W55 jump champion Martha Mendenhall calls it a masters career

Lahti gold was only one of several world titles.

Coach Martha Mendenhall of Tacoma, Washington, has been a star on our circuit for so long we take her high-flopping for granted. But alas, on Facebook recently she announced her retirement from track. I was shocked. Her friends were not. They were aware of her battles with hip ailments. Still, I didn’t want to let the revelation go unremarked upon. She’s a world champion and fierce competitor who also dabbled in sprints. So I wrote Martha and she graciously replied to my questions. We’ll miss her on the track and apron.

My favorite shot of Martha — after she won high jump gold at Lahti worlds.

Masterstrack.com: What led to your hip operations? How and when did you decide to retire? No possible comeback in a few years?

Martha Mendenhall: I had been diagnosed with pretty severe arthritis in my hips (worse in the right jumping leg) about 10 years ago. Needless to say, it cramped my competitive style quite a bit, as I would have some pretty significant arthritic flare-ups depending on what period of training I was in.

I had to stop hurdling long ago because of hip pain in my trail leg — then went the long jump. High jump was my baby and I was concentrating on that and the 100/200. After attending a boot camp in the summer of 2011, I had a major arthritic flare-up that I just could not bounce back from.

After shopping five different docs, I landed one that felt perfect for me. I was a great candidate for the new Anterior Approach Total Hip Replacement and that was what he recommended. Both hips! I explained to him that my goal was to compete in one last world meet so that I could say goodbye to all of my international friends and jump one last time, so I wanted to continue my training and have him help me through the pain management and decreased range of motion until the meet in Brazil.

That would be my retirement meet and then I would have my surgery. He agreed and helped me manage the pain and inflammation with nonsteroidal medications and hip injections (OUCH!) I was relegated to intense Deep Water Running workouts, Spin Bike, some track interval work, some hill work, Yoga, modified lifting, etc.

I always said I wanted to retire when I was on top and still jumping well. Not that there is ANYTHING wrong with continuing into your upper years as those heights get lower and lower. It’s just not for me. The nature of this event is to jump until failure. I just wanted “failure” to look a little better than usual :-)

I have been running again since 12 weeks post op, and I actually took a few jumps at an All Comers Meet this past summer and it felt pretty great, but again — not a terribly challenging height.

What did you do as a young jumper? Where and when PR, for example? Sprints?

Track and field has been a part of my life since third grade. The first team I was ever on was in Lemoore, CA. I remember that Tommie Smith’s sister was on that same team with me and Tommie had been on it just before I had come there. I was jumping over 5 feet in sixth or seventh grade.

Long jump, high jump and hurdles were my events in grade school, middle school and high school. But you have to remember the times then. I was riding the transition “Wave” of Title IX back then. I attended a Catholic School in Flint, Michigan, that had no women’s track team. I spent the first two years on the men’s team, with no one to compete with so I ran against guys.

From left in Lahti 4×1 relay: Martha, Shemayne Williams, Sarah Lawson and Joy Upshaw.

I remember running 180 hurdles and shuttle hurdles and riding the team bus, etc. In my junior year, they started a track team for the women. We stunk! Our coach stunk, but she tried. She was the English teacher and had NO idea what she was doing. I had been competing since the third grade so I wound up helping to teach all of the events.

I competed in five events every track meet! It was crazy! I never got to go to a state meet because we simply didn’t have them yet. In college, St. Thomas Aquinas in Michigan, I was the only girl on the men’s team AGAIN! I did, however, compete against other college women’s teams. It was an interesting phenomenon.

At one meet, I scored more points than our whole men’s team, clearing 5-9 3/4 in the high jump! Pretty funny. I had absolutely no coaching because the coach just simply tolerated my being there. He hadn’t really swung over to the whole Title IX thing :-)

When I think back about what I might have been able to accomplished had a coach taken an interest in me, it boggles my mind. I do feel a little bit cheated but, like I said, I was riding that wave.

What did you do as a young jumper? Where and when PR, for example? Sprints?

1992 I believe, was my first year competing in masters track and field. High jump being my forte, my best jump as a masters athlete was probably in Maine. I was training under Chuck Hunter, a student of Loren Seagrave, and I had my best jumping year ever and it was my first time medaling in the 100 (bronze)!

When you’re a high jumper, you don’t measure your best jumps by what color of medal you got, or if you even were in the medals. When you have a strong, beautiful jump you totally know it! My jumps were that way that year. 1.60 came easy and 1.65 was barely a miss.

