The "muscle tweak" of April 2014 landed me back in physical therapy and ultimately introduced me to Neurosport Functional Training in Marietta, GA. After I finished physical therapy at Neurosport (which I just found, randomly online), my PT suggested if I was to continue to jump, I'd be a perfect candidate for their ongoing fitness program next door -- Neurosport Functional Training. Too long to explain here, this is a program where your workouts are tailored to you and are all about alignment, core strength, balance and stability. This is how I met my talented trainer, David Schrader (see photo).
I don't know that David would like me to repeat this, but the look on his face when I introduced myself to him and I told him I was a women high jumper was priceless. "Really." Said Mr. Schrader, with a cocked eyebrow. "Good for you!" Translation: "I don't believe this woman." When I look back at my fitness level at that time, I can imagine, seeing a suburban, van-driving, out of shape East Cobb mom professing she was ranked #9 in the country as a high jumper must have seemed ridiculous.
David took me on. He evaluated my fitness with a very specific model they have. (Don't ask me.) He also evaluated me by asking me to do certain tasks. Stand on one leg, jump over a box, lean over and touch my toes, etc. I think I failed, though I never asked, but David must have seen something because he has worked very hard to get me where I am today.
And boy, did I end up well. My personal best jump increased 27 cms to 1.39 meters. This put me at #1 in the USA (up from 9th) and 8th in the world for Outdoor 2014 -- which is a lot better than my 2013 standing of not making the top 25.
More importantly, I didn't injure myself in 2014, which I've learned is the biggest challenge for a masters athlete. Though I am the first to argue you are only as old as you feel (don't get me started on attitude) I'd be silly to not acknowledge that we don't have the stamina, flexibility or steadiness that we did 30 years ago. With consistent strength training and body awareness -- knowing when you need to stop -- you can continue to perform year after year.
So, with a good trainer in place, some online research and the support of my incredibly patient husband, I decided, yes, I can make a go of this high jump thing. And off we went.
Someone asked me recently, "So, when will you stop training for the high jump?" My answer, "I hope, never."
Resting at home recovering from my torn hamstring of September 2013, I found the online Masters Rankings system at mastersrankings.com. This online registry allows us to compare ourselves to masters athletes all over the world. It's a valuable tool because many times, there are only a few 100 masters runners or jumpers at a meet. Every day, every week, every month, competitions are taking place all over the world and the online registry shows us how we are really doing with our performances as we work to improve our personal best.
Looking at this system, I was excited to see my best jump of 2013 of 1.22m placed me at 9th in the USA! How exciting! Of course I called this in to my mother and we giggled that I was even placing at all! I didn't make the top 25 in the world in 2013, so had no world ranking. It was exciting to see the jumpers in Russia, Latvia, S. Africa, Canada, Australia. I was very impressed!
I have continued to follow this rankings system closely. I check it weekly. (See attached image.) As I write this, I am #1 in the world, women 55+ -- something which can change at any moment. But I am getting ahead of myself in my story.
I sat out the 2013-14 indoor season to heal, which brings me to my husband's ultimatum in the spring of 2014 -- get strong, so you don't get injured.
As the summer of 2013 came to a close, (and I was busting with excitement that I'd found track & field again) the Georgia Senior Games popped up on one of the many sites I was using to search for, and learn about, masters track & field. I learned that the National Senior Games is a large nationally run organization with a variety of sports competitions for the over-50 crowd. The Georgia track & field event was taking place in September of 2013, in Warner Robbins, Georgia. This city is a three-hour drive from my home. Easy, right? So, my husband and I dropped the kids at school that day, and drove south to the venue. We arrived early, way before any other competitors got there. (More about how I always like to be early wherever I go, in another post.)
It's not easy to find a place to practice for the high jump. Much of the time, competitors only jump AT meets. So I was excited to see the high jump pit and pole were up already though competition was four hours off. "Hey, why don't I do my practice jumps now," I told my husband practically flying out of the car.
Let's understand, we had driven three hours with maybe one quick coffee break. Somehow I had missed the memo at this early stage in my Masters T&F research about WARMING UP when you are old. Correction: Warming up when you are a "master." I leapt out of the car and with a few cursory stretches ran at the bar and jumped over. Feeling good! I returned to my starting point and raced for another jump. PING. Ouch. "I just did something to my left leg," I complained. Soon, it became clear I was having trouble walking on it. Jumping on it was the least of my worries.
We went straight to a pharmacy and bought what we thought might help -- ice packs, tape and Alleve. We sat for two hours in a coffee shop with ice on my left hamstring. Believe it or not, I jumped on that baby when 3 p.m. came and won my age bracket. But, it hurt like heck. About two weeks later, I started seeing funny purple and dark streaks down the back of my thigh. At that point, I went to the doctor and learned I had had a Level 2 hamstring tear. Oh!
Any thoughts of high jumping further in 2013 were squashed. I was told I needed to heal. So, I did. And, I set my sights on the 2014 season. The fact I didn't get discouraged at that point and quit shows either incredible optimism, love for the sport or vast amounts of naivity. I'll take them all.
In May 2014 I was back in the game. In my first meet, a developmental meet at Emory University, my hamstring was fine, but something else pinged --somewhere on a leg, or hip, or ankle, I can't remember where now. I went straight to the doctor this time. When I got home, my husband looked at me and said, "You either need to get serious and start some strength training to avoid injury, or I AM serious, you need to stop."
With a typical mom's history of putting everyone else first, where was I going find the time to "train" for the high jump? How could I commit time to something purely for myself? I had to dig deep and ask myself, could I give this new project up?
In the summer of 2013, I was talking with a friend about watching our children play sports. As a parent, it doesn't get much better (in my opinion) than watching your kids out in the fresh air playing a team sport. I was reminiscing about my sporting career -- volleyball, track and field and cross-country (which I hated!) in high school. I loved it. In particular, I was a good high jumper. I said to my friend, "Man, I wish they had track meets for adults!" I did some research later and found that, in fact, they did! The United States of America Track & Field association (USATF) has a masters component. With meets and everything! Could I? Would I? Is it possible I could remember how to high jump?
Except for a brief period in my early thirities doing mini-triathalons, I had not kept myself in very good shape. Sure, I was of a normal weight, but I didn't enjoy working out at the gym, just to work out. Boring! I needed something to compete at to motivate me. In 2013, my kids were getting older -- ages 9 and 11 -- and I was starting to feel I could squeeze in a little time for myself. I started playing tennis and doing a Bar class. Old muscles were reawakening. Maybe I could? A little light started to burn.
I told my husband I wanted to go to a local Masters track meet, "just to check it out." Did I wear a t-shirt and shorts just in case I got up the nerve to compete? I sure did! I ended up registering, jumping, winning my age division and have been hooked every since. That, is how this all started...
Julia Curran-Villarreal is a three-time USA W55 national masters high jump champion. After a 35-year break from her favorite high school sport of track & field, Julia returned to competition in 2013 at the age of 53. Follow her journey on @juliajumping on Instagram and @juliacurran on Twitter.