating 100 minutes total in the race, and placing in the top 8. Unlike the Iron Man, the NSG triathlon consists of the same events, albeit different distances; a sprint triathlon that consists of a 400-meter swim, a 20 KM bike ride, and a 5K run.

“I did beat the 100 minutes, at around 95 minutes, which was a good time for me, but I didn’t get the top 8," he said. "I had trouble with the bike. I threw the chain. The gears going up the mountain. I was shifting underneath a load, I had to stop and put the chain back on. The thing is, getting back up to speed is not easy on a hill.”

Summer of 2019

Having raced past the 2017 games, Day already has his eyes set on the summer of 2019, where he hopes to participate in again in tennis and the triathlon. This year held Albuquerque, New Mexico, Day faces new challenges with his next meet.

“I have to qualify in the state games. It was to my advantage before, because the temperature was to my advantage. It’s fun to kind of go and challenge myself,” said Day. “If I’m planning on being in an event, I don’t want to drown or embarrass myself. Now I’m too old to just go out and run without training. When I was younger, I could just go out and run. You pay for it the next day. As you get older and the races get longer, not so much.”

An engineer first and foremost, Day remains focused not on any specific achievement, but on satisfying his next series of goals. For Day, that manifests as an air of humility, a good natured drive to press forward.

He admits, “I don’t feel like it’s much of an accomplishment or feat. It’s something you do to challenge yourself and to force yourself to stay in shape. I need that little carrot to stay in shape.”