June 25, 2022 4 min read 6 Comments
Photo by Rob Jerome. Barbara Warren (red) battles Flo Meiler in the hurdles. Warren is also battling a bad knee as she departs for the World Masters in Finland.
By Ray Glier
Barbara Warren says she needs to have parts replaced, as if she is a balky roadster, yet she won’t stop for repairs. Warren’s motor doesn’t purr, but it runs and that will have to do. To stop would mean putting herself up on cinder blocks, maybe to run again, maybe not.
“Knee,” she says of the part in question that is the biggest troublemaker. She won’t get a full replacement until she can find a doc who says she can keep jumping after the surgery. That’s not a little jump to reach something on a high shelf. That's high jumping, triple jumping, long jumping, hurdles, and pole vault.
The list of things one can do on a Franken-knee, according to the experts Warren won't listen to, are cycling, swimming, gentle aerobics and a few other low-impact activities. There is nothing low-impact about Barbara Warren.
“I’m researching,” said Warren, the life-long researcher, who was a scientist for a chemical company in Charleston, West Virginia.
Regenerative medicine has not caught up with her so she scours the medical journals. Hip resurfacing, over hip replacement, has solved issues for extreme runners, and Warren needs a similar solution for the knee.
In the meantime, she competes.
It’s a lesson for all of us. Don’t wait for life to be perfect. Get on with it.
Warren, 75, would have the “emeritus” label pinned to her if she ever gave up Masters Track, or was more casual and entered one or two events, not eight, or nine, or 10. She can go from the track to the jumping pits to the throw area and everyone in her age cohort knows her. Warren is their biggest cheerleader, their companion, their salve. The Grandmother among grandmothers.
At the National Senior Games, she skipped one of her own medal ceremonies to film her friends in a relay and inject a needle of encouragement.
“Nancy Berger, move your butt,” Warren shouted out over the track.
“Gooo Mary Robinson.”
“I’m an extrovert,” she said.
You don’t say.
Warren’s lanky body keeps telling her it’s time to retire, what with the severe osteoarthritis, aching elbow, and that knee, which is only slightly better than the other knee.
“If you have arthritis, it hurts less if you keep moving,” Warren said. “So I keep moving.”
She's not wrong, according to the Arthritis Foundation.
Warren is not just a cheerleader. She is the object of cheers. She has the U.S. record for the decathlon (70-74), which she set in 2017 with 4,921 points. In Ft. Lauderdale at The National Senior Games, Warren had two silver medals (hammer, triple jump) and four bronze medals (discus, high jump, pole vault, long jump).
She was clearly hobbled finishing with the worst time in two heat races in the 75-79 cohort for the 100.
Warren was at the Ohio Senior Olympics on Friday and Saturday and won eight golds and two silvers. She is on a plane to Finland for the World Masters Athletics meet.
July 28-31 she will compete at the U.S. Track & Field Masters in Lexington, Ky., which is just three hours from home.
Warren’s thing, among many things she does, are the throws. She was a weightlifter and she can separate herself from the competition in the decathlon and pentathlon heaving the hammer, the javelin, discus, and shot.
The World Masters is going to test that knee and resolve. In Finland, she is entered in the hurdles, 100, 200, all the throws, all the jumps, pole vault, and throws pentathlon and regular pentathlon.
In an email response to a question about her WMA schedule, Warren said, “In horrible shape and urgently need left knee replacement, but will try all.”
Osteoarthritis affects over 30 million Americans and it can be debilitating. It’s as if she is rock climbing with fingers missing. It is why Warren has a bigness to her on the masters track circuit. We shouldn’t be surprised. The woman comes from Big. She is surrounded by Big.
Her father, General Robert H. Warren, was the fourth superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy (1962-65). He flew in WWII, the big one, as commander of the 376th Bombardment Group. Warren also served in the Korean War while his daughter, Barbara, was five-seven years old. Lt. General Warren was the sharp end of the spear (yes, his daughter kept her maiden name. Surprised?)
Barbara’s husband, Duane Dombek, ran the Boston Marathon in two hours, 46 minutes in 2000. That’s really good. More significantly, he is still working as the VP for Research & Development for a non-profit, MATRIC, which came out of the ashes left by the profiteering of Union Carbide. The culture of innovation by Ph.D.’s at MATRIC, like Dombek, belies the reputation of West Virginia as a stone age state.
And her children? Just as Big.
Warren’s offspring create a bottleneck at the top of the success cone. One daughter is a Ph.d chemist. Another daughter is a hematologist/oncologist. A third daughter is an astronautical engineer, and a former U.S. Air Force officer. A fourth daughter plays the French Horn in orchestras in Massachusetts and has an education degree and is an elementary school music teacher.
The boys are no slacks. One son is an electrical engineer. Another son is a regional, multi-state restaurant manager.
“My children are smart,” Warren said.
Warren is no lame brain. She went to Stanford where she was on he swim team one year. Like her husband, she was a scientist in her professional life.
Her life now is keeping the wheels on while she breezes around various tracks cheering on her friends and entering as many races as she is able.
But somebody, please, send Barbara Warren a doc who will pop the hood and prescribe what she wants and needs: a new knee to stay in the game.
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