Madonna Hanna, 66 Tacoma, Washington
The Boomer Widow and the Olympic Hopeful
Life challenges can sometimes cause people to give up on goals and dreams, but Madonna Hanna was determined to not let that happen when her husband Steven passed away in late 2018. A widow’s search for a new track coach led to an unusual collaboration that turned a storyteller into a sprinter, and turned an exceptional world class sprinter into a better storyteller.
Madonna, 66, who never competed in youth sports and played tennis recreationally as an adult, had “a whim” in 2011 to run 100 meters in the Washington State Senior Games. Steven, who had been a multisport athlete in his school days, offered his track experience to prepare a training program for his wife. “I was surprised to win both the 100 and 50 events,” she says. “I was competing with some women who have been doing this since high school.”
Buoyed by the success, Madonna put her new avocation into overdrive, and in 2013 she earned a bronze medal in the 4×100 relay at the National Senior Games in Cleveland. “I had never done a relay, and I was matched up with all these experienced ladies,” she recalls. “In 15 minutes I was taught how to hold the baton and make the exchange!”
A major setback came with a ruptured Achilles tendon during her first race in the 2014 Washington Games. “I heard what I thought was the starter’s gun going off again when it happened,” she says. “Everything went dark, and the next thing I knew I was laying on a table with a big bag of ice on my leg. But, as it turned out, I fell over the line and finished second!”
This and other setbacks kept her from competing until 2017, when Madonna scored gold medals in her state races. But, there was a new challenge as Steven was diagnosed with cancer. After three bouts with the disease, he passed away in November of 2018. “He wanted me to continue, and to wear red, white and blue at the 2019 Senior Games,” she says. “I knew I couldn’t do this by myself, so I needed a coach.”
Enter 25-year-old Marcus Chambers, an elite track athlete with All American honors and champion wins with the University of Oregon, and who is currently training to qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. The two were introduced by the owner of the physical rehabilitation center where Madonna had nursed her injuries and Marcus later used to fine-tune his body. “He was volunteering some of his time to help coach other young athletes and was intrigued about helping an older athlete.”
Marcus started coaching Madonna four months before the 2019 National Senior Games presented by Humana. “At first, he had me doing all of these drills that my husband didn’t make me do. I thought, ‘Why can’t I just run?’ but then after I finished my next race I felt like I could run it again right away and realized, ‘Oh, that’s why you train like that!’”
While her coach was not able to come to Albuquerque and she did not medal, his impact was significant. “He helped to take a lot of time off and to win two silver medals in my state games,” she says.
With experienced in retail and marketing for a national women’s apparel manufacturer and 32 years as a fashion marketing teacher, Madonna found a way to be a coach for Marcus. “Athletes like him need to build a personal brand. With my background, I was able to offer a marketing plan that actually takes him through the next two decades of his life.”
Madonna, a polished public speaker who is a past Toastmasters International Speech Contest semifinalist, has also been coaching Marcus to become a better motivational speaker. “He wants to be the best-spoken USA competitor at the 2020 Olympics,” she says. “It was his turn to practice, practice, practice!”
“It turned out that we needed each other to achieve our personal goals,” she observes. “Steven was very concerned about me being healthy and fit. And this is what Marcus is doing for me too. And he’s learned it’s never too late to participate in a sport.”
She concludes sharing her favorite expression: “Just because you are older doesn’t mean you don’t have a future!”