December 03, 2022 5 min read 4 Comments
Photo by Rob Jerome. Angela Staab locks in before a discus heave in a USA Track & Field Outdoors Masters Championship in 2021.
*Hospital executive runs a 5K, launches herself into Masters track & field.
*She may compete in as many as 10 events at 80 years old at the 2023 National Senior Games.
*Pictures at the bottom of the story.
By Ray Glier
We all carry around freight that makes us feel that life has limits. Angela Staab had her share of freight, mostly because of a frenetic job as a healthcare executive, but also because she was a mom and a wife with a sense of duty. She felt limited about what she could do physically because her time was limited.
It took one race for Angela to subscribe to a different ideology about how to deal with life’s supposed limits.
Staab entered a 5k in a Corporate Challenge for her hospital in North Carolina. She was 55 years old. She could walk, of course, but that was the extent of her pace. She needed to finish the 5k in 45 minutes or less, or her team would not get the points. She had to run.
Two weeks before the 5k—just two weeks—she trained with two of her daughters, both athletes. They ran with her, exhorting her to pick up her knees, push through the tired lungs, swing her arms as she ran, and they helped her tear down those limits.
The day of the race, her daughters took Angela’s watch from her so she wouldn't be nagged by the timekeeper. They ran with her. They were the nags.
“Every time I would slow down they would say ‘Hurry up mom don’t let that truck in the back of the race go by you, that would be embarrassing’,” Staab said.
She finished the 5k in 36 minutes and finished 1st in her age group. That was 24 years ago.
It turns out time wasn’t putting limits on Staab. It was her frame of mind.
She was unleashed…and thoroughly undiminished by physical and mental limits.
Staab is proof you don’t have to be a lifelong athlete to suddenly find your stride in exercise. The willpower and courage can descend on most people who open themselves up to it. It takes a nudge, that’s all.
Angela ran the Disney Half Marathon, and did a triathlon with her daughters, and became addicted to running and fitness. She is one of a handful of people who have earned the Phidippides Award (gold) from USA Track & Field for 14 years or more. She would run 5ks throughout the year to earn the distinction.
“My running,” she said, “gave me peace of mind. So I kept doing it.”
She didn’t just run. Angela has been recognized as a national champion by USA Track & Field 14 times in an array of running and throwing events from the middle distance, to discus, to hammer, to shot put, to the javelin, and super weight.
“I’m not a jumper,” she said, as if anyone can accuse her being a slacker.
In 2021, at the age of 78, Angela was ranked No. 1 in the world in the 75-79 age group for the 200, 400, 800, and 1500 in 2021 indoors (www.mastersrankings.com). There were not many competitors worldwide in 2021 because of Covid, Angela admits, but she is proud nonetheless to have the rankings.
Staab will go to Pittsburgh, where she born and raised, for the 2023 National Senior Games and compete in at least nine events. She will be 80.
At the 2022 National Senior Games in Ft. Lauderdale last May, the then 79-year old Staab competed in 11 events. Her best individual finishes were 7th in the Hammer and 1500, but she also got a bronze in a 4X100 relay.
Angela was on the podium in a blue USA team suit in Finland for the 2022 World Masters Athletics championships. The U.S. had the only 75-79 4X100 and 4X400 relay teams entered so they all received gold medals. It was quite a thrill for a woman who, once upon a time, was wondering about her fitness to run a 5k.
“No, I did not think any of this was possible,” Angela said. “I enjoyed running just to get away from everything else that was going on. I didn’t imagine all this.
“The thing that kept me going were my children and my husband. They encouraged me and they go with me to events, if they can.”
Ten years ago, Staab was starting to capsize from all the training and the mash-up of so many events and was warned by her doctor to get a trainer. Her hamstrings and right hip were sore, among other things, and she needed a restrained regimen.
So, she got a trainer and saved herself from breaking down. Mondays and Wednesdays, Staab does a variety of workouts from biking to weights to the elliptical machine. Friday is her day on the track with interval training, 2.1 miles, which builds endurance. She runs a 5k on Saturday and cross-trains with pickleball and swimming.
This is her idea of restrained? At 79?
Staab has been arthritic, she said, since she was 16 years old. She finally had the right hip replaced four years ago. But she cannot be otherwise stopped and does not want to be stopped because she knows what it is like on other side…a fully regressive life, one where infirmities take over, and "too old" becomes your identity before you are ready.
Angela’s motto lays it all out:
It’s not how old you are but how you are old.
“You can’t be a slug,” Angela said. “If you are a slug, you’re not going to make it.”
She saw plenty of people in her hospital job in Reidsville, N.C., that had given up on exercise and were slug-like with chronic diseases. Some walked with an oxygen cylinder trailing behind them and Staab could not, would not, shrug at it.
She put some of those people, who considered themselves foregone, on treadmills with their oxygen. They started to improve their fitness and backed away from the edge of being completely helpless.
“Some of them were in wheelchairs and ended up walking a half mile,” Angela said.
Staab has this kind of anything's possible influence on people and walks the talk. On a lark, she entered a senior’s beauty pageant in North Carolina. In preparing for the stage show, an organizer asked her what her talent was that she could take on stage.
“I do track and field,” Staab said. She was told that skill did not easily transfer to a stage in a performance hall. She told the pageant organizers she could demonstrate her Tai Chi, which she uses as a warm-up for meets. That would do, she was told.
Angela finished first runner-up.
“I won because I was an athlete,” Staab said. “There were women more beautiful than me and they could sing and dance and do readings, but I was an athlete and wore some of my medals, and my world games track suit from Finland.”
Angela’s track & field friends kid her about the tiara she playfully put on for opening ceremonies in Finland. They called her “Mrs. Fru Fru.”
From a raw, untested runner, to Mrs. Fru Fru, it has been quite a ride for Angela Staab.
This is how you do it. Angela Staab draws back to heave the javelin.
Front row middle is Angela Staab, first-runnerup in North Carolina pageant.
Mrs. Fru Fru rocks her tiara in Finland with the U.S. team.
Gold Medal winning relay team in Finland: left to right, Ann Carter, Angela Staab, Mary Trotto, Barbara Hensley.
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