“You don’t stop playing games because you got old, you got old because you stopped playing games.” That’s how Bill Hiney, 66, of Southold explains the passion for the discus throw that brought him a silver medal in his age class at the World Master Athletic Championships in Sacramento, Calif., in July.
The former high school and college football player began throwing the discus while he was a student at Port Jefferson High School, after an injury had sidelined him from the football team.
During a layoff from football, a track and field coach suggested he try running.
“I soon realized I wasn’t a runner,” he said. Another coach introduced him to discus throwing.
“My friends were doing it, so I did it,” he said. But it became a secondary sport when he earned a football scholarship to Columbia University.
Another thing his friends got him involved with was music, and he fondly recalls the days of his now white, close-cropped hair being long and curly as he traveled in the northeast playing the bass, guitar and drums with various groups.
“But at 29, I realized I wasn’t going to be a rock star,” he said about his decision to return to school to earn a master’s degree in education at Adelphi University.
“Teaching is like performing,” he said. “You know when you’re bombing.” What he doesn’t admire is teachers who act like a “sage on a stage.” He realized early that he had to make sure students were with him if he was going to open their minds to what he was teaching.
Discus throwing took a back seat to teaching, but 22 years after he got involved with the sport, in 1988, he went back to the sport. His students told him about competitions for older athletes and he realized he could again compete. He has subsequently won two national championships and now a silver medal on the world stage.
“I medaled ugly,” he said about his 43.67-meter throw this summer. The gold medal went to someone whose throw covered 45 meters. But neither distance came close to Mr. Hiney’s best throws of more than 50 meters, he said.
He had always wanted to compete in the world masters but couldn’t afford either the cost or the time until he heard the 2011 competition would be in the United States. But his plans were almost upset by two factors — his coaching schedule and his health.
He has been a track and field coach at Shoreham-Wading River High School and also coaches girls soccer at Southold High School. As for his health, he had two knee operations, the second of which, a partial knee replacement, was in February 2010. His doctor told him it would be a full year before he was back in form for discus throwing. That proved optimistic.
It was June 2011 before he could seriously train for the July competition. While discus throwing takes upper body strength, it also relies on the ability to move the knees effectively in the windup.
“It’s a complicated motion” that requires trying to move the hips ahead of the upper body, he said.
While he called his performance at the world masters “somewhat embarrassing,” it was enough to take second place.
He credits those he coaches with spurring him on to continue competing.
“After coaching and helping kids understand it and have success, it’s different when you’re in that circle,” Mr. Hiney said. He admits to some sleepless nights just before a competition.
His own competitions help him to be a better coach, and during his career as an elementary school teacher, that experience made him a better educator, he said.
His goal with athletes, as it was with his students, is to help them “get familiar with success.” He has always been drawn to those who are under-performing so that he can help them realize their potential, he said.
“It was just so cool,” Mr. Hiney said about the world competition, thanking his family for supporting his efforts.
What he loved most about the competition in Sacramento was the communication, despite language differences, that enabled him to interact with athletes from Germany, the United Kingdom, Denmark, France, Indonesia, Chile, the Czech Republic and Mexico. At one point, a Czech athlete helped him improve his throw even though the two did not speak the same language. They were able to communicate through their movements, he said.
What’s next on his competitive agenda? He’s hoping to compete in the national championships in Indiana next summer, he said.
“I’m pretty good for an old guy,” he said. “I’ll do it until I can’t.”