Friday, January 28, 2011

More Race Awards (the Not-So-Good Ones)

Yesterday I posted "awards" for races that I had run. They were the positive awards. Today's post is also an awards ceremony of sorts, only these are the ones that are not so good.

1. Amateur Hour: The 2003 Hohenfels Box Run 10K was the most amateurish race that I have run. Even though I was part of the race committee, I did my best to disassociate myself from it. Just about everyone else on the committee was a non-runner, and it showed. All of my suggestions were vetoed. But on to the actual race...On the course there was some confusion about which way to turn because the turns weren't clearly marked. I followed the runners in front of me and hoped that they made the correct turns. There were no computers, or even a person with a clipboard at the finish line, to record race numbers as the runners finished. Each racer was given a popsicle stick with a number on it which corresponded to their overall place in the race. The team competition wasn't decided by the times of the 5 best runners on the team, like in any other race. It was decided by adding up the numbers on the popsicle sticks. The team with the lowest total was the winner of the team competition. At the awards ceremony only one woman over 40 was given an award (the top 3 in each age group were supposed to receive awards), even though there were at least 4 women over 40 in the race. The organizers didn't figure on any teens being in the race and didn't have any awards for them. Someone managed to scrounge up a trophy for the winning teenager, which said, "1st place men 70+." I guess if that kid is still running in his 70s, he'll have a race trophy.

2. Water, water everywhere (except on the course): Most race organizers plan for the right amount of water on a course. There have only been a couple of races where there wasn't enough water. One was the 1993 Race of the Champions Half-Marathon in San Diego. It was the first, and last, time that that race was run. There was enough water for all at the first water point. But after that there was nothing for those who were midpack or back of the pack runners. Fortunately, there were a lot of nice homeowners who let the runners drink from their garden hoses. The 1996 Munich Marathon organizers also missed on providing enough water at the later water points.

3. Ho-hum: Most organizers plan a fairly scenic course because they want to attract more runners to their races. Most of the races that I have run have nice scenery that takes my mind off of my tired legs. But the 1989 Rancho Penasquitos Town Center 5K was not one of those. It started and finished in a big strip mall. The course was an out-and-back on a main suburban street with more strip malls and some houses. The Amberg Half-Marathon course is nice, but monotonous. Runners must do the same loop 3 1/2 times before finishing on the track of a sports complex.

4. Go Before You Go: If you run a race in Germany, don't count on having any Porta Potties on the course. Make sure you "take care of business" before the race. When I raced in San Diego, all of the long races had Porta Potties. I never needed one; but it was nice to know that they were there just in case. It surprised me when I ran the 1993 Munich Marathon and didn't see a single Porta Potty along the course. At the start area of the 2010 Munich Half-Marathon (the companion run to the marathon) there weren't enough toilets or Porta Potties. A lot of women, myself included, ended up using some nearby bushes before the race.

5. Unequal Spacing: The Muenchener Stadtlauf (Munich City Run) is one of my favorite half-marathons, mainly because I love running through the English Garden and finishing on the Marienplatz. However, the water points have some odd spacing. The first one is at the 5 km mark, which is standard in a German half-marathon. The second one isn't until the 13 km mark. The 3rd and 4th ones are at 17 and 19 km. The weather is often warm in late June, when the Stadtlauf is held. Eight kilometers (about 5 miles) is a long way to go between water points, especially in a warm weather half-marathon. After the first time I ran the Stadtlauf, I learned to carry a drink with me.

6. Ugly T-Shirt Contest: The ugliest race t-shirt was the one for the 2007 Munich Marathon. It was black and grey, which was bad enough. But the pattern on the shirt was downright ugly. If you wanted a shirt, you had to pay 30 euro for it. You couldn't have paid me 30 million euro to wear that shirt. Needless to say, I didn't buy one. Honorable mention goes to the shirt for the 2010 Muenchener Stadtlauf. Every year the Stadtlauf runners receive a free technical t-shirt, which they must wear in the race instead of a number. It's orange and changes slightly every year. Last year there were black stripes on the sleeves, which seemed out of place with the rest of the orange and white shirt. I liked the Stadtlauf shirts from 2007 and 2008.

