Try walking like a duck!
It takes all the focus and strength of a human.
Race-walking is the fine art of walking fast, staying on a straight line, and straightening a leg at exactly the right time.
This spring I won a bronze medal in the 1500 meter race-walking event at the Arizona Senior Olympics.
No big deal -- only three women raced in my age group, so we all medaled!
Still, it was a stretch. I’d never competed in any sports event. Just to finish was a thrill.
I’d always been in good shape from aerobics and yoga.
Now I learned to race-walk, from a few videos.
I practiced every day.
I walked frontwards, backwards, sideways -- everything I could think of to strengthen my legs.
I walked fast, slow, faster yet.
I trained in the Village of Oak Creek -- 4300 feet above sea level.
That might have given me an edge, in terms of endurance and stamina.
I paid my entry fee, and was told to report to Saguaro High School in Scottsdale on Saturday, Feb. 16.
I got up at 5 a.m., drove to Phoenix, and arrived at the high school at 8 a.m. The race was at 9.
I walked around, took in the lay of the land, and realized I had only a few competitors.
Three other women gathered at the starting line with me.
We all wore T-shirts and shorts, had little fat, and looked ready to compete.
The morning was cool, and the sun bright in our eyes. We adjusted our caps and visors, and took our marks.
The referee yelled “Go” and we were off.
There was no pistol shot, like I’d expected.
Right away a short, squat woman took the lead. Lucy is over 70 years old, and told me she’s been race-walking for more than 20 years. She kept her lead the entire race, and received a gold medal in her age category 70 and above.
Behind Lucy was Ellie, whom an Olympics official called “the best race-walker, bar none, in our games.” She’d been competing for years, and always placed first. That morning she was limping slightly. “I’m nursing a bad back,” she told me. Still, Ellie quickly peeled out 25 yards ahead of me and held that spot the entire race. She took the gold medal in our age category 65 to 70 years old.
At the end of each lap, we passed an official with a stopwatch. He shouted our times and encouragements. “Good job! Good race! Keep going!” We race-walked a total of three and three-quarters laps. I felt good, not at all tired -- pumped!
Maria and I followed Ellie. Maria was always a few steps ahead, and that made me push harder. “You’re inspiring me!” I yelled. She laughed, and panted. She panted so hard, I thought she was going to keel over. I wasn’t panting at all. Maybe because I’d trained at 4300 feet. Maria’s husband, also a race-walking competitor, shouted “Faster, faster!” to her. She beat me by a few seconds.
I was just hitting my stride when I crossed the finish line. My time was 13 minutes 2 seconds.
At the awards ceremony, Lucy stood alone to receive her gold medal. Everyone clapped, and she beamed.
Then we three stepped into the winners’ circle. Just like in the real Olympics, an official place the gold, silver, and bronze medals around our necks, shook our hands, and congratulated us. The medals had long ribbons with stripes of red, white, and blue.
There were no blaring trumpets, no national anthems. Just a loudspeaker announcing our names, and loud applause from friends and spectators. People asked each other to take photos. We lifted our medals high as we posed. The medals are round metal discs, colorfully stamped with the words “Arizona Senior Olympics,” and ringed with fake gold, silver, and bronze.
The mood was exuberant and heady.
That was opening day of the Arizona Senior Olympics. 85 men and women took part in a total of 16 track and field events at Saguaro High School. They race-walked, sprinted, ran, did high and long jumps, threw the shot and javelin, and pole vaulted. Over the next month, more than 1200 people competed in other Senior Olympic events throughout the state.
I’m ready to race again.
I’ve got some professional help now. I asked Harry Schneider to help me train.
Harry is track and field coach at Red Rock High School in Sedona.
He coached at a Long Island, New York high school, before retiring and moving here with his wife several years ago.
Harry’s specialty is race-walking. He told me that two of his New York students had won national high-school awards for race-walking.
Harry is a beautiful race-walker. You should see him go! Fast, with perfect technique -- an ideal coach.
His generosity and interest are keeping me going.
I practice every moment I can -- day, evening, night, under the stars, when most people are asleep.
Watch out! I’m going to burn the track at next year’s Olympics.
And then --- I’ll be so good, I’ll qualify for the National Senior Olympics!