There’s a long road ahead, but the 1500-meter Power Walk event at the Washington State Senior Games in July represented a major milestone for me as the first athletic competition I’ve been in since my early teens. That first gold medal will always be my favorite. In fact, I might even have it bronzed! (Old joke.)
In the week leading up to the event, my mind was racing already wondering how my non-athlete mind would process the first experience of competing on a track. I was prepared to take on the physical challenge part since walking and practicing the pace had been in my routine for several weeks. I had lost weight and was feeling much more durable with exercise. I was more anxious to see what would go on in my head in actual race conditions with results on the line. Perhaps being involved and not just being an observer would help me to better understand the mindset of the athletes I interview for NSGA features.
The greatest anxiety was to learn how to navigate in a race. There is a huge difference between walking alone and working through a pack, and I wasn’t sure about the protocol for passing others and how to set and follow a strategy. Is it legal to use your elbows?
My two goals: (1) establish a time to train against, and (2) just finish the race without running out of gas. I did not want to endure making the walk of shame across the finish line. I knew there was one other local fellow (Ronald Brown) in my 65-69 age group, but it didn’t dawn on me at the time that it meant I was guaranteed a medal. I just knew I didn’t want to end up behind him.
What else was I thinking? Here is my recollected transcript of the big thoughts that ran through my head in my maiden voyage as a power walker:
“Damn, I’m really going to do this.”
“Hey, while I was practicing everyone else toed up to the line and now I’m behind them. Let me see…that one looks like a fast walker, I’ll get behind him and break out.”
“Arrgh! I picked the wrong horse to get behind. Veer left.”
“Holy Moly! Look how fast those four up there are, they’re already ten paces ahead of me!”
“Don’t worry about the others. Just get the best time for me that I can train against.”
Halfway Through First Lap
“Don’t look back! [Looks back] I’m on a good pace and not in last place. Yea! Steady as she goes.”
“Whaaat? How did that lead guy get so far ahead? That’s IMPOSSIBLE!”
“Whoa! That’s the 84-year-old lady that just passed me! [Expletive Deleted]”
“That lead guy is now at the other end of the straightaway. He’s gotta be running!”
“That’s another one passing me. Give her room – don’t be ‘that guy,’ dude.”
“Don’t think about where you are in the race. Steady pace Del!”
[Mind quiets midway as I grind out at cruising speed] “This must be what muscle memory feels like.”
“Are my shoes still tied? DON’T LOOK DOWN!” [Looks down]
“OK, a couple hundred to go. Push yourself. That walker is only 15 yards ahead of you. Catch her!”
[Picking up pace] “OK, here’s where I learn to ‘kick it’ to the finish.”
“Wow, I’m catching up to her…I think I can pass her before the line…Push it…push it…and…I’m ahead! Damn, that felt good!”
“Last ten yards, pump it, pump it!”
“I did it!”
I admit I clowned a bit after crossing the line, waving my arms and staggering as if I had just done a marathon. It’s my comic nature, sure not trying to be disrespectful to the sport. I was just relieved that I did what I set out to do and now have a 1500 time of 12:45:01 to work on. I did chuckle when the announcer said I had lost 40 pounds. What I told him was that I had lost more than 25 and that 40 was my maintenance weight goal. Guess I have to earn that premature accolade.
As for letting that “little old lady” (Marlene Knechtel) pass me by, I felt better about it when I watched her cross the finish and immediately drop down for ten pushups to celebrate. And then I hear her say she has six more events that day. OK, Marlene, you’ve been at this a long time and work hard to stay in shape. I want to be like you when I grow up!
What was I thinking when my name was called and I stood on the top step with a gold medal on my neck? Elation and disbelief…and then a fleeting thought wishing that my parents had been in the stands cheering for me. I guess I was feeling like a kid again.
So the journey has begun. Next time I’ll share more about why I never played sports to understand the psychological challenges I’m working past. Everyone’s path and challenges are different, and this newbie is hoping to learn more about what motivates the competitive mind of people who are staying active with senior sports. I also hope others with little or no experience like me will see that it’s truly never too late to “get into The Games” and reap the benefits of better health.