7. German Inefficiency: On a word association test, the word "efficiency" generally follows "German." Not so at the 2010 Muenchener Stadtlauf. In previous years, there was one line/stop for race day check-in. It was quick and easy. Last year the organizers changed the check-in procedure and made it more cumbersome. I had to stand in one line to check in and get my t-shirt claim check. Then I had to stand in another line to get my t-shirt. It took close to 30 minutes to check in instead of 5 with the old procedure. The organizers really need to go back to the old, efficient check-in procedure.

8. Where the Heck is Parsberg, Germany, California? The award for the most geographically challenged race organizers goes to the 1993 Race of the Champions Half-Marathon. Each racer was photographed during the race and proofs were mailed to them afterward. Remember, this was in the days before digital photography and online ordering. I put my German street address in Parsberg on the entry form. When I finally received the envelope with the proofs, about 3 months after the ordering deadline, it was addressed to me in Parsberg, Germany, California. Parsberg's postal code of 92331 could theoretically be one in southern California. The people who sent out the photo proofs must have thought that Parsberg, Germany was a city in California based on its postal code. Finally, someone wrote, "Try Federal Republic of Germany" on the envelope and it got to its correct destination. I would have thought that the word "Germany" would have been a good clue that Parsberg was not in California. I guess it wasn't.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Racing Awards

Here are "awards" for races that I have run:

1. Most Fun Atmosphere: The Neumarkter Stadtlauf (Neumarkt City Run) 10.5 km and half-marathon runs. Before the run there is lots of music and crowd support. The announcers get excited and that carries over to the runners. After the race it's like a big street fest with music, refreshments, and a good crowd. One of the things that I miss about living in Parsberg was running Neumarkt. Every one of my friends who ran Neumarkt also enjoyed it.

2. Most Scenic Course: The San Diego Half-Marathon, which was held in Carlsbad, CA when I ran it in 1991, went along the Pacific Ocean. There were nice ocean views going out and back. For those who prefer greenery, 18 of the 21.1 kilometers of the Muenchener Stadtlauf (Munich City Run) half-marathon are in the English Garden.

3. Most Varied Course: The Neumarkter Stadtlauf has everything: roads, dirt paths, grass, gravel paths, a wooden bridge, and even cobblestones.

4. Most Labyrinthine Course: The Munich Marathon from km 31 to about km 39. That's the part which goes through the Old City. Every time I've run that course, I felt like I was in the middle of a big maze because there are so many twists and turns. I just followed everyone else and hoped that they were all going the right way.

5. Hilliest Course: The San Dieguito Half-Marathon is 21.1 km of rolling hills. I don't think that there's a flat spot anywhere on the course. When I ran it back in 1992, I felt like I was either going uphill or downhill. The Garmisch Cross-Country Challenge 5K is also very hilly, though there are a couple of flat sections. The Eibsee Herbstlauf (Autumn Run) has a 350 meter climb and then about a 100 meter drop. The first uphill and last downhill sections are fairly steep. On the climbing sections, there are several long, grinding hills.

6. Best Crowd Support: The Neumarkter Stadtlauf and the Berlin Marathon had lots of people along the course to cheer on the runners. There were lots of people lining the streeets in the last kilometer to give a final energy boost to the tired runners.

7. Coldest Race: The Seubersdorf 9.6 km Silvesterlauf (New Year's Eve Run). When I ran it in 2002, it was just above freezing. At around the 8 km mark, it started to rain. There's nothing like freezing rain to motivate a runner to get to the finish line faster. When the freezing rain started to fall during that race, my first thought was, "Now I know why so many great runners come from the British Isles. They run in this all the time and want to finish their workouts as quickly as possible so they can get warm and dry." The race organizers served hot tea at the finish line. I usually don't drink tea after a race (tea at races is a German thing), but that time it really helped me to warm back up.