2005 was MONUMENTAL!! A culmination of a year and a half of intense hard work under the tutelage of Kettrell Berry, brought me to a trifecta at nationals in Honolulu with a win in the HJ, 100/200 and then a few weeks later my win at worlds in the high jump (my first world championship). I would have to say THAT was my best masters year ever.

Best masters moment?

A couple of competitions stand out in my mind. I believe it was in 2003 when [Olympian] Trish (King) Porter came out to Eugene and high jumped against me. She took my national title away from me for the first time in like 10 years, but I didn’t really even care! I was so thrilled to have met and jumped with her that I never really got over it! We became friends and competed with each other ever since.

Another memorable moment was realizing that I had won at the world meet in San Sebastian, Spain. My first world win. It was an overwhelming feeling. I had accomplished a goal that I had set for myself so long ago. It was amazing.

It was very early in the morning and the big stadium was empty except for the few athletes that had come to watch their teammates compete in this one lone event. Joy [Upshaw] was there for me, and I remember hearing her from the stands. Our Aussie friend Marie [Kay] was cheering for me too. It was an international support team! LOL

Running the 4×1 relay with my two best friends in Finland was definitely a highlight for me! We had a baton drop in Italy that put us out of our relay so this was an effort to redeem ourselves, and it was amazing!

Of course, the truly accomplished athletes that I have had the honor to rub shoulders with NEVER, NEVER gets old. I will never take for granted how they got where they were because I KNOW how hard they worked. Joy Upshaw, Trish Porter, Debbie Brill, Marie Kay, Robert Thomas, Don Drummond, Courtland Grey, Dick Fosbury, Dwight Stones, Jim Barrineau, Steve Robbins, just to name a few.

How did you, Joy and Sarah Lawson get to be such close chums?

6)I met Joy in 1993 or 1994, I believe at a meet in Eugene. We were long jumping together, although in different age groups.I knew of Sarah, but we really became pals at a national meet in Spokane. I don’t quite know how that all came together other than that we just really hit it off! I love those two like sisters!

You travel a lot. Is this on account of hubby being a pilot? Favorite destinations?

Truly, most every place I’ve been, with the exception of a few family vacations, have been for track meets. My masters track career has enabled me to see places I otherwise would never have seen. I have stayed home and raised my children. Everyone thinks because my husband is a pilot that we have spent our lives just traveling all over the place. We rarely have been able to go somewhere together.

He has stayed with the kids or with Violet so that I could pursue this track and field passion. Traveling on a Non-Revenue Employee Stand By Status is not always a great deal! :-) I have been bumped off more flights than you can imagine!

As for my favorite destination, I would have to say Italy. I loved the country and its people. I felt a real connection there. I could totally live there. Ha ha. Never mind that we dropped the baton there in the 4×1 :-0

You dote on Violet. Is she Claire or Ginger’s daughter you’re caring for? (I’m unclear on the relationship.)

7) Violet is my grand-daughter. My husband and I have raised her since birth. We were able to bring her into our lives because her mom was not in a place in her life that enabled her to care for and be responsible for another person. She was struggling just trying to get herself on track.

The alternative was to NOT bring her into this world. Violet has been a true blessing in our lives. As of September, Violet lives with her mom and new stepfather in Okinawa, Japan. Tough, tough transition for us. We are all struggling.

What do you do for a living? Will you continue to coach track, work with Fosbury?

I am presently coaching high jump and hurdles at Pacific Lutheran University here in the Tacoma area, and this will be my seventh year as a high jump coach for the UW Winter Track and Field Clinics in the winter months. I just coached my third season of my summer Track and Field club of 3- to 7-year-olds called Tiny Tracksters TC. I am in my fourth year coaching with Dick Fosbury up at his awesome T&F camp in Maine, and I am strongly pursuing my higher coaching credentials. I will be attending the USATF Level 3 School at the end of December.

What would you want USATF or WMA to do to grow the sport?

10) Well, this is a tough question. First of all, I am (and have always been) proud to represent our USATF as a masters athlete, and I feel that they do a very good job for us. Our USATF officials are the best you can get. But if I had to offer some suggestions, I would say the USATF could consider sponsoring us with uniforms and athlete kits if we are representing the USA as a mational medal winner at a world meet.

What will you miss most about masters track?

I will definitely miss the friends I have made over the years. Friends from all over the world really. Secondly, I will miss the competition. It is such a part of who I am. It has been the one constant in my life since childhood. It’s not just a hobby, or something that I do. It’s a huge part of who I am.

October 30, 2014  5 Comments

Canadian distance great Ed Whitlock taking break to heal injuries

Ed in 2012 ran through his local Milton cemetery.

