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Local man competes in veterans games

May 31, 1998|By STEVEN T. DENNIS

by Joe Crocetta / staff photographer

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Heiks competes

In 1951, Richard Heiks was running with Army patrols in Korea as a medic.

Nearly 50 years later, the Army veteran is still running.

Heiks, 65, of Hagerstown, competed May 22 in the National Veterans Golden Age Games in Leesburg, Va.

Heiks came in third place in his age group in the quarter-mile bicycling contest and competed in the half-mile bicycling contest.

He was sponsored by the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg, W.Va., where he receives medical care that he says is second to none.

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"I've been a runner and biker all my life," said Heiks, a retired trucking company sales manager.

He ran several marathons and JFK 50-Mile Runs in the 1970s.

He has an old box full of trophies and ribbons from past glories.

"Every once in a while I get them out and look at them," he said.

Nowadays, he keeps in shape by writing parking tickets part-time for the City of Hagerstown.

He walks about eight miles in a shift, he said.

"It gives me plenty of exercise, which is good for someone my age," he said.

In preparation for the games, he trained on his mountain bike for about three months, often on the C&O Canal towpath.

Heiks first became involved with the VA Center as a weekly volunteer driver for the Washington County chapter of the American Red Cross. Heiks drives people to the center each Friday.

Opening ceremonies for the games were May 21 and included performances by the Marine Color Guard. Former Redskin great Sam Huff lit the torch to start the games, he said.

The catering included some of the best food he's ever eaten. And the price was right: The food was free.

"I thought I'd died and gone to heaven," he said.

The competition was stiff, with challengers from every state in the union, he said.

Heiks said the recreation programs at the medical center and the competitions are an attempt to upgrade the health of veterans by getting them interested in physical activity instead of swilling beers at American Legion halls.

It's worked for him, he said.

"It's really paying dividends. You just feel so much better," he said.

Born in Ohio, Heiks was drafted into the Army, where he served a two-year tour of duty and was a sergeant.

He moved to Hagerstown in 1964.

In addition to volunteering for the Red Cross, he has brought his two golden retrievers to nursing homes for the past 10 years for pet therapy.

Heiks said the recognition he received at the event made him proud.

"I really enjoyed it. You know for a small-town guy like me, you don't get much publicity for everything you do," he said.

Next year, the games will be held in Upstate New York. Heiks plans to attend.

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