8. Hottest Race: Tie between the 2000 and 2001 Regensburg Half-Marathon and the 1992 America's Finest City Half-Marathon. When I ran those races, the weather was very hot and humid. Both of those courses had a lot of sun and very little shade. Fortunately, there were plenty of water/sports drink stops. It was also warm at the 2008 Munich Stadtlauf. But it didn't feel quite so hot because a lot of the race was in the shade.

9. Steepest Hill: The Seubersdorf Silvesterlauf. The last 500 meters of that race are all uphill. It's not a nice, gradual uphill, but a very steep one. Just when you think you're going to get a personal record because the rest of the course was flat, you hit the hill. It seems even steeper because it's at the very end of the race.

10. Most Ironic Sense of Humor: The final turn of the 1994 Berlin Marathon was at the 40 km mark. On the corner where the runners turned, there was a group of about 20 men from Denmark wearing "Music Man" style band uniforms. They were singing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" from Monty Python's "Life of Brian."

11. Most Personal Races: The Amberg Half-Marathon and Velburg Osterlauf (Easter Run) have small fields. As the runners approach the finish line, an announcer calls out their names and where they're from. All of the runners, from the winner to the last place finisher, have their names announced. Even if you finish at the back of the pack, you feel like a winner when you hear your name as you cross the finish line.

12. Best Finish: The Munich Marathon finishes in the Olympic Stadium. After running just under 42 km, the runners go through a tunnel to the Olympic Stadium track. There are colored lights flashing and music playing in the tunnel. Whenever I've gone through the tunnel (three times for the marathon and once for the half-marathon), I had a brief moment when I thought about how the marathon runners in the 1972 Olympics must have felt when they came through the tunnel and onto the track. I love the Olympic Stadium track. It's made of high-tech material that's very springy and feels heavenly after pounding the pavement for all of those kilometers. Every time I ran on it, I wished that the whole course was made of the same material as the track.

13. Best Post-Race Refreshments: The Neumarkter Stadtlauf hands down. The race organizers in Neumarkt have anything that a runner could want: fruit (bananas, apples, oranges, lemons), different types of rolls, cookies, cakes, pretzels, energy bars, water, sports drink, and tea. Those are all free. There are also booths set up where people can buy soup, sausages, beer, and sandwiches. The 1992 Rainforest Run 5K in San Diego gets a special mention. I don't remember the post-race refreshments there except for the ice cream. Ben and Jerry's was a sponsor and gave out free ice cream to the runners.

14. Best Prize Drawing:  The Eibsee Herbstlauf. One of the best things about the Eibsee race is the drawing after the award ceremony. Nobody goes home empty-handed. The three grand prizes are pairs of running shoes. There are other nice prizes like: T-shirts, technical clothing, special coffee mugs, discount coupons for the sport shop where one of the organizers works, and much more. The one year where I was able to stay for the prize drawing I won a high-quality pair of warm mittens and a calendar.

15. Best Post-Race Memory: The 2005 Hohenfels Box Run 10K, where the team that I was on won the team title. That was the year of my 1-2-3-4 finish: 1st place team, 2nd in my age group, 3rd woman overall, and 4th place member of my team. Getting individual awards in that race was nice, but winning the team title was even better. The year before, my team was 2nd place by 20 seconds. In 2005 every member of the team was determined to win the team competition. Charlie, Lee, Frank, Jack, and I all gave our best and carried our team to victory by a large margin. It was a real thrill to stand on the stage with my teammates, get a 1st place team medal, and hold the team trophy.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Parenting Blog Parody

Last month I wrote a post about parenting blogs. A couple of years ago at work my boss, co-workers, and I were talking about the "Life on the Home Front" column in the Stars and Stripes. My boss had the same sentiment about that column that I did. It was like an accident on the Autobahn. You know that you shouldn't look, but end up doing so anyway.

