In 1994, while teaching a fitness-walking class, Joanne Dow met some members of the New England Walkers Club and became interested in race walking. Not long after, she attended a clinic presented by Martin Rudow, former Men's National Race Walking Team Coach. Rudow announced to the participants that those who walked fast but had horrible technique would get the most out of the class. Dow identified with this description completely.
During the clinic, Rudow told Dow she had the potential to race with the best women in the sport if she decided to train. That weekend she walked a relatively mediocre 10K (54+ minutes); in a very short time Dow would enter the World Cup trials and finish seventh.
Vastly improved and just two places from making the team to compete at Beijing, Dow wasn't disappointed. She had created a stir, and word spread about this newcomer to the race walking scene. She took the comments in the best possible light and felt more motivated than ever.
Dow next walked a sub-48 minute 10K at the National Invitational in Washington, DC. Finally comprehending her potential in the sport, she realized she needed a coach and fortunately found Mark Fenton. Sadly, her timing couldn't have been worse. Like many newbie race walkers, Dow had become great very quickly, but at a cost: she tore her hamstring, an injury requiring a lengthy recovery. After nearly a year—and without a good training base—Dow entered the 1996 Olympic Trials. Her tenth-place finish and berth to the U.S. Women's National Team could be considered a great success.
The following two years proved very fruitful as the combination of Fenton’s guidance and Dow's hard work paid off. She achieved personal records, walking the 10K in 45:36 and the 20K in 1:33:27. Though proud of the times she walked, Dow feels even prouder of her ability to pull things together under pressure. Representing the U.S. at the Pan Am Cup in Miami, she was concerned about finishing the 20K distance in the heat. She believed the international contestants would be more adapted to the hot and humid conditions. When the field went out conservatively, Dow took the lead. As the race progressed she continued widening her gap, never looking back as she achieved her first international gold medal. She continued her winning ways at the Goodwill Games, winning the bronze medal at her first-ever track 10K and beating all the Americans and two Russians in the process.