Phil Raschker profiled in NYT, includes refuted sex-change theory

At Orono masters nationals in 2002, I met a transgender (male-to-female) sprinter. We sat in the far side of the stands, and she told me her story. She was kind of strange. She told me she never drinks water after competition. But one thing caught my attention: She told me she had seen Phil Raschker up-close and that Phil was actually a former man, a transgender like her. Hard to believe. But this tall thin lady was insistent, saying proof was in Phil’s Adam’s apple. I undertook a quiet investigation, writing friends in Germany, where Phil was born. The upshot? The sex-change theory was total bunk.

Phil was photographed in midstride for the NYT by Erik Lesser.

The movie “Racing Against the Clock” provided further proof that Phil’s a natural girl who became a world-class track legend.

My reason for fessing up now? In mid-October, Mike Tierney, an Atlanta-based sportswriter for The New York Times, interviewed me by phone. I told Mike the Phil-as-male story, and it was included in Wednesday’s New York Times. See it here.

Now I apologize to Phil and everyone for pursuing this wild goose chase, which Phil heard about secondhand years ago. I was led astray by a bum steer.

Anyway, the NYT profile of Phil is long overdue. It comes after her naked appearance in ESPN the magazine. Whatever. All attention to Phil is worthwhile for the sport.

Phil is one of a kind. But that one-of-a-kind.

Here’s the first part of the NYT story, in case the link goes behind a firewall:

Running, Jumping and Hardly Aging on the Track


MARIETTA, Ga. — Philippa Raschker, the most enduring female athlete you’ve never heard of, is flying solo, dashing down a track that rings a high school football field.

With no discus or shot or javelin or hurdles handy, no pole vault or high jump or long jump pit on the premises, the day’s casual workout — conducted alone, as usual — is limited to sprints, her specialty.

Trim in two-piece running garb, she is economy in motion, reddish-brown hair like a jet’s contrails, painted fingernails glistening in the sun. Why wouldn’t a publication that annually celebrates the contours of athletes’ physiques and appearances, causing double takes, consider her for its pages?

Except one thing.

“Wait a minute,” Raschker had told the caller from ESPN the Magazine who invited her to pose while loping naked in its issue called The Body. “Do you know I’m 63 years old?”

Assured the magazine did, she eagerly accepted, then spent a full day in upstate New York, running and log-jumping into an icy swimming hole at a photographer’s behest.

For Raschker — widely known as Phil, except when others on the World Masters Athletics circuit that she has lorded over for nearly three decades lovingly address her as Grandmother — disrobing on the run was a welcome out-of-body-and-clothes experience.

“I feel very good about my body,” she said, attributing her lack of prudishness to her European roots and comfort at topless beaches. “I take care of it. I hope they’ll have me back when I’m 70.”

Surely she will be competing then, at something. The hunger to lock horns athletically is as acute as it was 50 years ago, when Raschker aged out of daycare in her native West Germany and enlisted with a track club.

At age 20, she moved to the United States, began dabbling in track and quit a new job when the manager denied her a day off for a meet, according to a book about older competitors, “Second Wind: The Rise of the Ageless Athlete.”

Scurrying to as many as 36 competitions a year, Raschker became a regular at the United States nationals. She was a women’s pole-vault pioneer. An adventurous sort, she has vaulted against men and even engaged them in the decathlon, in which only men normally compete.

At one meet, she entered an alien event, the triple jump, against men after two of them took her by the arms and showed her the technique. At another, she was roped at the last second into the steeplechase, which she had never practiced, to help fill out a small field.

It is the global masters program, in which nobody ever ages out, that Raschker has turned into her domain.
In its world indoor and outdoor championships combined, for women 35 and older, Raschker has won 71 gold medals, 19 silver and 7 bronze.

She has set more than 200 records and still holds 63 United States and 18 world marks. The numbers are made possible by the masters format of dividing participants into five-year age increments (i.e., 60 to 64), allowing for rebirth every five years.

Its world meet — in Sacramento this summer — will draw up to 12,000 athletes. While most entrants choose a few events, à la carte, Raschker treats such gatherings as a buffet. Typically, she enters all three sprints, both hurdles and every jump, along with the seven-discipline heptathlon. The weights, her least liked endeavors, are no picnic for a 110-pounder — “I get dizzy” — but she has sampled them all.