When I first came to Germany in 1992, I had no clue about military life. One of the other civilian contractor wives, who was a friend of mine, was equally clueless. Both of us arrived in Germany at the same time and we learned together how to fit into the overseas Army culture. We had our impression of what the perfect wife was supposed to be. Neither of us fit the bill. As a joke, my friend bought me The Air Force Officers' Wives Survival Guide, which was last updated around 1953. According to friends of mine who are Army officers' wives, most of the things in that book aren't done anymore (e.g. leaving a calling card after a social function). The following is a piece that I wrote about two or three years ago, just after the discussion with my boss and co-workers. It's a parody of "Life on the Home Front" (and more recent parenting blogs that are similar to "Life...") and those guides on how to be the perfect military spouse.

A Guide For Military Officers' Wives:
Part 1: How To Choose the Right Toilet Paper

One of the duties of an officer's wife is to be a good hostess. The most important item that will reflect your skills as a hostess is toilet paper. You will never want to be scandalized by the other wives complaining about how your toilet paper feels like newspaper. Nothing stops an officer's career like being called into his commander's office because the toilet paper in his home had the feel of old corncobs.

Buying toilet paper in the Commissary can be one of the most complex tasks you'll perform as a military officer's wife. First of all, there are so many different brands to choose from. Plus, each brand comes in so many different colors. It's enough to make your head spin!

Whenever I buy toilet paper, I make it a family affair. But can you imagine...each member of the family has his or her own preferences. They actually have knock-down-drag-out fights in the paper goods aisle trying to figure out who got to pick out the toilet paper the last time we went shopping.  Herkie, who likes white Charmin, complains that Junie, who's partial to pink Northern, got to pick out the toilet paper last time. Davy likes light blue Scott because it goes with the blue bathmat. He says that it's his turn to pick the toilet paper. Herkie and Junie disagree, and they get into a real tussle over it.

Meanwhile, Bruno is watching the twins Billy and Bobby wander over to the napkin section. Billy and Bobby tear into packages of dinner napkins before Bruno can stop them. The only one in the family who is well-behaved is Baby Ricky, who sits drooling in the shopping cart. Fortunately, Ricky hasn't figured out his favorite toilet paper yet because he's still in diapers. But I noticed that Ricky doesn't like the Huggies baby wipes that I used with Billy and Bobby because they give him a rash. I use Pampers wipes on Ricky because they don't give him a rash. I also used Pampers wipes on Herkie and Junie. Davy, Billy, and Bobby could use any kind of baby wipe without a reaction.

But back to picking out toilet paper. Two-ply is always best because it's more cushy and absorbent. One-ply tears too easily and you have to use twice as much as the two-ply. Imagine the shame of the colonel announcing to all of your guests that your toilet paper fell apart while he was doing a rear end wipe up!

Now that I've established that two-ply paper is the best, it's time to pick the brand and color. This is where it gets very difficult. The floor of my bathroom is white. The walls have blue trim. Our bathroom towels are blue to match the blue trim on the off-white walls. The curtains in the bathroom are blue with white trim. The shower curtain is also blue and white, but it also has yellow and pink flowers on it. So...the dilemma I want my toilet paper to match the floor, the towels, the walls, the blue and white in the curtains, or the flowers on the shower curtain while maintaining the right level of softness to prevent complaints from the other wives?

Bruno doesn't really care about toilet paper. He'd use newspapers and old  magazines if they were available. Typical man! But the kids are very choosy because the wrong toilet paper could ruin their social standing at school. One time I bought yellow Northern to go with the flowers on the shower curtain and to provide some color and contrast to the bathroom. But Junie complained that the pink flowers were being left out. Davy said that the toilet paper should be blue. But then again, blue is Davy's favorite color. He likes everything blue. I even have to put blue food coloring in all of his food to get him to eat it.

Since I have a hard time deciding which toilet paper to pick, I leave it up to the kids. I always resolve to write down who chose the toilet paper last time so that everyone will remember and things will be fair. But making lists of who did what is such a chore! But I guess I'll have to start doing that when Bobby, Billy, and Ricky get old enough to express their toilet paper preferences. What a family milestone that will be! I just can''t wait to find out which brands and colors they'll prefer.

