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Women Shine In USATF Masters Indoors. Sisters Are Part Of Windy City Wave.

March 24, 2024 5 min read 1 Comment

Women Shine In USATF Masters Indoors. Sisters Are Part Of Windy City Wave.

Laura Hessel (left) and Linda Harper, twins born in Wisconsin, took gold and silver, respectively in the W70-74 shot put at the USATF Masters Indoor Championships in Chicago. They have some opinions on why there are twice as many men as women competing in the Windy City.

(This story was updated Sunday to reflect W70-74 weight throw and shot put results).

 

By Ray Glier

The twins, Laura Hessel and Linda Harper, refused to be indifferent, or go along, with life in their 60s. They would not settle for something so routine as “growing older” and they were on the lookout for something fresh. It was not fantasy.

It’s why Hessel and Harper, 71, are in Chicago this weekend at the USA Track & Field Masters Indoor Championships…

…and many other women are not.

There are 1,174 athletes gathered at the super-fast Dr. Conrad Worrill Track and Field Center. The meet started Thursday and goes through Sunday. The men number 823. Hessel and Harper are among 351 women. That is better than 2:1, which is crummy, if you ask Geezer Jock.

Why are these women, specifically these sisters, so different?

They are not former Olympians. They taught physical education, or were in law enforcement. They are not freaks with late-life athletic ability. You bet they are relatable.

What they did, simply, is throw themselves out there, literally and figuratively, by learning the throwing events in a track & field meet.

In your 60s, you get to decide for yourself what you do, the twins say. It doesn't have to be heaving heavy things. It can be anything.

“Women are too afraid to start something new and try to do something they've never done before,” said Linda, who lives in Hopewell, Va. “Or, they did it when they were in high school and college and now haven't done it for maybe 20 years and many times they're too afraid to get out and try.”

“You've got women with kids and careers and you kinda have to wait for the kids to leave the home before you have time to train and learn a lot of new things,” said Laura, who lives in Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada.

What's ironic is that of the nine individual world records set in Chicago eight were  set by women.

Hessel became a thrower at 65 years old. Harper became a thrower at 68. They will compete Saturday and Sunday against each other in the weight throw and shot put, respectively (W70-74).

Laura will throw under the Canadian flag and Linda under the U.S flag, which would make them—again—the only twins ever to compete in a Masters track meet for two different countries.

Laura won the Women's 70-74 Weight Throw on Saturday morning with a throw of 37 feet, 5 inches. Linda finished fourth, but was awarded a bronze because her sister was non-American is a USATF-sanctioned meet.

Sunday, Laura won the shot put with a throw of 27 feet, 10 inches. Linda was third with a best throw of 23 feet 1 3/4 inches, but was awarded a silver because her sister was non-American. 

Hessel has made herself into a force in Masters track & field. She finished 2023 ranked No. 1 in the world in the outdoor throws pentathlon (hammer, shot put, discus, javelin, weight throw).

“No way I saw all this,” Laura said. “You have to learn things, especially physical things, things where you have to be in good enough shape to try some of this stuff.”

Hessel is No. 4 in the world indoors in weight throw going into the Chicago meet. In Alberta, she trains with her husband, Patrick Hessel. Success comes from repetition and studying video and consistent training.

Laura’s goal in Chicago is to break the indoor shot put record set by the great Myrle Mensey (8.83 meters). That’s the other ingredient to taking on something radical at 65: a competitive fire.

Her sister Linda is just as wound up. Harper had to drop out of pickleball because “I was too competitive.”

Here is where the twins get really relatable to the rest of us.

Harper broke her foot two years ago and continued with the sport. In 2023, she tore the meniscus in her left knee. She competed anyway in the big meets.

“I was hoping for more last year, but my knee didn't cooperate,” Linda said. “So I had to just go with the flow and do what I could.”

Harper takes a music box and video camera to a local high school to work out three or four times a week. She videos everything and then Linda, her sister and husband, critique it for technique flaws.

“It’s just so much fun,” Linda said.

We all can remember to do that. Have fun.

And here is something to grab onto. Women benefit  more from exercise than men.  No one is saying twice as many men than women are active. It's just happening in competitions, that's all.

**

One more minute, please.

The twins grew up in Kenosha, Wisconsin and were sprinters in high school and college. Now here they come at track & field from a different angle. They understand why men have a head start in the throwing events, but that is no reason not to try the muscle events.

“Men have really good upper body strength and most women have never really had very good upper body strength,” Laura said. “It’s testosterone, but it’s also not being trained. Running, everybody used to do running. You have to have strong shoulders for this, and a strong back. You have to really work on it.”

They came out of the womb with the same physical features…and the same mindset about what’s still possible. The sisters will not sing that mournful ballad, “I Used To Be Young” in Chicago this weekend. They will throw. Then they will go home and throw some more and spread the word what a blast it is.

Hessel and Harper will compete this summer at the USATF Masters Outdoor Championships in Sacramento and the World Masters Athletics meet in Sweden, and in many other events.

Why all this juice? Where does this come from?

“I think it’s the camaraderie among the athletes and then also the ability to push yourself to try to improve your distances and try to improve your strength,” Linda said. “It’s trying to improve your technique and just go have fun.”

Geezer Jock ® is FREE. Please consider supporting me because there is value in storytelling. I have been telling stories for 48 years for newspapers and magazines and websites worldwide. Buy a hat or tee-shirt for the coming sun. Please share the story.


1 Response

Florence L Meiler
Florence L Meiler

March 26, 2024

Very warm and interesting story. Enjoyed the story very much. Flo Meiler

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