A number of my masters track colleagues ran the 5th Avenue Mile last week. When the pictures were posted, they reflected the stress and strain of competition. One athlete was quoted as saying, "Sometimes running isn't pretty," about her photo.
That's so true with masters track. We don't look like the images you see in the magazines. No young twenty-four year old bounding through the fields with perfectly finished hair, covered in fake sweat, revealing perfect abs and sporting an appropriate level of pink in the face. No, we look like we are working hard, training hard and worried about an injury or two. We look like we're straining and sweating, because, frankly, we are. And in my opinion, that's a beautiful thing.
When I was a model, a long time ago, I remember having years where I stopped buying magazines (unless I was in them and wanted a tear sheet for my portfolio). I stopped buying them because I knew what went into a photo -- clips at your back pulling fabric tight, perfect lighting, an hour or so of makeup on your face and impressively neat hair created by a professional makeup artist. Though I earned a living from it, I was pretty conflicted about the fact that people were comparing themselves to what was being created in a studio by a team of artists, with a lot of effort.
I really enjoyed modeling and had some great experiences and wonderful adventures, but I learned a good lesson. Don't believe everything you see on paper. It's the same now with the amazing tools we have for altering photos on the web and social media. I'll put it out there that I am just as guilty. If lightening a photo can reduce my frown lines just a little bit, I am not above tweaking that "exposure button."
But, I stop at removing wrinkles, sagging skin or a bulge or two, because I've been so impressed with what the older body can do. Shocked in fact. A few wrinkles and sagging skin does not stop masters track women and men from pushing themselves beyond what pop culture has told us our limits are. Can you imagine what it looks like to see a 70-year old man explode from the blocks and run 100-meters in under 14 seconds? How about seeing a 57-year old woman with a few extra pounds jump five feet up in the air backwards and land (without hurting herself). It happens. Under those imperfections are muscles, speed, and incredible strength.
So, in support of, "It's not always pretty," below find a slideshow of pictures from the NCCWMA's in Toronto, furrowed brow, straining bodies and squints from the sun. Many thanks to photographer Mark Connolly for capturing the hard work.
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.