Next week: You think that buying toilet paper in the Commissary is a chore? Wait until we learn about buying aspirin in the PX. You'll need that aspirin for the headache that you got from buying toilet paper.

Friday, January 14, 2011

I'm Healed!

About a month ago I strained a left calf muscle. I did all of the right things after getting injured: rest, ice, massaging the area, and cross-training. It got better, so I started running on the treadmill. Everything was fine until I re-injured it two weeks ago running outdoors. The muscle didn't hurt when I skied, probably because the pressure of the ski boot on the sore spot was like trigger point massage. It was also okay when I used the elliptical trainer at the gym. I went back to a beginning runner's program, starting off with just a few minutes of slow running on the treadmill followed by time on the elliptical trainer. I gradually increased the number of running minutes and decreased the corresponding number of minutes on the elliptical trainer. This past week my leg felt great.

Today the weather was warm and sunny. It was more like April than January. I thought about going to the gym, but just couldn't pass up the opportunity for an ice-free outdoor run. My plan was to run slowly for as long as my leg felt good. As soon as I felt something pulling or any pain, then I would walk. Everything was great today! I ended up running 5 km without any pain. OK, when I got close to my turnaround point, I felt a slight twinge in the muscle, which quickly disappeared. My pace was very slow. It took over 28.5 minutes to run a course that I normally do in around 25. But just being able to run again was such a great feeling. I know that my speed will come back. The important thing is to take it slowly and gradually increase my speed and distance. If I'm going to be on an injury rehab program, this is the best time because it isn't racing season. I'll have a few months to work my way back into racing form.

When the weather is on the cool side, I tend to go too fast. That is probably how I reinjured my leg--I ran outside on a very cold day and was trying to get warm quickly. I overdressed a little bit this morning so that I wouldn't be tempted to go fast in order to warm up. My plan worked because I kept a slow pace the whole time, though I was faster on the return leg of my out-and-back course. I'm glad that I was able to cross-train by skiing and using the elliptical trainer. It would have been much worse if I couldn't do anything at all. But best of all, I'm happy that my leg has finally healed.

It's amazing how our bodies tell us that we need to slow down and take it easy. My late running partner Bill used to tell me that injuries were caused by three things: 1) increasing mileage too quickly or too much mileage,  2) excessive speed or increasing speed too quickly, and 3) both 1 and 2. I'll add a fourth thing to Bill's list: not enough rest or down time. I know that I haven't really been taking much down time. Perhaps this injury was my body's way of telling me to take a little break from running. Our bodies are wonderful things, though we don't always want to listen to what they're telling us.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

R.I. P. Dan 16 August 1951 - 8 January 2010

Daniel my brother, you are older than me
Do you still feel the pain of the scars that won't heal?
Your eyes have died, but you see more than I
Daniel, you're a star in the face of the sky.
Elton John "Daniel"

Wow, I can't believe that it has been a year since Dan died from pancreatic cancer. He was one of my oldest and dearest friends. Dan and I met when I was 14 and he was almost 22, yet we hit it off immediately. Even though there were long gaps where we were out of touch with each other, whenever I needed a friend I could pick up the phone and call Dan. We would pick things up right where we left off. With the Internet and e-mail, we were better about contacting each other. I loved his e-mails with his unique brand of humor. They were real day brighteners.

When I met Dan, he worked as a directory assistance operator. He used to tell me some of the funny names that he came across in his work: a doctor named Dr. Bloodgood, a woman named Betty Broom,  an orthopedic surgeon named Dr. Bones, and a gay bar/pool hall called Steelball City. Dan knew lots of good, and not so good, jokes and loved to tell them every chance he got. In fact, his last e-mail to me was a series of jokes.

One of my favorite memories of Dan had to do with how his wit defused a situation. We were driving somewhere in the San Fernando Valley. It was a summer night and the car windows were open. We were stopped at a red light. A car with a couple of 20-something men pulled up next to us. The driver looked our way and said, "You're cute. Why don't you come with me instead of him?" Most men would have seen that as a challenge and would have confronted the driver. Dan looked at the driver, bent his wrist, and said in his best imitation of a stereotypical gay man, "I think you're cute too." The driver then said, "I was talking to her." Dan said, "She's okay, but you're much better looking. Why don't we get together sometime." As I was laughing, the light turned green and the other car sped away.

