Georgia woman is first to rank in all masters T&F events!
Lydia is ranked in 22 individual events, a historic first.
Lydia Woods-Howze won two gold and four silver medals at the WMA regionals a couple weeks ago in Clermont, Florida. Nice haul. But you don’t know the half of it. Now 55, Lydia, who lives in Smyrna, Georgia, only began competing seriously in track in 2006. But unlike many newbies, she chose a goal that had never been accomplished. She called it the Quest: Be ranked in all 22 individual events contested in masters track. “I successfully finished my Quest on August 2, 2008, after completing the pole vault event at the Southeast Sports Festival held at Florida State University,” Lydia wrote me last month. “It was a satisfying end to a personal challenge.” (Here is her listing of events and results.) Lydia sent me a note to introduce herself, and I followed up with a Q&A. This is a stunning achievement. And despite the existence of double decathletes in the masters ranks, Lydia’s accomplishment is historic.
To Boldly Go
By Dr. Lydia A. Woods-Howze
“To boldly go where no man has gone before” is a phrase that Trekkies are all too familiar with. It is part of the mission statement for the famous Star Trek crew. When I signed on to USATF Masters Track & Field in 2006, I never thought I would be embarking on an adventure that would take me to places that “no one has ever gone.”
In just three years I have continued to venture into unknown areas of Masters Track & Field completely unknown to me.
Oh, what fun it has been. It’s like being in the perfect physical education class. It feels great to be in my 50s, in the sun and healthy, able to run, jump and throw like a kid. The memories of my youth flood in on me, on those bright and sunny days at a track meet. It is perfection for me, the physical educator who has taught for 33 years.
There was no track and field in my elementary school, only P.E. classes — where I first learned that I had the fastest 40-yard-dash time in the school, including the boys. I was so excited. I began having dreams of becoming an Olympic runner.
There also was no track and field for girls at my high school. But when I got to college, I immediately went out for the team. I ran in one meet and got a first-place ribbon in the 440 but couldn’t continue running because I had a newborn son to take care of and college classes to attend. So the dream of Olympic glory was put on the back burner for 30 something years.
With a doctorate in kinesiology (the study of human movement), four children and three grandchildren, at age 55, I am perfectly situated to reinstate those Olympic dreams. I am no longer the “fastest kid in school,” but I can do something that not many dream of doing.
In 2008, I ventured on a Quest to be the first person to be nationally ranked in (22) single events in USATF Track and Field, in any age group. I successfully finished my Quest on August 2, 2008, after completing the pole vault event at the Southeast Sports Festival held at Florida State University. It was a satisfying end to a personal challenge.
I had been trying for over a year to get someone to teach me to pole vault –and also to find a pole and a place to practice. . . .
Unlike the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, there were no flashing cameras or tremendous applause from the stands, no news reporters or autograph seekers. There was only a quiet unexplainable joy and satisfaction for a personal Quest completed.
Here’s my Q&A with the amazing Lydia:
Masterstrack.com: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
Woods-Howze: I was born and grew up in Chicago, Illinois.
What sports did you do as a kid? What were your all-time bests or major accomplishment?
As a kid I cycled extensively. On the weekends I was in a bowling league and on Sundays after church I went roller skating. One Christmas my mom gave my father a gift of a 9-foot slate bed billiard table and at 9 years old I learned to play quite well. We also had a Ping-Pong table in our basement and all the neighborhood kids came over to play. Of course I couldn’t let anyone beat me!
There were no sports for girls at my high school, but I became a swim leader for gym classes and a lifeguard and took up tennis in my senior year.
In college, I played one season as second seed on the tennis team, and one season of field hockey (left wing position). I took up racquetball in college and played in local tournaments and in 1978 won the local, then regional tournament, and went on to become runner-up in the national NCCA competition. This was my only claim to athletic fame along with many local wins in tennis singles tournaments.
How did you get back into track? When and where?
I never ran track in high school or college. I was department chair of Health and Physical Education at Spelman College and was teaching activities classes such as badminton, fencing, archery, tennis, aerobic swim, fitness walking, bowling and weight training, etc. I participated with my classes, but was not really active competitively in sports.
