© Copyright – 2022 – Athletics Illustrated

In 1888, German philosopher, cultural critic, and philologist, Friedrich Nietzsche, caused a profound effect on modern intellectual thinking when he wrote, “what does not kill you will only make you stronger.”

It is an aphorism about resiliency.

The strong, Harold Morioka, of Surrey, British Columbia, has broken more than 100 national age-group records in athletics.

Who is Harold Morioka?

Thirty-six years after Nietzsche’s declaration, as it were, Morioka’s father, at age 20, arrived in Canada to begin anew.
In 1931, at age 27, he went back to Japan to find a wife. It took some time as prospective brides were not interested in moving to Canada. But he found someone who lived in the mountains of Japan — where the poor people existed. More than two years had passed before she arrived.

When Mrs. Morioka landed, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was sworn in as the 32nd president of the United States. The Dominion of Canada was just 65 years of age that July 1. The young country had some growing up to do.

Due to Japan’s attack on Manchuria (North-eastern China), relations began to fall between the Roosevelt democratic government and Japan’s imperialistic intended leadership. Relations came to a head with the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.  Young Canada took its queue from the US by rounding up all people of Japanese descent and housing them in internment camps. The following year Harold Morioka was born in the camp at Slocan Lake, BC, near a hamlet called New Denver which was nestled on the edge of the glacier-fed lake and at the foot of the Kootenay Mountains.

The young couple were working as labourers for a couple of farms. The Moriokas raised chickens and grew vegetables and worked on fruit farms. When they had saved enough money, they purchased land and started a strawberry farm.

Over a few years, the Moriokas grew the business and hired many people. They were doing quite well until Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

The authorities were on their way and Harold’s father had just 24 hours to say goodbye to his wife.

The RCMP sent Mr. Morioka to work on a road camp. A few months later, the RCMP moved Mrs. Morioka and her three children to the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) grounds in Vancouver until they could ship them elsewhere. The four were eventually sent to the Slocan Valley. There were three internment camps in the area: New Denver, Lemon Creek, and Camp Slocan. Mrs. Morioka and her three children were sent to Slocan. Harold was born on Feb. 2, 1943.

The federal government told the Japanese people that this relocation would be temporary and to leave everything in their homes. But it was not until April 1949, three and a half years — or 1300 days after the end of World War II — that the Japanese could return to the coast. The Morioka’s home and belongings were sold to the public.

Mr. Morioka returned to Surrey by himself and sought out his friend Mr. McNaughton. McNaughton found 10 acres where Mr. Morioka could start farming again. McNaughton told him that he could repay the debt when he had enough money to do so.

The Moriokas lived in a two-room shack without insulation against the cold clammy winters, no running water, and no electricity.

Harold Morioka.

The hardening of the soul

Life was tough in the beginning as there was no room for beds. Eight of them slept in one room with only mattresses and sheets hanging from the ceiling for privacy.

Young Harold was just six-year-old, so he remembers little of the camp, however, he remembers how little food there was on the family farm. The Morioka children had to get water from a well with a bucket tied to a rope, and Mr. Morioka was off hunting and fishing often. Harold does not know how his mother cooked and washed the six children and their clothes because they only had a little wood stove to cook on to heat water.

McNaughton visited often and eventually, the Moriokas began to earn good money for food. However, throughout school, Harold remembers, that regardless of how good of athletes he and his siblings were, they had to return home directly from school to help around the house. They competed in one track meet during high school in South Surrey. They fared well but were untrained.

An athlete is born

In 1972, at the age of 29, Harold was reading about a track meet in the Vancouver Sun newspaper that was scheduled to happen at Simon Fraser University. He called the university and asked how one goes about entering the meet.

Morioka knew he was fast but was unsure how fast. By this time he was coaching high school students. The person on the other end of the line told him he had to have a membership with BC Athletics — the provincial governing body.

He joined over the phone, however, the representative met him at the meet, Saturday — race day.

On that fateful Saturday morning, Morioka observed young athletes warming up for the 100m.

“I thought I made a big mistake because everyone looked so fast, especially with their tracksuits, and track shoes,” shared Morioka.

Regardless, when the gun went off, he took the lead.

“I thought that something was wrong — no one was in front of me. I had the lead for about 90 metres but struggled to get to the finish line because I had tried running too fast and did not know how to relax while running at top speed. I read many books on training, I trained all winter, and decided to try again the next year when I was now 30 years old.”

And the rest as they say is history

People wondered who he was. At the provincial championships in 1973, he won the 100m and 200m. The coach from South Fraser recruited Morioka for the club.

One day the coach, Graham Cooper, approached Morioka about running on the 4x400m relay.

At first, Morioka said no because he thought that the 200m was too long — how was he going to sprint twice as far? Regardless, he acquiesced and ran well, as he helped the team win the BC Championships.