But even though Dan loved jokes and humor, his life wasn't all fun and games. When he was awarded custody of his son, he took his role as a father very seriously. Dan looked up to his own father to help guide himself in raising his son. Dan was really affected by his father's death and said that his father was his biggest role model. When his mother needed assistance, he was there with her through the end of her life. There were also some unfilfilled dreams in Dan's life. He admired the police and wanted to be a policeman. In fact, he had the opportunity to go to the police academy. But he had to turn it down because he had recently gotten custody of his son and didn't want to leave him for the training period. He also never found the right woman who could give him what he needed. He and his first wife married young and the marriage didn't last. He had other relationships after his divorce, but they didn't last. One of my wishes for Dan was that he could find the same happiness with a woman that I have with my husband. But it wasn't in the cards.

Dan was a big (American) football fan and his favorite team was the Pittsburgh Steelers. His favorite college team was UCLA, which was also mine. He also cheered for the Rams and Raiders, even after they left Los Angeles. During the NFL playoffs, we would make friendly wagers on the games. The winner got bragging rights. He won most of these bets because I would pick underdog teams. He teased me about cheering for the New Orleans Saints when they were one of the worst teams in the NFL. I'd tell him,"One day the Saints will be good and you can say you knew me when I cheered for them during their bad years." It's a shame that Dan died about a month before the Saints won their first Super Bowl. This season he would probably be lamenting the fact that a 7-9 team made the playoffs while several 10-6 teams didn't. He hated the current NFL playoff system.

There were times when Dan and I could have had the opportunity to have a relationship as lovers instead of friends. But the timing didn't work out. When the timing was right for one of us, the other was in a relationship. I think it worked out better that we were good friends rather than lovers. If we were lovers and broke up, we would never have spoken with each other after the breakup. But as special friends, I had the privilege of being able to know Dan for over 35 years. 

Over the last year of his life, we were getting into a period of sporadic communication with each other. Dan was having vision problems, which made it hard for him to use the computer. I thought that he might have been a bit depressed because most of his e-mails lost their usual touch of humor. He would tell me that he really had nothing to say. When his e-mails started bouncing back to me last spring, I thought that he got rid of his Internet service because he said that he hardly checked his e-mail.  In August I finally got around to writing a letter and sending it. When the letter came back as "undeliverable," I went online and found out that he died earlier in the year. I then dug through my old e-mail (there's an advantage to never clearing out the inbox) and found the e-mail address of his surrogate sister Diane. Dan was an only child and Diane was the sister that he never had. He and Diane were also special friends for over 30 years. Diane told me about how Dan was sick with the flu in November and looked extremely sick at Christmas dinner at her house. Dan went into the hospital right after Christmas and died on 8 January. Diane and her husband were with Dan during his last days, so he didn't die alone. I'll always be thankful to Diane for making sure that someone was there for him in his final hours.

Whenever I'd go back to the States, I made it a point to see Dan. During one of my trips, he told me that he was honored to be my friend. But he got it wrong. I had the honor of being Dan's friend. Now when I look up at the sky on a clear night and see the stars, I think about the Elton John verse above and know that one of those stars is Dan looking down on me.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Not Yet Ready for the Rocking Chair

Growing older has made me appreciate what a "masters" athlete can do. I was lucky early in my running career to have met two awesome women, Pat and Sally, who were the perfect role models for what an older athlete can accomplish. I ran with them in San Diego, when I could keep up with them. I was a new runner in my early 30s when I met them. Sally was in her 50s and Pat was in her late 40s. Sally ran marathons and even did the Ironman Triathlon in her 50s. Pat ran marathons and ultra-marathons. Both women are still very active. Sally, who is now in her 70s, recently ran the Las Vegas Half-Marathon and placed in the top half of her division. Pat, who is in her late 60s, is fitter than most women one-third her age. When she was 65, she won her division at the Lincoln (Nebraska) Half-Marathon by a fairly large margin. She also does archery, long distance cycling, and recently tried kayak water polo. Pat and Sally would be right at home in Garmisch, where the bike/running paths, ski slopes, and hiking trails are full of senior citizens.

