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At 55, She Shows Teenagers, And Us, How It's Done

May 11, 2024 4 min read 3 Comments

At 55, She Shows Teenagers, And Us, How It's Done

Can you see it? The racing posture, the focus, the drive. Emma McGowan launches her final outdoor season as a world-class runner. Photo by Rob Jerome.

 

By Ray Glier

LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga.___Emma McGowan, 55, ran 400 meters and displayed the fundamentals that come from racing experience. She maintained her upright posture, ran with a relaxed upper body, and had a rhythm to her stride. Emma ran 1:03.47 on April 27, in her first outdoor 400 of the season.

Meanwhile, some of the teenagers and 20-somethings racing the 400 with her were hardly as poised, especially the last 50 meters when they flailed for more speed. Superior athletes, some did not maintain the same posture as McGowan. Others had all the rhythm of an out-of-tune guitar.

There were 32 younger runners spread over five sections. Emma ran better than 26 of them in an all-comers meet with hundreds of athletes from all over talent-rich Atlanta.

Geezer Jocks should be proud.

This is what duty to a sport looks like.

It’s way early in the 2024 masters outdoor season, but McGowan’s 1:03.47 is so far good enough for No. 3 in the world (W55-59).

She is gearing up for August when McGowan will race in Sweden at the World Masters Athletics championships and try and win her 12th WMA gold medal.

In July, Emma will be inducted at into the Masters Track Hall of Fame. She has won more than 35 gold medals in USATF Masters Track & Field Championships, indoors and outdoors.

What the kids witnessed on the track that Saturday three weeks ago was the payoff from an investment in time and energy. McGowan, after the race, wore a gleaming smile sitting with her back to the fence surrounding the high school track. She was thinking back over her 12 years in Masters track & field—and the race she just ran—and the smile says it was all worth it.

It wasn’t easy to master these mechanics. On Mondays, training for the outdoor season, McGowan would run six 300s, then some 40- and 60-meter sprints and push through a 500 to cap the workout. The rest of the week was a chore, too.

“It’s been great,” McGowan said of her career. “But you get to the top and it is very hard to stay there.

“Now, I want to spend time with my family, maybe try another sport, like pickleball.”

Emma said she is losing her methodical drive to excellence. She doesn’t want to be stubborn about sticking around when she can’t synchronize her life and sport.

This is how masters athletes in any sport should walk away. On their own terms. They are not always driven out by injury, or erosion of skill. They are never kicked out. We miss them.

So McGowan is starting to wind down her career. Emma thought she might leave the sport in 2023, but her coach at Maximum Quotient Track Club, Clifton Culpepper, pleaded for one more year.

Emma will race outdoors in 2024 and then the WMA indoors in Gainesville, Fla., in 2025 and be done.

She will leave with a certain snugness about what she has accomplished. Emma also does want her training to become menacing, or something she has to force herself to do.

That’s how you leave the sport.

**

If attitude is the little thing that makes a big difference, Emma had plenty of good attitude for 12 years. Attitude is as coveted to the athlete as The Undecided Voter is to a candidate.

Attitude is why McGowan is undaunted this early in the season by Australian sprinter Mandy Mason, who ran a 57.86 400 on March 29. Julie Brims, another Australian, ran 1:02.92 in February for No. 2 (summer is flipped in Australia).

The six seconds between Emma's and Mandy's 400 times seems wide, but Emma has a message about how core strength can close that gap in a meet. You can run one race in a blistering time, but can you run that time after four days at the world championships? What toll do three heats in the heat in the 100, 200, and 400 take on you?

Twice, McGowan said, she arrived to World Masters Athletics championships with inferior times in events and twice won gold medals.

“You can beat the world record, but it is one race,” Emma said. “When we go to Sweden you have three rounds. So it's whoever is the strongest can win because you can have a great time the month before, but then you have to race again and again in a few days.”

And there is a matter of pressure, even in Masters track.

“I always feel pressure at nationals or worlds because they are always expecting us to be on top,” McGowan said.

Emma has to be good on her feet. She has driven a school bus for special needs children for 16 years, which means she is up at 4:30 a.m. to get ready for pickups around Gwinnett County (Ga.) at 5:30 a.m.

When she gets home in the afternoon, McGowan trains. She has friends that race, but they train at night when she has to get ready for an early morning.

So she is solo with the workouts designed by Culpepper to get her on the medal stand in Sacramento in July (USATF Masters Outdoors) and Sweden (WMA).

“You have to train like a champion,” Emma said. “I have to push myself. There is no one else.”

Those days of relentless training—in track at least—will end next year.

McGowan will leave the sport gratified she didn’t waste her potential and had fun along the way.

It’s a lesson all those teenagers Emma beat should embrace. 

Please support Geezer Jock. And please share Emma's story. 


3 Responses

Emma McGowan
Emma McGowan

May 12, 2024

Thank you so much Ray for coming all the way to my track meet and make it happen! I love the article and your support, I really appreciate you. See you soon.

BOB DALTON
BOB DALTON

May 11, 2024

Good for you, Ray! I don’t follow pro sports at all. Like you, I root for the amateur who pursues their chosen sport for the love of the game. Thanks for bringing their stories to us and keep up the great work!!

Florence L Meiler
Florence L Meiler

May 11, 2024

Fantastic Story Love it.

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