I remember the exact moment I crossed the finish line for the very last time I raced the 220 yard sprint. It was the state meet in Fort Worth, Texas. I was 17 and weeks away from graduating high school.
As I walked off the track, an overwhelming sadness poured over me. "The very last sprint...." I thought. See, the 220 yard dash had become a good friend to me over the years. It was a source of confidence and challenge. I loved the sheer elation of accelerating and relished the curve of the track. I owned it the last four years at District Meets and always placed in State Meets. I was an awkward teenager, and the 220 never failed to give me that extra boost. Now, it was over. It was time to grow up, go to college, and focus on an adult career.
Out of sheer frustration and respect for the race, I promised myself I would never run the 220 again. The sadness of not equaling the speed or the experience of "that" special race, would be too painful.
Fast forward to April 2018. It is the Texas State Senior Games held at the UTSA track in San Antonio. As I roll through the routine warm up, my 56 year old body knows we are about to race. Doubts begin to fall away and the competitive nerves kick in. My confidence builds as I run through the 60m strides. And then, I wait. The list of age group heats are called one by one. As the first heat of my age group sets up, I eye my assigned lane and walk through the race in my head. I snap when the starter calls us to the starting blocks. I make the necessary adjustments and feel the speed as I push off the blocks. There are two heats for my age group and I end up first in my heat and second overall. That's my ticket to the 2019 Nationals in New Mexico.
If I could go back and have a conversation with my 17 year old self, I would reassure her, the athlete in "us" never leaves. She probably wouldn't believe me, but now, I almost skip to track sessions at 6:30 am. Why? One big reason is the people. A wide range of athletes share the track, from collegiate triathletes to the elite Iron Men (AND women!) who train purposely and take time to cheer on fellow athletes. So the "Ursuline Academy Track Team" of old, has been replaced with "Paragon Training," led and nurtured by Coach Mark Saroni. This team of athletes share a "pursuit of excellence" in their respective sports. What the mission statement doesn't reveal are the important intangibles: the shared respect, positivity, fun and witty banter among these inspiring athletes.
I think my 17 year old self would get a kick out of the varied levels of drills to improve speed. 200m sprints with 20 seconds rest intervals or building mitochondria with long runs. As a seasoned athlete, I love learning a plethora of ways to improve and prevent injury to keep me on the track. Some concepts as simple as one more good night sleep, or one more quality workout can lead to success is genius in my book!
Thanks to Coach Mark's nudging, I finally had the courage to enter the USATF Outdoor National Championship in Spokane, Washington this year. The level of competition lived up to the hype. As I reviewed the pre-race time submissions for my events, I truly thought this is going to be a test of humility and grit. I would be lucky to make the finals in either of the 400m or the 200m. Reality struck when I didn't make the cut for the 400m finals. Turns out the gracious and uber fast Sue Patterson McDonald, 55, triumphantly won gold in the 400m, breaking the American record in 64 seconds after breaking the 800m record at 2:28 the day before.
I still had a shot at the 200m, I told myself. I wouldn't allow myself to think of anything but making the 200m finals. I promised to leave everything on the track breathless. I was thrilled to finish with two Masters PRs for both prelims and finals.
If I could have one more conversation with that 17 year old self, I would tell her I kept my promise. I never ran a 220 yard dash since that final state race. I would have to reveal I do race the 200 meters now, and the change from yards to meters is not the only defining difference. The sheer joy I experience racing now surpasses even my best race in high school. There is a magical quality now that connects me with that 17 year old. Part of that is about being on the track and competing.
As I walked out of Roos Stadium in Spokane, I smiled with steadfast optimism. I had watched and competed against some of the best female USATF Masters sprinters. Each athlete earned their medals and my awestruck respect. The experience competing as a USATF Masters sprinter leaves me feeling like a door has opened of possibilities and a wish list of improvements.. My exit gift from Spokane: whether 17 or 57, there never has to be a last finish line.
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San Antonio Triathlon Team - San Antonio Triathlon Coach