One day, a colleague encouraged me to enter the 2005 Atlanta Senior Olympics. To stop him from nagging me, I sent in the application. I signed up for the 50-yard freestyle, 50-yard breaststroke, 100-meter dash, shot put, billiards and bowling. I won two golds, two silvers, one bronze medal and it was a life-changing day. If I could do this with little to no training, what could I do if I really worked at it?
I could not even run one time around the track. I was disappointed in how I had let myself go, particularly as a physical educator. I began run/walking three miles a day and set a goal of competing in the Atlanta Women’s Triathlon in August, which was three months away. I completed the triathlon in less than 2 hours — 400-yard swim, 13-mile bike and 3.1-mile run. Finishing really encouraged me to continue running, and in September I ran a 10K and a 5K road race. By the end of the year, I had lost 35 pounds, gained confidence, was running 5 to 6 miles five days a week.
I began track and field in 2006 at the age of 52. My first track meet was in April 2006. I entered seven events at the USATF Southeast Regional Championships at Savannah State University — 100, 200, 400, long jump, shot, discus and javelin. I won six golds and one silver.
In 2006, one track meet led to another and between Senior Olympic competition and 5K and 10K road races I won 105 medals.
I joined the Atlanta Track Club in 2006, too, and went to my first USATF National Championship that August. My teammates needed a second alternate for the 4×100 relay so they put my name down. At the last minute, two people dropped out and they needed me to run. We won gold and set an American record. I also took a fourth in the discus and sixth in javelin. I was stunned and awed at being at a national competition. At the end of 2006, I was ranked in 12 USATF track and field events.
In September, I entered the Georgia Senior Olympics, the Illinois Senior Olympics and in December the Florida Senior Olympics. 2006 was the qualifying year for the National Senior Olympics, which was being held in Louisville, KY in 2007. (See attached Profile)
I qualified for the nationals in nine sports and 20 events. I didn’t know that you are only allowed to compete in two sports, so I chose track and field and racquetball. (100, 200, 400, 800, 1500, shot, discus, javelin, hammer, high jump, long jump, triple jump, 4×100 relay). I won a silver medal in triple jump, bronze medal in 4×100 relay, fifth-place place ribbons in high jump and 1500, sixth-place ribbons in long jump and racquetball, and eighth-place ribbons in hammer and 800.
How did you settle on the Quest?
I am a multi-sport athlete. I am competent in 16 competitive sports. As a physical education teacher for 33 years I have taught 32 different sport skill classes on the high school and college levels. I am grounded in the beginning skills for these sports. This puts me in a unique position and has given me a unique background.
In 2005, I took the first steps back to an active sports life.
In 2006, I was swept away by track and field, Senior Olympics and road racing. I was having fun and spreading my athletic wings. As the year was progressing, I had won so many medals I decided to set a goal. I was going to be 53 years old so I set a goal of 53 medals. By midyear I surpassed that goal and set a new goal of 75 medals. When I passed that goal I had 86 medals.
Finally, I wondered about setting the goal to 100+ medals. I polled family and friends and found great encouragement. I discovered masters track and field rankings and found that I was ranked in 12 events.
In 2007, I planned a calendar of meets and events I wanted to compete in. I set 12 goals, started a sponsorship program to help me get to the National Senior Olympics, USATF nationals in Orono, Maine, and to the world championships in Italy. I didn’t reach all the goals, but I accomplished many of them. I added new events in 2007 (mile, 80-meter hurdles, 300-meter hurdles, pentathlon and superweight throw). I won 104 medals.
In 2008, the idea of the Quest took shape. Taking up the hurdles at 54 gave me a great deal of self-confidence. Watching other athletes and experiencing the challenge of each event made me want to try them all. The Quest appealed to my sense of multi-sport fascination. I know I will probably never be No. 1 in any event. That is not where my talents are, so I wanted to find my place in track and field and multi-events, an area I think I can claim.
So I did some research and decided to add the events I was lacking — 3000, 5000, 10,000, steeplechase and pole vault). I was ranked in 18 events in 2007 and only needed to add these five and bring up my times and marks to the top (25).
Among the women I found who were competing in 15 events — one woman competing in 13 events and Phil Raschker with 12 events. Rob Duncanson had 12 events.
