CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Hunched over a table in the nursing home, he peers at a picture of him parasailing when he was 80 years old. Did he really do that?
He picks up another snapshot, holds it close to his eyes and squints. Yep. That's him, standing on his head at age 85.
His whole life is there on the table, all laid out in pictures:
Family portraits with his parents and five siblings. Formal team photos from high school and college. Individual snapshots in football and basketball garb. Pictures in midlife accepting awards.
A photo taken in 1944 shows him in the gym, gripping the parallel bars and levitating his lithe, muscular body horizontally from the floor. The kind of thing an Olympic gymnast would do.
"Until five years ago, he still swam at Nautilus three times a week and lifted weights," his daughter said.
At 98, age has finally caught up with Charlie Thom.
Now, acquiescing to frailty, he has settled into a quiet routine at the Meadowbrook Acres Nursing Center near Charleston.
But people haven't forgotten the life before this one, the students he inspired and helped, the standard he set, the contributions he made despite long odds against him.
In late January, during Support Our Seniors Day at the Culture Center, Thom received a "Remember Me" award from the West Virginia Health Care Association, the trade group that represents more than 130 long-term care facilities in the state.
Staff from each facility submitted candidates for the award based on their life stories. Thom was one of five chosen for the honor.
Born in 1912, the son of a barber, he grew up on the West Side, on Ohio Avenue. He had two older brothers and two sisters, one older, one younger.
The Thom boys all played sandlot sports, a foundation for the passion that would fuel him for the rest of his life.
Life was never easy for Charlie Thom, especially as a youngster. He was born with a deformity that has challenged him for all of his 98 years. A harelip and cleft palate disfigured his face and hindered his speech. In those days, surgery offered little help.
Family members say classmates treated him well. "I don't remember anybody making fun of Charlie," said his 95-year-old sister, Jane Adkins of Bradenton, Fla. "Everyone seemed to love him and respect him."
"His two older brothers would beat the crap out of anybody who bothered him," said his daughter, Carol Thom. "And he learned early on to take care of himself."
He didn't talk about it much, but the defect apparently bothered him more than anybody knew. "He was very conscious of his mouth and not being able to speak distinctly," Adkins said. "He wasn't too forward. He knew he had this deformity, so he didn't burst in on things."
When he was 12, he read a magazine article about a surgeon in Virginia who corrected deformities like his. He knew his parents couldn't afford the operation.
So, without a word to anyone, he slipped off and hitchhiked to Virginia.
Thom can't tell the story himself. Age has aggravated the speech impairment. He talks in a way that only those closest to him can understand.