COLUMBIA – Fred Clayton had a secret. Many secrets. However, the time these secrets took away from Clayton’s life left something missing.
After retiring from the U.S. Navy’s intelligence division in April of 2008, Clayton, a 62-year-old from Russellville, Ark., had time to pursue his love for fitness and athletics in the form of state and senior games, leading him to register this summer for his first Show-Me State Games. After a 27-year career in the Naval Reserves including seven years of active duty after the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, Clayton now enjoys the freedom to compete.
“It was something I’ve always wanted to do. I just never had time for any Senior Olympics because of it (the Navy),” Clayton said. “I’ve always been active. I’m a real believer in trying to stay fit.”
Clayton watched the events of Sept. 11 unfold sitting in a hospital waiting room in Searcy, Ark. As he drove his father, who had had lung cancer, from Searcy back to Little Rock, Ark., they discussed the attack's impact.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Clayton said. “I told him we didn’t know who was attacking us, but we’d probably be going to war. Given the specialty of our unit, people in our unit would be called up, and I was ready for that.”
After Sept. 11, the Navy mobilized Clayton, and he went on active duty in Washington D.C., Tampa, Fla., and Memphis, Tenn. But he never went overseas.
“I regret not being called overseas," Clayton said. "If the need was there, I would’ve relieved someone to come back to their family.”
Clayton’s family understood his commitment and fully supported him. If it wasn’t for age restrictions in the military, Clayton might still be serving according to his wife Millie Clayton.
“He enjoyed every minute of it. From Washington D.C. on, he loved it. He didn’t want to retire,” Millie Clayton said.
During his service, Fred Clayton worked closely with the United States Central Command. The USCC supports troops on the ground worldwide. Although Fred Clayton said he could not discuss specifics, he said his unit was responsible for real-world military engagements and anticipating future needs and resources for troops. With the USCC, Fred Clayton worked with commanders from each branch of the military.
Throughout his service, Fred Clayton found opportunities to nurture his love of sports. In Washington D.C., Fred Clayton joined a senior softball league. He held the title of Fitness Coordinator when he was stationed at Millington, Tenn. His responsibilities included implementing a program to help reserves pass the annual physical fitness test. The programs he designed for others have stayed with him, and they have rubbed off on his sons, Travis and David Clayton.
Fred Clayton said he tries to train three times a day, running 100 meters 10 times per session along with a few 200s using blocks he purchased. He also stays active lifting weights and said if he goes too long without lifting, it affects his physical and emotional demeanor. Plus he said he needs to “keep up with his boys.”
“He’s just a very competitive person, not among others, but with himself," Millie Clayton said. "He’s always challenging himself to do better.”
A football and track athlete growing up in Heber Springs, Ark., Fred Clayton said he looks forward to competing whenever possible. After retiring, Fred Clayton competed in the Arkansas Senior Olympics in September. He qualified for the National Senior Games in the 100- and 200-meter sprint as well as the long and triple jump. He also participated in the Mississippi Senior Olympics and the Florida State Games.
“They’re lots of fun," Fred Clayton said. "It’s greet to meet others with a similar interest and the competition is very good.”
This weekend, Fred Clayton plans to stay busy at the Show-Me State Games. He is set to compete in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter sprints as well as the pole vault, hammer throw, shot, discus and the high, long and triple jumps. Fred Clayton said he hopes to log times in the high 12 seconds in the 100 and looks to improve his personal best of 23 feet, 10 inches in the triple jump.
“I just enjoy participating," he said. "I try to do as much as I can.”