Stop right there. “Draw up to 12,000 athletes” at Sacramento worlds?

Not in this universe. In 1993, Miyazaki, Japan, worlds had 14,000 entrants — but most were in the accompanying marathon, not the track meet. Sacramento won’t have 7,000 total, I’ll bet.

No matter. As long as Phil is there, the meet will be one for the ages.

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January 5, 2011

15 Responses

  1. Weia Reinboud - January 6, 2011

    “allowing for rebirth every five years.” Well said!

  2. peter taylor - January 6, 2011

    Ken, I am sticking with 5400 or so, which would be a nice turnout for Sacramento Worlds. Hard to believe that the meet is only a few months away, as I have not read much about preparations for the event.

  3. Bubba Sparks - January 6, 2011

    I think story would have had a touch of humor had it come out on April Fools Day!

  4. Rob D'Avellar - January 6, 2011

    The article is a great and well-deserved tribute to Phil…although a more respectful headline to this blog entry would be more in keeping with the positive tone of the feature.

    The headline here makes it sound like the article was published in the “The National Enquirer” rather than “The New York Times”.

  5. Jerry Smartt - January 6, 2011

    Thank you, Stoner Man, for passing along the info that Phil is, as they say in the hollers, “Fur rill.” Now, we guys can continue drooling when we see her. Let it be known that when I shoot on through, if it’s discovered that I’m female, someone will kick what’s left of my skinny butt for not running with the girls and trying to outrun Harada and company. Skinny chance.(^_^).Smartty

  6. Roger Pierce - January 6, 2011

    Her resume speaks for itself, and when one watches her compete, it is clear why she has done so well over the years. She has been head and shoulders above most of her competition.She does not trash talk anyone and remains remarkably modest and humble about her accomplishments. She an absolutely incredible athlete and deserves to recognized as one of the best ever..male or female!!!!
    Keep smiling Phil..we love ya

  7. peter taylor - January 6, 2011

    Concur with Roger that Phil is and has been a special athlete. My mother and I were proud to host her at my mother’s home one year when she competed in the Penn Relays. I told my mother that Phil was a superstar (Phil would never have said anything like that).

  8. Byrke Beller - January 6, 2011

    Her shoe’s untied! Don’t trip Phil!!

  9. Bill Collins - January 6, 2011

    All of your Houston Elite team mates and family are so very proud of you. We look forward to a great 2011 season and the wonderful times we will be together as a team on the upcoming trips. You are the “Greatest”.

  10. christel donley - January 6, 2011

    Normally, I would call Phil or send her a personal e-mail. She knows how highly I/we think of not only her athletic accomplishments, but way beyound. All of you above expressed your feelings.

    YET, it strikes me in a very sad way, when Roger Pierce mentiones, that she never “trash talkes” that’s TRUE! I have NEVER heard
    Anybody in our age groups using “trash talk” , NEITHER MALE OR FEMALE. The reason for being in Masters Track and Field is just that, the comraderie, the friendship and the encouragement we give each other.
    Yes, we also try to beat each other, but when the event is over, it’s over, on to the next event.

    Roger, if you ever find anybody trash talking, step on their feet, heavily! and send them over to me…

  11. Ken Stone - January 6, 2011

    Oops, I trash-talk Bill Collins all the time! Never seems to work, though.

  12. Who's your Daddy ? - January 6, 2011

    I trash talk about NFL football teams. Does that count ??

  13. Marie Kay - January 8, 2011

    I agree with Roger Pierce and Bill Collins, Phil is one of the nicest and most talented athletes i have had the pleasure to call friend. Her wonderful achievements on the track say it all, a true World Master of her sport and a great friend too!
    The only trash talk is the lady who started this ridiculous story in the first place.

  14. Susan Wiemer - January 9, 2011

    Phil has always been a class act. Jealousy can be a pretty ugly monster when you let it take charge.

  15. Bill Daprano - January 12, 2011

    Baloney! I agree with Susan, This is envy far beyond and as vicious as it can get. Get a life!

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