Even though I'm over 50, I still haven't slowed down significantly. In fact, all of my personal records (PRs), except for the half-marathon, were set when I was over 40. One of my friends, who was an elite-level 800 meter runner, said that it's very unusual for runners to set PRs in their 40s. Over the years, I realized that it's important to listen to my body and train smarter instead of harder. For example, when I ran my first three marathons, I had a rather brutal training program. I couldn't wait for the race to be over so that I could rest. When I ran my most recent marathon, at age 48, I incorporated a lot of rest into my training. As a result, I looked forward to running the race and enjoying the experience. It was the most fun that I had running a marathon and I set a new personal record, taking 5 minutes off of my old PR.

There are several professional athletes who are considered "old" who I admire. The obvious "old" athlete who people in the States know is Brett Favre, the quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings. But there are older athletes in other sports who aren't as well-known as Favre, but their accomplishments are also worthy of admiration.

Oksana Chusovitina (USSR, Uzbekistan, Germany), gymmastics: When one thinks of gymnasts, the first image that comes to mind is a skinny 14-year-old girl. Oksana is now 35, a mother, and still competing. In 1991 at age 16 she was the floor exercise world champion. Twelve years later she won a world championship on the vault. In 2008, at age 33, she won the Olympic silver medal in vaulting and had her best finish (9th) in the all-around competition. Oksana has competed in a record 5 Olympic games (1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008) and is training for her 6th in 2012. She is the only active gymnast who competed for the former Soviet Union. Oksana competed for the Soviet Union and her native Uzbekistan and now competes for Germany. Here are a couple of Oksana's medal-winning routines:

1991 World Championship Floor exercise finals (gold):
2008 Olympic Vault Finals (silver):

Carlos Lopes (Portugal), distance running: Most marathon runners are in their late 20s or even their early 30s. Lopes was 37 when he won the 1984 Olympic marathon gold medal. Before his marathon success, he won a silver medal in the 10,000 meters in the 1976 Olympics, then seemed to have disappeared from the running scene. Lopes came to the 1984 Olympic marathon after nearly missing the games because of being hit by a car. His accident didn't stop him from winning gold and setting a new Olympic marathon record. The following spring, at age 38, he ran the Rotterdam Marathon and set a new world record. Lopes retired in 1985.

Patrick Jaerbyn (Sweden), Alpine skiing: Most Alpine skiers retire in their late 20s or early 30s. Jaerbyn is still competing on the World Cup circuit at age 41 and is the oldest currently active professional skier. Last year he competed in the Winter Olympics at age 40. Even though he didn't win a medal (he got injured in one of the races), he won the admiration of the spectators for being in the Olympics at his age. This season he is not slowing down. He had two top-10 finishes in downhill and Super-G races and will probably have a few more before this season ends.

Michael Walchhofer (Austria), Alpine Skiing: Walchhoffer is 35 this season and one of the older skiers on the World Cup circuit. He is the "old man" of the Austrian ski team. Before this season started, Walchhoffer said that it would be his last. He is certainly showing the others that getting older doesn't mean getting slower. This season he has won 2 downhills and one Super-G, and the season is nowhere near over. Last week he became the only skier to win the treacherous Bormio, Italy downhill three times. In addition, he is currently the leader in the overall World Cup standings and ranked first in both the downhill and Super-G events. It looks like Walchhofer will go into retirement from racing on a high note if he continues his current pace.

Here is Walchhofer winning a downhill in Val D'Isere, France in 2005.

While I will never reach the heights of Chusovitina, Lopes, Jaerbyn, or Walchhofer, I hope to be like my role models Pat and Sally and stay active when I become a senior.