Kneed for Speed - November 2019 Athlete of the Month
Kathy Meares, 72, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Kathy Meares has never needed to be told to go out and play, and her youth was filled with sports. Growing up before Title IX, the Louisiana native did not have the opportunity to earn an athletic scholarship, but she avidly competed in intramural volleyball and softball at LSU and transitioned to tennis, racquetball and recreational running as an adult.
Then came the knee problems, beginning with a 1966 injury that happened when she was a camp counselor. “We had a limbo contest and I won the prize – a torn cartilage,” she recalls. At the age of 20 she had meniscectomy of the right knee. She was only 36 when she needed her first knee replacement and has undergone eleven surgical procedures through 2001, including two more right knee replacements and a new left knee.
Kathy was devastated when her doctor advised that she would not be able to run anymore. “It was like the end of my world,” she says. “My doctor felt so bad that he couldn’t do more for me at the time. He went to many conferences circulating my X-rays around in hopes of finding other alternative treatments, but was told he had done the best he could do for me. He told me that I could not run, but I could walk at a very slow pace, like a 22-minute mile.”
She then adds, “But he put the hardware in; I just had to make it work.”
Determined to keep moving, Kathy continued daily walks and gradually increased her stamina and competitive drive until she could pace a mile in less than twelve minutes, which led to walking 5Ks and half marathons. Then, in 2016 a friend from the school where she had been a teacher and administrator told her about Power Walk being introduced as a competitive sport in the National Senior Games. “I didn’t even know what power walk was. My friend told me, ‘You just walk fast – go do it!’”
Kathy had found her senior sport, and the effort was rewarded this year in Albuquerque with a gold medal in the women’s 70-74 1500-meter Power Walk at the 2019 National Senior Games presented by Humana. She also crossed the line first in the 5K distance race but was disqualified. “I have to keep a slight bend in one knee that sometimes catches. That’s maybe why they thought I was running. But I’m working on my technique to try to learn the correct form,” she says. “But everything has a reason and I had an overwhelming experience. It was so much fun and there was true sportsmanship. There’s just a feeling about it that I can’t put into words.”
Another unexpected honor came when Kathy was selected as one of the 2019 Humana Game Changers, and then treated to a special photo session by famed photographer Ted Tadder. “That was as big an honor as winning a medal,” she gushed. “I also was interviewed by Growing Bolder TV, so that was a real high for me.”
Kathy has inspired her four children to compete in marathons and triathlons, and eleven grands are now also active in track and field, cross country, soccer and football. But the person who is most astounded by her power walking success is her doctor. “He used to grip his chest and joke he was having the big one when I did more than he expected I could do,” she says with a laugh. “When I emailed a photo of me on the medal stand, he said he was truly amazed and proud of my success.”