Tell me about your career evolution? Where do you teach now?
Graduated from University of Illinois in 1975 with a Bachelor of Science Degree (Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance)
Master of Science Degree in 1985, (Physical Education with a specialization in Health) from Chicago State University.
Doctorate in Education 1991 (specialization in Kinesiology and Sports Pedagogy)
University of Georgia
I taught for 12 years at the high school level in the Chicago suburbs, and was head coach of girls track, badminton and tennis and assistant coach of girls volleyball.
In college, I was an Illinois certified referee for girls track, field hockey, volleyball, gymnastics, softball and swimming and diving, and basketball.
After graduating with my doctorate, I taught at the University of Central Arkansas, then at the University of Arkansas, Spelman College and Atlanta Metropolitan College. I presently, teach at Morehouse College and am adjunct professor at Beulah Heights University here in Atlanta, Georgia.
Presently, I am a seminary student at the Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC) working on a Master of Divinity Degree and a Master of Arts in Christian Education Degree. I am called to a unique ministry that uses my physical education background and my biblical teaching to encourage, inspire and educate people about the value of physical activity, healthy eating and spirituality.
I credit my accomplishments to my belief in God as he uses my athletic accomplishments to inspire others.
Do you have a family supporting you? Husband, kids, cat or dog?
I was just married on May 3, 2008. I met my husband, Reginald Howze, at the 2007 Georgia Senior Olympics. He was the overall winner of the 5K and I won gold in my age group. I went over to congratulate him and we started talking and the rest is history. On our wedding day, we ran a 5K road race and married in the afternoon. He is a marathon runner and I have introduced him to USATF events and Senior Olympics. He has been running the 800, 1500, 3000, 5000 and 10,000 events.
He completely supports my athletic abilities, and of course we run together. He is an instructor for a senior walking group and we have started a Ministry of Inspirational Speaking to Seniors, encouraging them to exercise and eat healthy. We are both vegetarians.
I have four grown children and grandchildren who support and encourage me.
Which event do you consider your best? ( If you focused on one event, which would it be?
Triple jump for the single event and decathlon for the combined event.
In our rankings page, I note a lot of pretty pedestrian marks.
I have 127 reported results from 2006 to August 2008. Ten rankings are in the top 5 for my age group. Eighteen rankings are in the top 10, and six rankings are from 11 to 20. I have had no formal coaching or training. All the events in track and field are new to me. I did not run track in high school or college and just starting at 52 has been a slight disadvantage. But now that I have experienced each event and have been steadily improving, I am excited about the future.
I have just finished my first year of teaching at Morehouse College. This year I will be working with head coach Willie Hill. He will be helping me to improve my times and marks. I also now have access to a fully equipped track and field facility. My goal for 2009 is to bring all my marks to the All-American Standard of Excellence.
What was the most events you ever did in a single day? When and where?
It was one of the most memorable track and field days for me — the Port City Masters Inaugural Meet, October 14, 2006, in Birmingham, Alabama. I did 17 events in one day. (100, 200, 400, 800, high, long and triple jumps, shot, discus, javelin, hammer, weight and weight pentathlon. I won 13 gold medals.
Have you shared this do-all-the events story with anyone else? If so, who?
I emailed that same story and rankings list to you, National Masters News, and Her Sports magazine. Also I emailed the rankings to Jim and Joyce Hite, the captains of the Atlanta Masters Track & Field Team. Our banquet is coming up and he hopes to mention the accomplishment at the Atlanta Track Club Banquet and to mention the accomplishment in the Wing Foot magazine.
You were the first to respond and I haven’t heard from Masters News or Her Sports Magazine yet. Her Sports Magazine did an article on me in their Jan/Feb 2007 issue and I was just giving them information if they wanted to do a follow-up story.
Morehouse College wrote an article on me in the College News Report December issue and I will be following up with this information.
I am attaching the Her Sports article and the Morehouse article.
Here is Lydia, with photos taken by Monty Rand Photography at 2007 Orono nationals, SCRunners.com Photo Album (as 2008 USATF South Carolina Masters Champion), David Ortiz Photography (2006 Florida Senior Olympics) and William Terry (medals on javelin).