“I think about three consecutive years we won that event. Eventually, I ran individual 400m races and realized this was my best distance.”

At age 50, Morioka was entered in the 200m but because of a tight hamstring, he asked the meet director if he could run the 800m instead. During his first-ever race at the distance, he won, running a 2:01.26 at age 50.

Morioka, age 79, post two open-heart surgeries, six knee surgeries, and back surgery, has become a Nietzsche metaphor; a parable, if you will. Growing up interred and poor and perhaps racially marginalised made him as tough as nails.

He did not just take up running, he was voracious and was set on winning everything, and he did. From 60-metres to 800m as well as the hurdles. He set world, national, and provincial age-group records from age 30 to 62, in each five-year age-group. One can only imagine how many times his name has appeared in the Canadian Masters Association (CMA) lists of records.

Morioka was so prolific, that he volunteered to take charge of the paperwork, to have athlete’s results ratified, visa vie the CMA. Winning often led to filing out reams of paperwork over the years.

“The reason I do so much paperwork is that I am the record keeper for the BC Masters records. In 1999 I joined the BCA Masters committee and volunteered to keep records. At that time there were no formal BC Masters track and field records so I spent several months researching results. I took my notes to the BCA Masters committee and presented what I had found. That was the start of formal BC Masters track and field records. I have looked after these records ever since, now for 23 years. But as I approach my 80th birthday, I will resign from this duty soon,” shared Morioka.

This summer at the South Surrey Athletic Park track, there was Morioka, collaborating with athletes who were intent on competing in the 4x100m relays. They were seeking the women’s 70-plus age-group record. He was taking them through the exchange zones.

Sounds vigorous for a near octogenarian who has had two open heart surgeries, however, he was also the meet director. It was the Greyhounds Masters Track and Field Club multi-event track meet.

Perhaps there is something in the water on the coast. Christa Bortignon, an 85-year-old, was quite excited at the measure of her long jump, declaring, “I did it, I did it.”

She was not excited about accomplishing the long jump at age 85. She was excited that she was well on her way to setting the world record, not in the long jump, but in the heptathlon. Bortignon sprinted, jumped, landed, and then proceeded to observe carefully the officials’ work as they measured. She was making sure that the sand was not disturbed to keep the measure accurate.

Two weeks prior, she broke the world record in the 100m sprint at the provincial masters championships at the same park, presided over by the same Harold Morioka.

So, masters are prolific in Southern British Columbia

Racing is not over when an athlete no longer qualifies for the Olympic Games or World Championships. Not even close. For example, Carol Montgomery, age 55, took the provincial 1500m record with her 5:18 performance. She was racing fellow 55-year-old BobbyJo Waite from Alberta and 1994 Commonwealth Games 1500m specialist Gord Christie. 

Photo credit: Canadian Masters Athletics

Christie is on the edge of retiring as a professor of law at the University of British Columbia, but he and his wife Juliet continue to run into their sixties. Juliet took two Canadian age-group records in successive South Surrey meets — more to come from her.

Montgomery sat on Waite for a few hundred metres, then passed both she and Christie — all three were seeded with entry times around 5:21. The provincial record was 5:21.40. And just like that it was gone — crushed. Montgomery competed for Canada in the triathlon at the Sydney Olympic Games.

Anyway, more paperwork for Morioka.

It took the race announcer about 12 times to get the name right of 77-year-old Tom Ukonmaanaho. It took Ukonmaanaho less time to break the national decathlon record.

His pole vault efforts were especially compelling. As they do, he sprinted down the track, planted the pole in the box, reefed on the pole so it bent back hard, and thrust himself three metres into the air repeatedly — no problem.

More paperwork.

A gang of four 75-year-olds got after the world record in the 3200m and smashed it with a 12:27.64 performance, breaking the old record of 13:22.67 set by a team from Australia. The team was made up by Mark Stewart, Terry Riggins, Fred Pawluk, and Pat Harton.

Harnek Toor, age 76, broke two Canadian records in throws events — they don’t just mess around on the track, out there. Several more records were taken down over the weekend.

Morioka seems to know every stat from every race by every athlete that the province and the country have produced.

He is the only athlete in the world to break world records for all distances from 60m to 800m.

He was the first athlete run his age in the 400m; 51-seconds at age 51. And ran 54.26 at age 60.

He founded the Greyhounds Master Track and Field Club. He is the club coach as well. Additionally, he has served on the CMA board for several years. Morioka also serves on the BC Athletics board for masters athletics.

Morioka is not afraid of work. He grew up with it, and it is in his DNA, as they say.

Nietzsche died well past his best before date in the process of losing his mind. His indelible aphorism was of dark foreshadowing. After all, the German philosopher was born to privilege.

In 2023, the Greyhounds may be hosting the Canadian Masters Championships. Par for the course, Morioka will be the race director.