Joy Upshaw, 60, Walnut Creek, California
It’s great to win a gold medal, and special when you achieve a record for the best performance in your age and event. But it’s extraordinary when your record surpasses a legend and personal inspiration, as Joy Upshaw experienced in 2019.
Even though she was at the top of her 55-59 age group, Joy scorched the track at the 2019 National Senior Games presented by Humana, setting National Senior Games all-time records in the 50M (7.22), 100M (13.32) and 200M (27.71) races in Albuquerque. What is significant is that in breaking the 100M and 200M, she surpassed the great Phillipa “Phil” Raschker, who set dozens of NSGA and many world masters records between 1983 and 2013. Phil was so dominant that she was the first athlete over 35 to ever be a finalist for the Sullivan Award given each year for the best overall athlete, and she was nominated for that honor twice.
Joy was humbled by the achievement. “When I was coming up Phil’s name was all over the place, and I have big respect for her,” she says. “I would see her and say hello at meets, and then when I started to break some of her records, I would tell her how high she had set the bar and how hard I have to work to hope to do better.”
The sizzling 2019 performance was no fluke, as Joy has always excelled in track & field, pursuing a career as a prep school and college coach (including the University of California at Berkeley) while continuing to compete as a masters athlete since age 30. The certified coach helps with meets and currently works with her Joy’s Jackrabbits Track Club, which includes more than 20 elite masters-level athletes from the San Francisco Bay Area & beyond.
Joy’s family pedigree is impressive. Her father, Monte Upshaw, broke Jesse Owens’ national high school long jump record in 1954, and her younger sister, Grace Upshaw, competed in long jump for the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games. Two other siblings also competed in college. Joy’s own resume includes many wins and records at USA Masters and international track and field competitions. She holds several American records and has held the indoor world record in the Long Jump, 200m and 60m hurdles.
But some records stand out, and Joy says her perspective has evolved to appreciate every aspect of her involvement. “When I was younger, Phil Rashker gave me advice by telling me that ‘every new year is a new P.R. [personal record] year.’ At first I didn’t get it, but now I know it’s true! Sometimes we can have better times due to being not as injured as the year before, but we have to embrace the fact that every year we are getting older. I have to compete for my best time for this year and not compare it with the last. I’m into the ‘now’ now,” she explains.
“It’s fun to win, but it’s also about being with friends and challenging yourself,” Joy continues. “If I come in second or third, but I did my best time, I’m so happy. And it’s all a matter of balance. I don’t work out every day, and recovery time is huge no matter what level you are.”
Joy also finds hope and motivation for the future from elder track heroes, mentioning Kathy Bergen, Christel Donley, Elsbeth Padia and Flo Meiler as longtime competitors she looks up to. “I have the utmost respect for their athleticism and how they keep going. They are my inspiration, but they’re also making it so hard for me in the future!”
2019 was Joy’s debut in National Senior Games, but it won’t be her last. “The whole environment was great,” she recalls. “It was a real eye-opener seeing all the sports and athletes there, and the people were terrific!”