A mere two years into my masters track and field experience, I found myself in sunny France last week, competing at the 2015 World Masters Championships (WMA). Whaaat? My life usually consists of ferrying children around to extracurricular activities in an SUV. How on earth did I end up in beautiful Lyon, France, at La Duchere Balmont Stadium, competing against the best masters athletes in the world -- while loud music blasted as a couple thousand people looked on?
I heard a great sermon in church this past Sunday concerning the topic, “Hope.” The presenter explained psychologists have discovered that, for humans, the emotion of "hope" is stronger than the emotion of "fear." Yes. The hoping mechanism in the brain, is more powerful than the fear mechanism.
That may explain how I ended up in France -- I had lots of hope.
Before I’d left, I’d done a cursory online review of the WMA competition for my event (a review, which some of my family members may refer to as "stalking"). Many of the competitors had been jumping for years and jumped heights much higher than I had ever jumped as a master. It was risky. I was a little fearful about going, leaving my family, doing this on my own and facing much more prepared and savvy athletes. My hope kicked in. I was hoping to make the top five. Did I hope for a medal? Of course! But with no formal coaching, no coach on site (as many others did) and a much less rigorous training regime than many other masters competitors, I knew the best I could hope for was top five.
And...I did it. Hope won. I made the top five, beating 12 other countries to place fifth behind Germany, Spain, GB and Austria.
I was very honored to be a part of the USA Masters competitive team. Who'd have thought I would ever be pulling on a shiny, red, white and blue track uniform emblazoned with "USA" to represent my country at this age? Now, I have to admit, I felt like many of the US competitors did not know quite what to make of me when I introduced myself saying, "Hi, I'm a women's 55 high jumper!" Let's be honest. My body reads a bit more, "mom," than "athlete" at this point. It could also be that because (out of an abundance of caution) I didn't wear my USA gear on days I wasn't competing, other US athletes weren't quite sure if I was for real.
International competition is much more rigorous than national competitions, especially in Europe. I'd won every meet I competed in in the USA this year. But, in Europe, not only do you still have some state run programs, but there are more opportunities to train and get coaching. I was thrilled to place in the top five -- though I didn’t jump a personal best -- and was surprisingly emotional when I called my husband to report.
It was fun to watch all the competitors at events during the week I was there. From lightning fast 35-year olds in the 100 meters and long jump, to 90-year-olds competing in the 800 meters and javelin, I could see the glimmer of competitive focus burn equally in every age group. There was no one there that wasn't hoping to win, or beat a personal best, and all were very proud to be representing their country. At the athletes party during the week, the sparkle in the eyes of attendees of all ages was the same I see at every masters competition in the US. I am happy to see the youthful attitude in the masters T&F community is a worldwide phenomenon.
My final meet of my 2015 outdoor track and field season is the Georgia Senior Games in September. I’ve kicked back at bit this week, started cross-training with a bit of tennis, spent time focusing on what my goals are for the 2016 indoor T&F season and hugged my kids, a lot. Though it was exciting to compete in France, I treasure my time with them. They are the best medal a mom-slash-athlete can wish for.
I plan on tapping into my "hope mechanism" a lot going forward, to take more risks by competing at another international competition and maybe, just maybe, break the American record for women 55+. Stay tuned.
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.