KEARNS, Utah -- Gliding around the Utah Olympic Oval, Bruce Conner looks like every other competitor at the U.S. Olympic Speedskating trials.
He's smooth and strong and was fast enough to finish 26th in the 500 meters, which means only 25 men in America are faster on clap skates.
It's only when he pulls down the hood on his racing suit that it becomes apparent Conner is not like every other skater.
He's 57, a grandfather, and the oldest man ever to qualify for the Olympic speedskating trials.
Conner beat his own record. He was 53 when he qualified for the trials four years ago and 49 when he qualified four years before that.
The question really isn't how he does it, but why.
"I love skating," he said. "I love every bit of this. I don't know what it is, but I just love it. I love the smell of the ice. I love the speed. I love the family atmosphere we have. I love the goal setting. I love the work.
"Results are nice, tangible things but that's not what it's about. It's about seeing what I can do and performing to my utmost."
Conner barely missed qualifying for the 1976 Olympic team at 19 and then left the sport to pursue a career as a pilot. But in his 40s, he got the itch to return to the ice. He not only wanted to come back, but he wanted to be better than he was 30 years earlier.
"I'm better as a masters (skater) than I ever was as a teenager," he said. "It's a little bit hard to compare because of the invention of clap skates and indoor ice vs. outdoor ice. But if you take the best times I've skated over the last several years, I'm about the same percentage slower than the world record time now as I was back then.
"So relatively speaking I'm still at a top level. And as far as masters are concerned, nobody can touch me. Every time I show up at a masters competition, I win it."
Conner lives in Kildeer, Ill., and trains at the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee. He makes the 150-mile round trip three to four days a week.
KC Boutiette, at 43 the second-oldest male skater at the trials, said Conner was an inspiration.
"He's still able to qualify. He's still skating and that's great," Boutiette said. "Honestly, I look at the older guys as inspiration for me. Why do I have to stop? Why do I have to not do things?"
Conner, the older brother of Olympic gold medal gymnast Bart Conner, has written a book titled "Faster as a Master." He said he's proof that older athletes don't have to give up on their dreams.
"Everybody says you get slower as you get older," he said. "I've already proven you don't have to. We have the capability of doing a lot more than we think we can. That's what my whole story is, breaking down that barrier.
"If you do the work and you're disciplined, as a masters athlete you can do unheard-of things. You can go way farther than you give yourself credit for.
"I say let age enhance your dreams rather than define them."
Conner managed to skate qualifying times for the trials in the 500 and the 1,000 while juggling his full-time job flying international routes for United Airlines and while his wife, Maripat, battled Stage 4 thyroid cancer.
"You can see where his brainpower is and his calmness to get through and keep training while his wife was very sick," said Maripat, who is in remission. "He's just amazing."
Conner isn't the only AARP-eligible skater at the trials. Jacki Munzel of Long Beach, N.Y., qualified for all five women's races at 50. She finished 13th in the 3,000, 19th in the 1,000 and 30th and 19th in her two 500-meter races.
Munzel is a former competitive figure skater and lived and trained for a time in Janesville, Wis., but quit the sport because of an eating disorder. She took up speedskating after a conversation with her daughter while they watched the 2010 Olympics.
"She said, 'Mom, you should go back to skating,'" Munzel said. "I said, 'Sweetie, do you know what it's like to be this age and you fall? It's like a pancake hitting the griddle.' She said, 'No, mom, you said God gave you a gift to skate fast.'
"Speedskating was on and I said, 'Yeah, I can do that.'"
Munzel does not have the luxury of training on ice because there are no rinks near her home. She trains on a slide board and on a bicycle.
Her journey to the Olympic trials was a difficult one. She was displaced for three months by Hurricane Sandy and in October suffered broken ribs and a concussion when she crashed her bike while training. She still has double vision in one eye and was not medically cleared to compete this week but did so, anyway.
"You realize, OK, it's not the Olympic dream," she said. "It's doing something that you have a passion for."
Munzel competed in the 1,500 meters Tuesday and the 5K Wednesday.
"If I have to have a walker after the 5,000, I'll have a walker," she said with a laugh.
As for Conner, he said he wasn't sure if he'd attempt to qualify for the Olympic trials again in four years. The travel back and forth to Milwaukee is starting to get old, and he'd like to pick up his golf clubs and tennis racquet again.
"Don't bet against him," she said, "at 61."
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