Woo hooo! My second big meet of the season is in the bag! I won gold the 2015 USATF Masters Outdoor National Championships in Jacksonville, Florida! Please note, my weather app said it "feels like 108 deg" while we were jumping. Yikes! Hot!
At this meet, the current 2015 #1 (me), #2 and #3 ranked women jumpers in the USA 55+ age division were there. I had to be at my best. I jumped well, clearing 1.35m and just barely hitting 1.40 down. I WILL get that next time!
The jumpers there ranged in age from 30 -59. One 30-year old was going for an Olympic-level height. At 55, I am only technically measured against those in the 55-59 age group, so winning a gold for 55+, means beating everyone there of that age.
Some masters athletes expect their times to get slower, and their jumps to get lower as they age. Not optimistic old me. I am hoping that since I went from 0 - 55 mph in the last two years, I will only improve. I jumped higher this year than at the 2014 nationals and won gold, instead of silver like last year. Most importantly, with women jumping so close to my personal best, it was an excellent way to get revved up for the World Masters Championships (WMAs) in two weeks time.
The WMAs will be held in Lyon, France and my age division jumps August 12th in the morning. I've trained hard to get ready for this. European competitors are far above USA competitors -- they have more organized masters track clubs (which they call athletics) with places to train, people to coach them and more meets to compete in. I've looked at the entrants and many are jumping above my personal best.
BUT....you never know what's going to happen on the day. Each time I jump, I visualize clearing the bar, even before I start my run-up. I imagine myself lifting high in the air, arching over it and landing on the other side, clearing it brilliantly. Wishful thinking? Absolutely! "Visualizing?"...you betcha! Am I sticking with it? Oh, yeah! I could probably use that more in my real life, too. "This basket of clean laundry will magically be folded and put away in drawers in under ten minutes."
August 12th could be a REALLY good day for me and I may soar high over the bar, jumping my best EVER. That's what I'm telling myself. That's what I'm visualizing. Wish me LUCK!
The kids and I sometimes play this game where we ask, "What did we DO today?" and fast-forward through our day. "Well, you got up, ate breakfast, got dressed, brushed your teeth, went to school, came home, played a little, did homework, went to piano, then soccer practice, then ate dinner, played some more, had a shower, put on pjs, came over, sat down next to me and.....here we are right now!" The kids love the feeling they are scanning quickly through life with their hand on the forward button, and they end up, right, here, right now..at...the...end...of the ...day.
So, the point of this blog, was to share some insights about going from an SUV-driving, stay-at-home-soccer-mom-photographer, to a high jumping masters athlete. I've had a lot of people ask me, "How did this happen? That's amazing!" I imagined myself sharing all kinds of insight, weekly, in a pithy, conversational style. I'd discuss my training, some ideas about how I fit this endeavor into my life, especially while my kids are home for the summer, and muse on what it's like to compete at age 55.
Well, readers, it's July 2015, the middle of the outdoor track season. Too late for the blow-by-blow. I've jumped in five meets and not done a clever entry each week of the season. This is the official "fast-forward," catch-up blog. And, if you read the post below about being a mom, that explains it all. Mom first, athlete second.
I have/had some big meets this summer of 2015. In addition to scattered local and state meets, the big three are/were -- the 2015 National Senior Games (NSGA), the 2015 USATF Masters Outdoor Nationals and the World Masters Championships in Lyon, France.
The National Senior Games were exciting, and by golly, I won my age division, 55+. It all came together in Minneapolis-St. Paul the weekend of July 10th. The meet was held at a great venue, the University of St. Thomas. There were some "star" masters athletes there which are always fun to watch -- former football players, track and field stars and some just plain incredible world recording holding masters athletes.
I was lucky enough to have a teammate there who coaches high jump for high schoolers and his tips were great. There are, like, 14 points to remember each time you jump over the bar. Run upright, explode off the surface, lift the leg, arch your back, move your shoulders, etc. It's tough to keep all that in your brain, especially at a big meet! Having someone there, who is a high jumper, to tweak what you are doing is invaluable. Thanks, Paul Sabree.
At NSGA, I was able to jump a personal best for the year of 1.36m and I tried and got REALLY close to jumping 1.40m, which would have been a meet record. I cleared the bar, but clipped it with my right foot. Darn! Oh, well, I won and as one athlete pointed out, I now get to be listed in the "top ten NSGA performances." Good enough for me, I say.
More than anything, I felt very prepared and strong for this meet. I had laid off training for the week before and I think it worked. In the movies, athletes are always sweating, running hard, worn out, day after day, pushing themselves to their limit. (Cue the Rocky soundtrack.) But, here's what I've figured out. In real life, we older athletes need more time to recover, a week in some cases, so as to be primed for our day of competition. It worked for me.
There were a lot of photographers there and I was hoping to get some photos of me jumping. You can always learn something from pictures of yourselves scaling the bar. You see your form and technique, which is impossible to observe while you are actually doing it. Here's what made the NSGA gallery (ABOVE). I'm honored to have made the gallery, but don't know quite what I can learn from this shot. Maybe to keep my bikini line, neat? :-)
I head out on vacation with my kids, ending up at Nationals at the end of the week. Hoping for a good, strong jump, a personal best and some elite competition to prepare me as I head towards the World Masters in France in August. More about France in a later post. Gotta get everybody prepared to go back to school, first! Stay tuned!
That national meet in July 2014 taught me a few things. First, there are some very cool personalities doing Masters T&F! Secondly, this summer track meet business in the south can be a VERY hot business! Balancing your energy conservation, your hydration and timing your visits to the restroom is an art.
Most importantly, I learned that focus during a meet is critical. It's okay to completely tune out the world and concentrate on yourself. As a mom, it's hard to do that. My default role is to always scan the landscape to see who needs help, who needs food, who needs homework help, who needs something to do. I try to anticipate the needs of others, quickly -- TWENTY-FOUR HOURS A DAY! I didn't have my kids with me that weekend, but experiencing the hyper-focus needed to compete in a large meet, I knew it would be hard to bring them along to many of the big competitions. I can't help but think of them first, and that's okay. So, they don't come to every meet, but they do come to some. The bottom line is quite simple. I am a mom first...and...an athlete second. And I feel lucky, for that.
As my summer of 2014 progressed, I became increasingly confident with my high jumping as I was winning meets and could see my ranking was holding. But, I was still getting my training regime down. My pattern of training and performance was a bit inconsistent. Should I work out like crazy before a competition? It seemed to me that that's what the big professional athletes did. Weren't they always, "training"?
But then, in June 2014, I went to NY State to visit family and with the best intentions to train each day during my vacation, per my trainers instructions. before the USATF East Coast Regionals, held at SUNY Albany, I did nothing but hang out with family for the seven days before and walk the kids to a playground each day. But, I competed, won my age division and jumped better than I had since competing in masters jumping a whopping 1.36m, which was wonderful for me.
I returned to Atlanta and trained for various other meets. Then, excited like crazy, I drove to Winston-Salem, NC to compete in the USATF Nationals 2014 at Wake Forest University. I had learned my lesson from the previous year's hamstring pull and drove up the night before.
I was like a kid! I was at a national track meet! As I walked around, I saw "track stars," heard the announcer call out competitors who used to be former Olympians and professional athletes and had a wonderful time taking in the competitive atmosphere.
The field of jumpers was bigger than before and the talent and technique I saw during the athletes' practice jumps was very impressive. I was nervous and it showed in my jumping. But, I placed second, winning a silver medal in my age group, women's 50-54. Woo hoo. I learned a lot about myself, too......
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.