Dr. Leopoldo Gracia Vilches, 64, Navojoa, Sonora Mexico
Power Walk has been around for a long time as a fitness exercise but is new as a medal sport, having been introduced nationally at the 2019 National Senior Games presented by Humana. In the second gathering in Fort Lauderdale in 2022, it was therefore hard to know just how good “good” is for finish times in the budding sport.
Until the Doctor made his rounds.
Leopoldo Gracia Vilches etched his name deep into the NSGA record books with his Gold Medal performances in Fort Lauderdale. It was impressive enough that he easily won his 60-64 division 1500-meter and 5K races, but jaw-dropping when it was clear that the Mexican pacesetter had clocked the best overall times for all ages in both of the races (8:40 in the 1500, 31:36 in the 5K).
It was also the fastest time in NSGA’s Power Walk history to date. By more than a minute in both races. That’s enough to shout ¡Ándele!
“I was not surprised that I could win my own races,” he told us with translating assistance from his daughter Marina. “I knew my times and the times of my peers. So I got there very positive I would get a good result. But to be the best for all age categories impressed me and made me very proud for myself.”
Leopoldo started playing soccer and baseball in Mexico when he was 8 years old, then played basketball for exercise. He became a gynecologist and has had his practice for nearly 40 years in the state of Sonora about six hours south of the Arizona border. “I’ve delivered more than 1,000 babies and performed many ‘C sections’,” he proudly states.
Feeling the need to up his exercise game, Leopoldo found a new track to follow. “I discovered track and field at 42 and fell in love with it,” he recalls. He loved sprints and started competing in races in Mexico, and became an international competitor in 2014 entering the Arizona Senior Olympics in 2014 and competing in his first National Senior Games in 2015. Leopoldo showed flashes of potential winning medals in his 400-meter events, but then sustained an injury that sidelined him in 2018.
His focus changed – same track, different approach. “While I was healing I started to research race walk and power walk, and it was what I needed to continue. Sports for me is not only a hobby. I enjoy practicing and playing.”
Leopoldo knows that he is a role model for his community to follow. “I incorporate a health message by telling others that sports go hand in hand with a healthy lifestyle. I try to motivate all of my patients to move their bodies, focusing on physical activity to preserve health. The foundation of what I tell them is to have regular physical activity, a healthy diet, avoid any type of addiction whether it’s drugs, alcohol or tobacco, and to keep a healthy weight, which varies from person to person.”
It can be daunting traveling to another country where you don’t know anyone and don’t speak the language well. But Leopoldo has found a nurturing community at state and national Senior Games. “I’ve been amazed at the fraternity that my peers have shown not only to me, but to others,” he observes. “I get by and I’m trying to speak English whenever I can. The main challenge for me is to not worry about the language challenge and to focus on not getting injured.”
He paused and added, “I’m really honored to compete with and against these people.”