Marianne L. Hamilton
Growing up in Sacramento, CA, I was always, always the very last one selected (very begrudgingly) for any athletic team. Pudgy, bespectacled, book-wormish, and painfully shy, I envied my classmates who could run, throw, catch, bike, swim, spike a tetherball and more...all seemingly so effortlessly. For me, every PE class was pure torture. I knew (as did everyone else in my class, including the nuns) that any attempts I made to participate in a sport would be clumsy and humiliating. Early on, I determined that my lot in life was to read books and get good grades...which I (mostly) did.
My sense of futility in the physical realm persisted throughout my teens, 20s and 30s. But then at one point, as 40 was looming, I started watching the joggers in my neighborhood. Few were going all that fast; it seemed that this was an activity that didn't demand tons of coordination or innate athletic skill. After weeks of deliberation, I secretly bought my first pair of Nikes and hit the road....and to my amazement, in a few months I was able to make it (slowly) through a few miles. With the heady sense of empowerment that came with that achievement, I registered for a 10K race. I didn't finish; as soon as the gun went off, my former fears kicked in and I psyched myself out. But I kept at it...and eventually I was able to complete the distance, and my first race. I will never forget the torrent of tears that poured from my eyes when I crossed the finish-line that first time. Never, ever in any remote corner of my consciousness growing up had I entertained the fantasy that the words "running" or "race" would creep into my vocabulary. I felt like I'd won the Lotto.
As time went on I continued running, and then started going to a gym and lifting weights. The weights made a rapid difference in my body that I relished; so much so that I became obsessive about hitting the gym - to my extreme detriment. I managed to rupture a disc in my neck, requiring the removal of the disc and a fusion of my vertebrae. The procedure was a success, but my surgeon delivered devastating news: I could no longer run, or do anything that would in any way stress my neck or spine. It seemed a death-sentence; my depression was profound.
During my rehab, I began walking - a little farther each day. As I healed, I began picking up the pace...until without realizing it, my body naturally fell into race-walking technique. Eventually another race-walker saw me and recommended that I train with his coach. Later, I was fortunate enough to connect with a two-time Olympic race-walker, who helped my technique improve dramatically. Since then, I have race-walked 8 marathons, 50+ half-marathons, and more 10Ks than I could ever remember. When a friend referred to me as an "athlete" not long ago, I collapsed into hysterics. But her comment gave me pause: impossibly, I had become what I never imagined possible. That sense of incredulity persisted in March of last year, when I entered (and won) both of the race-walking events at the Bay Area Senior Games at Stanford. My times were hardly world-class...but they were sufficient for overall golds, as well as firsts in my age-group. It was at that point that I understood that being an athlete isn't necessarily about being to the manner born. Sometimes it's a mantle you get to wear after many, many years of very hard work, and changing the way you think about yourself.
I turned 60 last November, which was momentous in many ways: One month prior, my husband and I had competed (for the second year) at the Huntsman World Senior Games in Utah. In 2011 I had taken age-group silvers in all 3 race-walking events; last year I crossed the finish-line ahead of all of the female competitors in all three races (pic attached). Each awards ceremony was more surreal than the last. Surely, I imagined, my mother (a journalist like myself, who'd shared my early-life aversion to anything physical) was spinning in her grave...but then writing a fabulous account of how proud she was of her daughter's transformation.
I didn't overcome cancer or other extreme physical hardship, as I'm sure many of my amazing fellow athletes will convey to you. I spend my days as a writer for hire and a community volunteer, I coach other race-walkers, and I'm blessed to have a goofy magazine-style show on our local community access TV station here in Los Gatos, where I live. I'm healthy, very happily to be married to the perfect mate (a cyclist and runner who's 62), and my life is largely without drama. Perhaps, if I've overcome any obstacles, they were the insistent demons that whispered in my ear throughout my life - that I couldn't do this, or couldn't do that, so why try. But I did. And in my mind, that makes me a winner. If you deem that to be in keeping with the spirit of the National Senior Games, I would be immeasurably honored to carry the flag of my home state in the Celebration of Athletes!