I did it! I won my third national outdoor title for W55 high jump! This means I've won both indoor and outdoor national championships for three years running.
The recent 2017 USATF National Masters Championships was held in Baton Rouge and it was hot! Many middle and long distance athletes were smartly preparing months in advance for the hot weather. I figured that living in Atlanta I'd be fine, but in fact, the competition was very difficult and I had to overcome the dreadful heat and humidity -- and my event was at eight o'clock in the morning!
My competition time slot included all women high jumpers ages 30 - 59. On this day, I watched many jump below their usual best because of the conditions, including me. The showers over four days of competition had made the surface moist and slippery. At 1.29m I slipped on the pavement and slammed hard into the bar. I looked over at my husband, who was watching from afar (no one but competitors are allowed inside the oval) and could see him give me a concerned raised eyebrow look. Heck, my eyebrows were raised, too! I usually don't miss till higher heights.
High jumpers get three attempts at each height. In case of a tie, medal placing is based on the number of attempts you make to clear a height, so you want to get the job done in as few jumps as possible.
It can be mentally, as well as physically, fatiguing to take more than one jump to clear the bar. Like a tennis player down four sets, when you miss, you have to return to your base line, eyeball the bar again, and force yourself to focus on what is possible, not the fact you just missed. Mentally, you must keep this laser-focus of positivity for at least 90 minutes.
On this day, I watched jumpers struggle at 1.29m, and like me, walk away shaking their heads. In the end, I made 1.29m and then the next height of 1.34m (we were jumping in 5cm increments). Then, I watched as others, some younger than me by 20 years, failed in their attempts at 1.34m. At the end, all were out except a W40 and a W50, making me the gold medalist for W55. I was thrilled, because not only had I won my age group, but because on this day, I had out jumped younger athletes as well.
As many of you know, I spend a lot of time giggling about my success in high jumping, but it does beg a few questions. How can a 57-year old, who took a 35-year break from the sport, be flipping backwards in the air at this age? What's the secret? I may never figure this one out, but, four years in, I believe it's a lucky combination of genetics, family support, and training, lots of training. We masters athletes win medals as a result of months of training, the sacrifices we make, and our families make, and yes, plain old genetics. And, I don't think I've met a masters athlete who doesn't have a good sense of humor. Along with the above, I think it's a little bit of crazy, too!
Next up is representing my country as a member of the Team USA masters athletes competing at the North, Central and Caribbean World Masters Athletics Championships (NCCWMA's) in Toronto, August 10-12. A number of W55 high jumping Canadians will be nipping at my heels. Focusing on the positive, I am thinking that may push me to jump a little higher to end my season. Wish me luck!
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.