Ed Whitlock at 83 is avoiding his favorite Ontario cemetery — the one where he famously trains and prepares for records on track and road. He’s not scared. He’s injured. According to this status report in Winnipeg, “Whitlock is hopeful the bad hip and shoulder that have stalled his career won’t slow him down for good.” Ed sez: “I’m 99 percent confident that I’m going to be running again sometime. But maybe not in the near future. It may take a while to get rid of it, but at the moment I’m pretty confident that I’m going to get going again, I don’t think this is a career-ending situation. I really don’t think that. Obviously at my age, there’s some chance of that, you never know when you have run your last race, but at the moment I’m not thinking along those lines.” But not wanting to believe everything I read, I wrote Ed, asking about his status. He replied: “I am just taking time off waiting for things to heal. I don’t have an army of therapists.” But Ed is still a role model — showing that sometimes you have to take a step back to go forward. Get rested and well soon, Ed!

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October 29, 2014  One Comment

13 ribbons all told for the Stones, and we didn’t break a sweat

Normally, you have to enter a bunch of events to win so many ribbons. But my wife, Chris, and I collected 13 (four blues, four reds and five whites, and four first-place plaques) in our best street clothes Tuesday night at the San Diego Press Club awards banquet. More details are posted here. Chris won for photos, of course. I won for headlines, a video of a sub-4 mile and some writing. (I tied for second with a Pulitzer-Prize winner in the politics/government category.) Chris beat me 7-6. It’s all good, and I’m especially proud that the upstart Times of San Diego was honored as the No. 3 news website in San Diego — after the much bigger staffed U-T San Diego and San Diego Daily Transcript sites. Chris Jennewein, a pioneer in digital journalism, founded timesofsandiego.com only seven months ago, and already we’re a player in a big media market. Just like masters track, we showed up and won!

Chris and me stand between Chris Jennewein and colleagues Jennifer Vigil and Chris Huard at press awards.

Chris and I stand with Times of San Diego colleagues Chris Jennewein (left), Jennifer Vigil, Chris Huard and Alex Nguyen at press awards.

October 28, 2014  19 Comments

W60 half-mile champ is NOT retiring from WMA, Euro circuit

Caroline Marler is a local hero for her work with addicts

Caroline Marler is a hero for her work with addicts.

The headline said: Champion veteran athlete hangs up her gym shoes after 11 years helping recovering addicts. I said: Oh no! Who’s quitting the game? Turns out the British news report was the exact opposite. “Caroline Marler, 63, has managed the gym at The Bridge Project on Salem Street since 2003, helping hundreds of addicts with the physical side of their recovery,” we learn. “She is retiring on Friday to spend more time at home with her family, but will still find time to run for Great Britain in World Masters Athletics events. … Despite her retirement, Mrs Marler, of Otley, has no plans to end her International Masters career, in which she is currently World Champion at 800m for women aged 60 to 64, having won the title in Brazil last October. She is also European Champion at 400m and 800m, and plans to defend her World Outdoor and European Indoor titles in 2015.” She told the paper: “My competing in veteran athletics will still be ongoing, and barring any injuries, I’ll be taking part in all the major championships, including the World Championships in [France] next year.” Whew, that’s a relief! And with extra time to train, watch out!

October 27, 2014  No Comments

Gray Pride event in San Diego: Should masters let hair go silver?

Sabra Harvey isn’t afraid to run fast — or go gray.

My wife, Chris, took pictures at a Silver Sisters Strut on Saturday, and wrote a nice story for Times of San Diego. It raises the question: Since masters athletes already are bucking societal expectations, should they rebel against “Beauty Terror” as well? In other words, gals, do you let your hair go naturally gray, white or silver? If not, why not? Some men dye their hair, but the culture accepts male grayness. No so much with women. Or is it Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in your house? In any case, the Boomers continue to lead the way as disciples of freedom and self-expression.

Chris Stone photo of silver-haired ladies at rebellious event in Balboa Park.

October 26, 2014  4 Comments

Masters road mile records sought at USATF Anaheim convention

Road miles are running rampant, but I want a road 100-meter dash. Only fair.

