February 03, 2024 4 min read 9 Comments
You can see Loretta Turner's powerful legs. You can also see the joy she gets from sprinting. The joy of running is no doubt one of the reasons she ranked No.1 in the world in the 50, 60, and 100 in 2023 (W65-69).
By Ray Glier
Loretta Turner’s speed was lost for almost 30 years in the dark shadow cast by her father’s anger. She was a very, very fast teenage sprinter out of St. Louis, a hopeful for the 1972 Olympics in Munich. But Loretta got pregnant and could not compete and her dad banished her to Mississippi for “shaming” the family.
And, just like that, her sprinting and dream were gone.
Years later, after her father had passed and she was governing her own life, Loretta said she prayed about what to do with the speed she knew she still had.
“Run,” the answer came back.
So Loretta ran again in 2003.
What was lost was found.
Turner, 69, has had a wonderful Masters track career and 2023 was especially wonderful. She finished 2023 ranked No. 1 in the world (W65-69) in the 50 meters (7.51), 60 meters (9.05), and 100 meters (14.10).
Turner not only returned to running, she competes with Crohn’s Disease and a flareup of the disease on the track is a constant worry.
Loretta, who lives in Powder Springs outside of Atlanta, is also an Air Force veteran. She returned to school in 2009 and earned a college degree in Human Resources. On top of that, Loretta earned a Masters. Turner did all that with 13 children and 46 grandchildren.
It is extraordinary what Loretta has accomplished, don’t you think?
“It’s a gift from God,” Turner said of her speed, but she could have been talking about her overall zest for life.
“No, I never thought I would be ranked first, never.”
Loretta is going to try and qualify for an exhibition race in the 200 at UCLA later this year. The race organizers are not offering the 100 in her age group. She hopes to go to Sweden for the 2024 World Masters Athletics championships in the summer for the 50-meter dash and the 100-meter dash, but that international trip can price people out of competing.
Go ahead, use this story as a testimonial for Loretta to be on Team USA.
Joseph Sims, her dad, was a runner. He saw immense talent in his daughter as a runner. Loretta was a prodigy, no doubt.
When she was 12, Turner won the 50 in a USA Junior Olympics event. She lost the 100 because she was out-leaned at the tape. Loretta was a child, after all. What did she know about sprinting and technique?
Sims proceeded to school his daughter on all things running. He knew she was fast. You bet he knew. Loretta didn’t lose many races and she was going to make a bid for the Munich Olympics in 1972, or possibly the 1976 Games in Montreal. She represented the U.S. in the Pan Am Games.
Then she got pregnant and the roof fell on her head.
Sims’ pathology was getting his daughter to the starting blocks at the U.S. trials. He was furious at the idea of a baby. Sims sent her to Mississippi. They didn’t speak for 16 years.
Finally, as he lay dying in 1987, Joseph asked for her forgiveness for exiling her from the family. She apologized to him for the hurt she caused.
“He never did see me race again,” Loretta said.
Joseph never saw her graduate from college, either, or get a Masters. Turner has authority over her own life now, but she still said about her college achievement, “I was trying to make up for disappointing my dad.”
The competitive sprinting in the family spanned generations. It was Sims who encouraged his daughter to run. It was Sims' granddaughter who helped spark Loretta to run again.
Marie Woodward, one of Loretta’s 10 girls, won a high school state championship in track. Marie earned a scholarship to track powerhouse, the University of Georgia, and it was at a UGa track meet in 2003 while watching Marie that Loretta said, "I can still do this."
Twenty years ago, she finally started to run again.
Loretta won gold medals at the 2023 National Senior Games in Pittsburgh with record-setting times in the 50 and 100, but late in the summer lack of funds kept her from the USA Track & Field Masters Outdoors Championships in Greensboro, N.C. Her best time in the 100 at an open race in Alabama in 2023 (14.1) would have won a national championship in Greensboro by more than a full second.
Turner was 68 and near the top of her age group in a sport where the younger you are in your age group, the more medals you win. Older than many rivals, Loretta still won.
Age is not holding her back. She will compete in as many meets as she can in 2024 with the goal of chasing the great Karla del Grande’s 13.91 world-record time in the 100 for women 65-69.
“Karla is so good, such a good person,” Turner said. “I keep up with what she is doing.”
The medals are not why Loretta runs. Her father is not why she runs. Loretta runs to ease the beehive of activity around a mother of 13 and grandmother of 46.
“There is always something going on around me and that keeps me stressed out a lot,” Turner said. “When I get out there to run it sets off the endorphins and it heals my body and I’m not stressed.”
The Crohn’s adds to the physical and mental toll. She can only train at a facility with a restroom and that’s why she picks a local track with a police substation across the street.
The disease is unforgiving some days and still she runs. A higher authority, not her father, encourages her to run.
“I am so honored right now to be No. 1,” Turner said. “I had nothing to do with it. I owe everything to God. I’m not taking credit.”
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