Cecil Cordell left the 2022 Alaska Senior Games with four gold and five silver medals—on top of his game with no plans of slowing down.
However, Cordell found he was in increasingly more pain. At the time he did not know he was battling bone-on-bone osteoarthritis in his right hip.
After numerous surgeries, including a hip replacement, shoulder surgery and carpal tunnel wrist procedure, Cordell still was determined to compete in track and field events.
In early August, Cordell competed in 10 events at the 2023 Alaska Senior Games five months after his hip replacement and shoulder surgery and still medaled nine times: five gold, three silver and one bronze.
Competitions Cordell medaled in at the 2023 Alaska Senior Games:
- Javelin (with his left hand) – bronze
- Discus (with his right hand) – silver
- 50-meter dash – silver
- 200-meter – silver
- 1500-meter – gold
- Long jump – gold
- Standing long jump – gold
- Triple jump – gold
- 100-meter dash – gold
“My thought process going into it was, ‘I’ve talked the talk, now I have to walk the walk,’” Cordell, 66, said. “I knew that I wasn’t nearly 100 percent, and I didn't think I was going to be 50 percent, but I thought that, for me, where I was at, I felt comfortable that I was going to be competitive.”
Uncertain of what was going to happen after his surgery, Cordell was unsure of how he would perform at the 2023 Alaska Senior Games. In an interview, Cordell said he went through physical therapy five days a week and worked out every day to prepare.
However, he still was experiencing challenges, such as his right leg being unable to keep up with his left leg. He also had to use his left arm for competitions when he normally uses his right arm.
But Cordell overcame the odds and was a serious contender because of his ability to adapt.
“The first event was throwing, and I'm thinking, ‘You know, I'm not supposed to throw with my right shoulder,’” he said. “I knew going into Alaska I had to throw left-handed. So, I went in, and as luck would have it, I won the bronze which is incredible.”
Cordell fell on the track in the 200-meter race and received medical attention. He wanted to still participate in the 400- and 800-meter races, but he was not allowed to. Cordell gave himself 45 minutes to recoup before he competed in the next race, the 1500 meters—where he won gold.
“I was happy with my results from the last game,” Cordell said. “My times, my throws and my jumps were nowhere near where I normally am, but I think at 66, I'm in the top 1% of my age group. A bad performance for me is a winning medal in a lot of events.”
Since he began competing in senior games competitions at age 57, Cordell has competed in approximately 222 events and only missed the podium six times, which is a 97% medaling average.
Cordell first competed in the Gainesville Senior Games in 2014. After his wins, doors have swung open with exciting opportunities for Cordell.
Brand sponsorships have been in the works for Cordell with multiple national name brands. Cordell also has partnered with producer Robert Clevinger to start The Big Picture, a collective that was created to produce TV and sports projects. The Big Picture is in the process of filming a documentary on Cordell’s sporting career and is also working with other athletes to develop their stories.
Dr. Hernan A. Prieto, who is a physician in the Department of Adult Arthroplasty and Joint Reconstruction at UF Health and performed Cordell’s hip replacement surgery, explained in an interview that Cordell’s ability to return so quickly to high-intensity sports is rare.
Cordell’s achievements include:
- 2019 and 2020 Senior Games decathlon world champion
- 24 state championships in running, jumping and throwing
- Participation in the 2019 Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain
- 2022 50-meters world champion
- Winning the 2020 Crystal Trophy by MasterRankings.com for competing in more 2020 events than anyone in his age group.
- Current medal count: 160 golds, 48 silvers and 9 bronzes.
He said that patients usually obtain 80% of the recovery within the first 3-4 weeks after surgery. After 11 weeks, most patients resume physical activities such as returning to work.
Prieto cited a study that a little over half of patients return to high intensity sports.
“His was a very unusual case, very rare,” Prieto said of Cordell’s achievements. “I wasn’t surprised that I saw he was able to participate, but I was surprised that he was able to win the five gold medals. That was remarkable.”
Cordell, even after an unexpected fall at the 2023 Alaska Senior Games, is still planning to compete in the 22nd annual Gainesville Senior Games in September.
He will be limiting his participation this year and will not compete in the 1500-meter race or any of the sprints.