Sprinters with long hair, and masters roadies who want to see age-group mile records should be happy with the latest USATF rules-change proposals. Check out this 23-page PDF. What’s up with long hair? Well, technically you face DQ if your tresses touch the ground ahead of the starting line of a sprint/hurdle race. But according to a change proffered by Raymond Pierre, “hair is not considered a body part.” Ray says: “We often witness an athlete rising to ‘set’ and extra-long hair suddenly dropping and touching the surface in front of the starting line. Hair is considered part of the body and can be a factor in other events such as the jumps. An official choosing ‘literal’ over ‘spirit’ will disqualify this athlete unjustly.” Under Item 75, submitted by Steve Vaitones and Lloyd Stephenson, “The Masters LDR Sports Committee recommends that the road mile be returned to the list of record eligible distances. We are hosting the USA Masters One Mile Road Championships each year on record eligible courses. We have the data available to generate a list of record performances for all [masters] 5-year age divisions.” So buy new laces, Nolan.

October 25, 2014  2 Comments

Chiropractic as cure for masters ills? AW writer hypes his program

British star Don Brown in 2012.

In a recent Athletics Weekly column that read like a paid advertisement, a chiropractor writes: “If there is a population in this world that needs the help of a physical therapist, it’s got to be athletes in the masters age groups.” The writer, Grant Pretorius, tells a “case study” of M50 sprinter Donald Brown, who was “struggling with injury.” At British masters nationals, “he ran 11.98. Before the heats of the 100m in Izmir (August 24), he came to me complaining of right-sided low back pain with a history of chronic right hamstring and right shoulder issues. I examined him and found that his right hip flexor (iliacus muscle) and his left gluteus medius muscles were not working well. I applied chiropractic adjustments to his T12 and L5 vertebrae and this improved the function in these muscles. After this treatment session he ran a PB of 11.85, even though he was aware of tightness in his left hamstring. The next day he improved again to 11.67 in the 100m final, which was good enough to clinch the silver medal. This was achieved even though he was still aware of his hamstring. We were both elated!”

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October 24, 2014  3 Comments

How Gia Lewis-Smallwood got American discus record — at 35

Never stop learning. That applies double to older athletes. Just because your sainted high school coach told you one thing, it don’t mean you still gotta obey. That’s my takeaway from a great IAAF profile of Gia Lewis-Smallwood, whose American elite record in the discus this year is probably worth submitting as a W35 American record. “Every top discus thrower in history had used the sweep [a throwing technique where the right foot sweeps past the left side of the body and leads the throw] and I had reached the point where I needed to focus on mastering it,” she says. “It wasn’t natural to me. As soon as I got back from London I cleared out the furniture in my living room and practiced it over and over and over for hours and hours and hours.” So hie thee to a living room and get cracking! (And check out this booming throw.)

October 23, 2014  2 Comments

National Masters News website gets face-lift, should eye new roles

New look to NMN website.

Fresh NMN website features new nameplate.

National Masters News has been a part of our lives since 1977. In print. Its online portal quietly surfaced around 1999. Over the years, the website has gotten pretty unpretty. Too old-school and messy. Recently, the site got a refresh. Now it matches the slick, glossy magazine it promotes. Nice job. But as a USATF-subsidized media outlet, NMN should do more than list how to subscribe, renew and buy All-American Athlete gear. It should share news. Yeah, I know we already have a USATF Masters official website, but it’s basically useless. It never fulfilled my hopes. But with so much happening in our sport, NMN can serve as a resource beyond my daily rant. At the least, it should post selected columns, enticing more print readers. And how about a blog for publishers Amanda and Tish? I’d love to hear their takes!

NMN website in its first year (left) and in recent, overly messy, incarnation.

NMN website in its first year (left) and in recent, overly cluttered, incarnation.

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October 22, 2014  3 Comments

Tyke Peacock, former American record holder, reveals ’84 secret

Tyke in 2011 looked heavy. Hope he’s lighter now.

In 1984, former KU jumper Tyke Peacock cleared 7-4 1/2 in his sweats to make the finals of the Los Angeles Olympic Trials. But the day of the final, he bombed out. Injury was claimed. The truth — told 30 years later — was Tyke feared being drug-tested and banned. In an amazing story, in an Illinois paper, Tyke’s fight with cocaine addiction is told. “I faked the injury,” Tyke says now. “I knew I would not pass a drug test. I held that dirty secret for so many years. That’s what kept me high, to hold that to myself. Until I was able to speak the words to someone else, I didn’t feel true freedom.” He also says: “There is absolutely no question in my mind I could have been an Olympic champion.” He’s now 53, “clean and sober for four years,” and he tells of the five operations on his right knee and another on his left that sapped him of his athletic prowess. “I could probably jump over a slice of bread,” he says. He went on disability. But I’ve seen this rodeo before, and I’d encourage Tyke to try masters track. It’s a return home, he would learn. Godspeed, Tyke. We’d love to see you.

October 21, 2014  3 Comments