Alan Himelfarb: Purposeful Paradox
70-year old qualified for U.S. Senior Track and Field Nationals in the javelin this fall
A lot of times, life’s paradoxes are simply cases of two things being true at once.
All of Alan Himelfarb’s purpose-driven days have been guided by a steady compass of enduring, ageless principles juxtaposed with a few dramatic left turns. The most recent trail he’s veered onto involves spear-throwing. For those who know the longtime valley icon as the executive director of Starting Hearts, stay with me.
Earlier this year, the lifelong lover of sports — his Arizona childhood progressed in-step with his perpetually eager transitions from baseball to football to basketball seasons —decided to try a new game: track and field. At 70 years of age.
Now, he’s qualified in the javelin for the U.S. Senior Nationals in Miramar, Florida, which will take place from May 11-17, 2022.
If your perception of this pursuit is that it is a trivial, random one, you probably aren’t familiar with Himelfarb.
Support Local Journalism
Life’s first curveball
After excessive curveball throwing in those non-stop childhood playing days initiated elbow bursitis and nullified a baseball scholarship to Harvard — “that was a big loss for me,” Himelfarb admitted — the Avon resident went after his Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree at Arizona State University.
“I really admired my brother. I wanted to follow in his footsteps and I loved photography,” he said about the path.
The plans to follow his older sibling, who founded the MFA program at UC-Davis, were abruptly shattered when his father passed away from cardiac arrest at the dinner table during one of Alan’s routine visits home from college. Suddenly, he and his younger brother were forced into the family business. He left school immediately and dedicated his future to running the 11 mom-and-pop consumer electronics stores his dad had been operating across Arizona.
“Sports really took a background at that point,” the avid tennis player, hiker and skier said about the then-present trajectory of his athletic career. “We were really fighting for our family’s survival.”
While the manifestation of his priorities had shifted, the undergirding value of sports never departed.
“I’m always driven, and sports has always been something special for me. I think it’s very important to have purpose in life, to have goals,” he said.
Another rabbit trail…
From that initial fork in the road, it’s worth sharing another sports-story tangent — perhaps the most important one — which emerged for Alan. In the midst of a cross-promotion between his retail business, the Phoenix Suns, and the newly formed Phoenix Racquets, a 25-year old Himelfarb was “forced” to negotiate with a member of the World Team Tennis Club’s public relations department. Though legend Chris Evert was on their roster, that wasn’t the girl he would become interested in. The elegant lady he met in the NBA team’s offices was his future wife, Brenda, who would eventually lead him to the Vail area when he was 32.
After evolving from an electronics business owner to working with electronics for cars, a 30-year career tracked best by the 3 million airline miles he had accumulated, Himelfarb left his automotive industry consulting position for good around 2010. At that time, Lynn Blake had started the Starting Hearts organization after surviving a cardiac arrest in 2007. Blake’s work intrigued Himelfarb.
“She’s an example of what should happen when someone has a cardiac arrest,” Himelfarb said about Blake’s recovery from the sudden heart-stopping condition that kills roughly 475,000 Americans annually and affects ill-prepared communities the most.
“That person should survive and that person should thrive,” Himelfarb passionately, yet calmly — another faux paradox — preached.
“The opposite experience is what I had when my father passed away at 57, affecting not only my father but my family and our futures.”
Feeling he could help build upon Blake’s work by helping to increase the save rate from cardiac arrest substantially, he hopped on board. The vision of taking Standing Heart’s work in Eagle County nationwide has held the always active, fit and trim Himelfarb accountable.
“And so, I feel as though I need to walk the walk,” he said regarding his motivation to train.
“I need to be healthy, heart-conscious, have a good diet, good habits and set an example for others because so many cardiac arrests can be avoided with proper lifestyle choices,” he said. “And yet, so many people don’t understand this. So many aspects of life are based off of poor lifestyle choices. So, I feel if I can be an example to others, that it might be motivating to them as well to make some lifestyle changes, be healthier and live full productive lives.”
With that, we’re back to spear-throwing. Well, javelin, but part of the pleasure derived from the idiosyncratic track and field discipline is almost primal in nature for Himelfarb.
“Throughout history, there have been many different spear throwers,” he said, harkening his interviewer back to images of Brad Pitt as Achilles in Troy, launching sharp objects for the sole purpose of saving his people in battle.
“Watching the spear fly is particularly fulfilling.”
While the idea of a calm Himelfarb hurling a death device across the pitch might seem like a paradox, I can assure you it is not.
Making the spear fly is not as easy as it looks, and the pursuit of understanding the often-overlooked event jives with the man who believes finding one’s limit, and being willing to walk — run — right up to it, is what sport is all about.
“I wanted to do something physically to see what I could do,” he said about picking up the plyometric-heavy hobby at an age when some of his peers might be reaching for a walker.
“Well, track and field is kind of interesting,” he remembered thinking to himself.
“I’ll take a closer look at that and kind of train for that.”
The javelin emerged as a particularly eclectic activity.
“One thing I love about javelin is how complex it is,” he said.
“You’re running straight, you’re running sideways, you’re stretching your body like a rubber band — and then you’re trying to create the maximum acceleration — you have to have the right angle of attack with the spear. So, there’s a lot of different elements to making a javelin fly.”
He started investigating the Senior Games 70-74 age group records and searched for a meet to go to, but the pandemic canceled his only Colorado opportunity. COVID-19, like every other obstacle, merely made him traverse down yet another unplanned route. This time it was to Nevada, where he contested the 50-meter and 100-meter dashes, the standing long jump, the shot put and the javelin. At that first meet, he medaled in all of them, with two golds.
Three days later, he was in St. George, Utah, for their state games. He competed in three of the five events and medaled in javelin again.
“I was really excited by all of that,” he said about his six medals in eight tries.
A purpose to the paradox
For the sports physiologists out there curious as to his methodology, Himelfarb has no groundbreaking secrets. A life of activity and conscientious care for his body through healthy nutrition and adequate sleep are his staples.
In assessing his peers, he sees many who struggle with a plethora of health problems.
“One of the reasons is that they don’t take care of themselves, and then it starts a series of cascades that leads to poor health,” he said.
According to Alan, he and Brenda go to the gym every other day, working on maintaining muscle tone. Of course, they hike, ski and partake in all of the wonderful outdoor activities the Vail area has to offer, too.
“There was a baseline of health,” he responded while being questioned on the exacts of his training regime and incredible progression. He also studied experts and Olympians on YouTube, packaging up their knowledge with his lone implement for trips to the Homestake Peak School track to practice. His other training venue, the Athletic Club at the Westin in Avon, houses another source of motivation. Two local athletes — Mikaela Shiffrin and Josiah Middaugh — have their pictures on the wall. Alan would love to become the third.
“These people are all heroes,” he said.
“My dream of dreams is to win javelin at the nationals and see if I can get my picture on the wall at the Westin,” he said with a chuckle.
Finding a purpose for an activity that requires 12 seconds to complete and 12 months to prepare for is foundational to Himelfarb.
“When you’re in the gym and you don’t feel like going, it’s all a lot of intensity for a single moment in time,” he said, knowing he will train for months, fly to Florida, do a few tosses and then come home.
His “why,” in a way, starts with Starting Hearts.
“I think it’s true throughout life to take good care of yourself and to do so by being active, by good nutrition and sleep,” he outlined, summarizing the steps needed to hopefully avoid needing the services his organization provides. His life of continual learning, continual striving and continual balance is one all ages can benefit from.
“I think one of the most important things of all is to maintain purpose, do good, and give back,” he said.
“All of those things really make for a very fulfilled life.”
Alan can be reached at: email@example.com