2014 State of the Union – USA Race Walking

For a few years now I have penned an annual State of the Union status report as I see the health of race walking in the USA. This year, like most, has been an interesting. In April, when I had to make the cut for the Penn Relay’s Women’s race walk (the men’s doesn’t require one) I had an epiphany. While the number of open and masters athletes was lower (partially by design of the time standards), the junior women’s entries were not only up, but the cutoff was 3 minutes faster than when I took over the Penn Relay’s race walks 20 some years ago. I was very proud of this accomplishment, but of course all I did was highlight the hard work of others. New York continues to supply better and better athletes. Efforts from those like Gary Westerfield and Shawn Fredrick and his close coordination with me on the NYACK race walkers have been a huge part of the success. So has the continued participation of the Maine contingent of race walkers (Too many people there to thank).

Never being one to want to do the same thing over and over again, I’ve decided to give up the reigns of the Penn Relays race walks. However, I realized after giving up my race walking team in Philadelphia only to see it disappear quickly, a defined plan needed to be in place. I was ecstatic that Solomiya Login and Ron Salvio agreed to help take over and we planned a 2 year transition for Solomiya to be in charge. Ron has since moved on to focus on the Pan Am trials.

One of the biggest issues facing the continued growth of race walking is what happens when the local pied piper moves on. We need those that inspire to put a plan in place so that when they do move on, race walking can continue. We can look across the country at areas like Philadelphia that were once strong centers of race walking that perished once their leader stopped promoting race walking. I bring this up both to inspire people to create transition plans as well as to highlight the need for walking communities.

Between the youth movement that centers around AC Jaime’s South Texas Walking Club’s December training camp and the depth of young women walkers reaching the Penn Relays, we need places for these walkers to continue walking. While getting it in the NCAA’s is a huge challenge, there are ways for high school walkers to continue race walking once they reach college. This includes going to an NAIA colleges, but also could include going to a college with a strong walking community.  

Recently I had two very positive experiences. I went up to Boston to run a race walking clinic. It was small, but enthusiastically attended with four youth walkers eager to learn. Ed O’roarke, a former competitor of mine (and far more accomplished of a walker than me) helped organize the clinic. I had one of the best weekends involved in race walking that I’ve had in a very long time. Working with the kids and adults in such a positive atmosphere reenergized me. I drove, the very long drive back, with a giant smile on my face.

The second experience I am just finishing as I type this. Tim and I were fortunate enough to be invited down to Bermuda to help jump start a national race walking program. Bermuda has a lot of interesting factors going for it when you consider trying to start a program somewhere.

First, they are the 3rd most obese country in the world. So while they have a lot of athletes and athletic facilities for a country of their size, they have a huge issue with sedentary living. They only have 60,000 citizens, but managed to have 50 people come to our first talk and 35 attend the weekend for a total of about 75 different people. Can you imagine a town/city with 60,000 people attracting 75 people to a race walking lecture? It was awesome. We couldn’t have had a more enthusiastic crowd and the hope of growing a national program was strong. It was refreshing to see how many people worked together to reach out to us, coordinate the multiple events, deal with the logistics of international permits, raising money, and much more. The air of cooperation was as pleasant as the bright sun shining down upon us. Our participants asked amazingly insightful questions and soaked up everything we could offer them. We hope the seeds we planted grow strong.

Sadly, it’s with this backdrop that I worry about race walking USA. We continue to be disorganized and petty. I have always self-funded my travel to the races I cover. However, I do require one thing to make it worth traveling. A press pass. I’ve always gone through USATF, but somehow now no one knows who I should go threw for the Olympics. I finally gave up. My understanding is you have to apply 2 years in advance. So for no other reason than organization, we will not have my coverage at the next Olympic Games. (in 2012 I didn’t go because I applied to late and that was on me).

Another recent exhibition of how we fight ourselves is the yahoo race walking newsgroup. Newsgroups are fading away as more interactive forms of social media take focus away from them. However, they are still viable for those shunning Web 2.0. I received an email complaining about my email signature. I understand it’s excessive, but my life is excessive. Many people in the work world have email signatures linked to work. Mine lists every endeavor I am involved with.  The exact message I received was The problem lies in the NON- Racewalk related website listing after your name. In looking at these sites, I'm especially surprised that you would include a political website in view of the fact that others before you have had their membership changed to moderated  status because of similar such postings.” After a heated discussion that my site really wasn’t political I was told to have nothing in my signature unrelated to race walking. Really? Are we going to police everyone’s signature? Apparently, yes. “With that said I guess I will now have to look at how list members sign their emails in the future.” However, that hasn’t been the case. Others have posted multiple times with non-race walking signatures. Having race walking in my signature, for non-race walking emails, has brought lots of attention to race walking. There is no way I am going to have multiple signatures and sterilize every message to make sure I don’t have something non-race walking mentioned. I am sorry to say the race walking yahoo newsgroup just isn’t that important. So the result is that I have stopped posting to the race walking newsgroup and when I update I will stop promoting it. I have a larger private email list than the newsgroup and I am tailoring my emails to them as well as facebook. So those only on the newsgroup will now miss out. Sometimes, my posts are self-promotion (clinics, book, and special offers) other times it will be race reports or new resources. Tim and I are working on a generic Why Walk Presentation that we were asked to do for Bermuda that we will make public for distribution to help grow the sport. However, I will not be making it public on the list because I will respect the “rules.” The question is can race walking afford silly nitpicky rules? I think not. So I bring this to us as we head to the national convention. I implore those that are going to focus on what matters. The long term growth of race walking.

Tim coined Project 9. The goal is simple to send 9 USA race walkers to the Olympics. That should be our goal. We currently have two of the fastest four women ever in the USA race walking and both have the time standard for next year’s World Championships and hopefully the Olympics. Currently, no men have the standard at either distance. More work still has to be done.

Jeff Salvage