Johnnye Valien named USATF Athlete of the Week for Sacto WRs
Johnnye Valien has been around forever, it seems. I first met her in the mid-1990s, and later profiled her for The San Diego Union-Tribune. (She lives in Los Angeles but came down for a Senior Olympics meet.) Every five years, she goes bonkers. Sets a bunch of records. Sacramento worlds was her W85 coming out party. She won six golds and one silver â€” and may be the world’s oldest female vaulter. USATF took notice yesterday, naming her its Athlete of the Week. She won the same honor in March 2006. I’m proud to call her a friend and a teammate (of the Southern California Striders).
Here’s a profile from November 2005 by Nancy Armour:
USA: Athletic senior citizens are older, wiser, faster
CHICAGO (Associated Press/Sun-Times), November 27, 2005: When Johnnye Valien was younger, she was told track and field was no place for a girl. A few years later, she was turned away because she was too old. Well, Valien sure showed the naysayers. Keeps doing it, too.
Now 80, the grandmother of seven travels the world for masters track and field competitions, collecting medals and breaking records.
“I like a challenge,” she said. “Quite often people say, ‘Why are you doing this? What are you trying to prove?’ I’m not trying to prove anything. I just enjoy it.”
She’s not alone. Competitive sports no longer are reserved for the young, and there are plenty of geezers who still have game. And we’re not talking mall walking, shuffleboard and golf.
A recent issue of GeezerJock magazine, devoted to competitive athletics for people over 40, had articles on the Senior Olympic Hockey Championships, 50-year-old rugby players and the Ironman Triathlon.
“It’s sort of a reflection of a culture. People aren’t stopping doing the things they loved when they were kids,” said Sean Callahan, editor of GeezerJock. “The sports they played when they were kids, they’re still playing them. And I think we encourage it. There’s a new emphasis on health.
Valien was a swimmer and a physical education major in college. She moved to Los Angeles after graduation and tried to join a track team, but the only ones she found were for school-aged girls. “They said I was too old,” Valien said.
“They didn’t have women’s track teams in the time.” She turned to coaching instead, and ran, played basketball and skied in her free time. It wasn’t until she was 64 that she heard about the Senior Olympics.
“At the ripe old age of 64, I started competing again,” she said, laughing. She works out for an hour to 90 minutes twice during the week, then trains with her track club Sundays at UCLA. In the last three weeks before a competition, she’ll train every day.
She’s competed in the triple jump, long jump, high jump, 300-meter hurdles, 80-meter hurdles and heptathlon. She holds eight U.S. records in the 70-74, 75-79 and 80-84 age groups.
“I said when I reached 75 I was going to retire. Now I’m 80, and I’m thinking about it,” she said. “But now I have an opportunity because I’m the baby in the 80-84 age group, so my [record] chances are better. So I guess I’ll be out there again. Oh, yes.”
While her children and grandchildren are proud of her accomplishments — one grandson likes to pick up her medals and ask what each is for, others like to race her in the hurdles — Valien said she doesn’t tell her non-track friends much about her hobby.
They just can’t understand why an 80-year-old woman would want to jump over hurdles or pole vault.
“Those years are going by fast, but I’m not going to let them slow me down,” she said. “The only thing that’s getting old is my memory.”