One week after her 50th birthday, Joy Upshaw was right where she wanted to be, 120 feet from the sand. It wasn't a beach, it wasn't outdoors, and it wasn't even in California.
It was in Albuquerque at the USA Masters Indoor Track & Field Championships, and Upshaw, who lives in Lafayette, was in the long jump, her first event in the 50-and-over age group. Down the runway she came, knees high, elbows pumping, her track pals alongside clapping in rhythm.
"I hit it right," she recalls, "and I knew it was far." What she didn't know was how far, 17 feet, 10 inches - a new indoor world record for women 50 and over, wiping out the old mark by 4 inches.
That's the magic of Masters. The older you are, the better you do, which is the opposite of open competition. The strategic position is being the youngest in your age group, which explains why Upshaw was pumped for the indoor nationals a week after her 50th.
In Masters there is no qualifying standard to compete. You just sign up and race. Some champions come out of nowhere. Upshaw is not one of them. She's been competing for 40 years, and in the long jump she carries the best pedigree in the Bay Area.
Her father, Monte Upshaw, 75, broke Jesse Owens' high school long-jump record. Her younger sister, Grace Upshaw, 35, jumped for the United States in the last two Summer Olympics. Her daughter, Sunny Margerum, 18, is a freshman jumper on scholarship at Cal. Sunny's dad is Upshaw's ex-husband, Ken Margerum, the famed All-America wide receiver at Stanford.
Margerum also ran hurdles and met Upshaw at a college track meet when she was hurdling and long-jumping for Cal State Hayward (now California State University, East Bay). As a collegian, her best long jump was 17 feet 6, and as a 50-year-old mom, she's already beaten that by 4 inches.
"Masters is about staying balanced and not over-training,' Upshaw says. "When you say 'I'm going to do this, I'm going to train five times a week,' that's when you get hurt."
If you want to take up distance running, there are clubs and klatches on every corner. But there is nothing for a middle-aged sprinter and jumper. A workout on the track takes about two hours, with warm-ups, stretching, drills to polish mechanics, sprint intervals, practice coming out of the starting blocks, and cooldowns. You can do it alone, but it's more fun with a partner.
That's why every Wednesday, Upshaw drives an hour to meet Debbie Deutsch at Gunn High School in Palo Alto. Deutsch, who is 51 and lives in Los Altos, ran track at Rutgers, but gave it up when she started a career and a family. She knew "Coach Joy" because their daughters are the same age and run track. Deutsch also has two sons who pole-vault, and after watching enough meets, "I called Joy when I was 49 and said, 'I want to start running Masters track, and I'd like to train with you."
Two years later, Deutsch won the 400 meters at the Masters indoors. The next day she took third in the 60-meter dash, just behind Upshaw, who was second and might have been first if she hadn't come directly from her world-record long jump.
"It was one of my best track days," Upshaw says, and also one of the best for Deutsch, who was running her first indoor races in 30 years. Between them they walked out that day with three golds, a silver and a bronze, en route to five golds, two silvers and a bronze rattling in their bags on the flight home.
Upshaw set a second world record in the 200, and has her four medals stuffed into her track bag. If you express an interest, she'll offer you one to keep. She's counting on there being more, when the World Masters Athletic Championships convene in Sacramento this summer.
Both women are 5 feet 7 with perfect running form, and when they do their drills side by side they could be sisters. They start by jogging a lap. Then they skip, forward and backward, and to the side. Then they sideslip for a lap, swinging their arms up and down like ballerinas.
"It activates you and works all planes," says Upshaw, who sets a tall standard, standing up straight even as she runs. "Posture is big," she says. "Posture, posture, posture."
The two women talk as they are walking back up the track after running a drill, and sometimes the conversation continues through the next set of sprints.
"We talk about our daughters and what they're doing," Upshaw says. Two years ago, Sunny Margerum won the long jump at the Central Coast Section track championship, and Christina Roche won the pole vault on the same day, just like their moms.
Deutsch is a hobbyist who has worked in sales for IBM for 30 years. Coach Joy is on a track every day for one reason or another. She shuttles back and forth to coach high school sprinters and jumpers at both Gunn and Acalanes, in Lafayette. When you ask her for a business card, back comes one emblazoned with the USA Track & Field logo. Among her titles is USA national team coach. She'll be with the women's team at the Pan American Games, a preview to the Olympics, in Guadalajara, Mexico, this October.
The other title on her card is Jack Rabbits Track Club director. Any kid, starting at age 3, can sign up (jackrabbitstrack.com), come out to the track and learn to run and jump the right way, from Coach Joy.
The back of her Ford Escape is crammed with a bag of spikes in all kids' sizes, and starting blocks and hurdles, tape measures, bags of buttons, and a box full of binders.
Upshaw designed the Jack Rabbits T-shirts, and she also designed her custom plate with the Olympic rings on it, "JKRBTS."
You can look for it on Interstates 280 and 680, Highways 92 and 24. You will be able to see it on I-80, come July, when Upshaw drives to Sacramento to go after the world record in four events. Riding along will be daughters Sunny and Windy, "my weather report," their mom says.
Coach Joy Upshaw, who recently broke two world's records in Masters Track, gives her five tips for healthy living:
1. Say "Hi" with a smile to everyone you meet.
2. Make quality time for friends and family.
3. Have good posture.
4. Pace yourself
5. Live "joyfully!"
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