Virtual Challenge Returns to Celebrate Masters Athletics

Last year, a group of Masters Athletes conceived a virtual competition to honor Toronto2020, our cancelled WMA Championship. We asked our MastersRankings.com, also known as World Masters Rankings, to help as we could not be directly involved at the time. WMA representatives helped where we could including advising on rules for a virtual competition and officiating at competitions. These athletes, like WMA and MastersRankings, were focused on fostering worldwide camaraderie. This was especially important during the early months adapting to the pandemic effects.

Gottfried Gassenbauer, M60, AUT, a Challenge founder, shown supporting Masters Athletes!

The Worldwide Virtual Masters Challenge was quickly organized so athletes could still compete in a World Championship in absence of Toronto2020. The rules allowed for a wide range of competition conditions so almost anyone could participate. The short time between announcement and organization meant fewer athletes were aware of the competition or didn’t have the time to prepare. In spite of the short, advance notice, athletes from 61 nations registered for the Challenge. Many of the participants said they were thrilled to be able to compete and shared their experiences with their friends around the world. The event brought a little normalcy in the abnormal times.

Challenge founders Guy Dirkin, M65, GBR, and Andy Vince, M60, GBR join US athletes Robert Arello, M60, David Coughlin, M40, Gary Dixon, M60, Roland Jones, M65, Mike Ryan, M60 and Thomas Sputo, M60 for a Challenge competition.

We are thrilled the Worldwide Virtual Masters Challenge Team is again planning another event honoring our postponed 2021 WMA Championship. The event, like last year, will be contested similarly to a WMA Championship. It will run from 26 June through 11 July to be close to the dates of our postponed competition in Tampere. Registration opens on 24 April (click to register). WMA is not directly involved as organizer, but several of our representatives will be volunteering, assisting and advising. Actually, we are checking how we can support this event further!

Meirwyn Walters, M55, USA, Challenge founder, runs with his mom, Mair Walters, W90, GBR, in her first athletic competition.

 

We hope you will share this with other athletes and participate, even if you are able to attend live competitions. This event is an opportunity for those who are not able to attend live competitions and others who cannot afford to travel to WMA Championships. Having bigger competition groups will mean a lot to everyone.

The Challenge Team, with advice from us and others, tried to make the event extra special. They listened to athletes. The team used feedback to devise a simple means to submit results. They also developed rules to allow athletes to compete under almost any circumstances and compare themselves to other competitors the way they thought fair (see Results). Diplomas were prepared for each participant and Special Awards were given. Diplomas and Special Awards will be given for this event. Organizations and people interested in providing or sponsoring a Special Award should contact the Challenge Team.

Margit Jungmann, WMA President, officiates competition in Germany including Christine Ecker, Margret Klein-Raber, Patricia Metzger and Birgit Ott, W55; Silke Stolt, W50; Bettina Daniela Schardt, W45; and Anke Rehlinger, W40. Margret set a national record here. This was Anke’s first international competition!

Athletes went to great lengths to compete, banded together to hold contests, frequently wore team uniforms and made it a special event with their own special touches. Louise Reed, W85, CAN, was very disappointed that they could not attend their first ever World Championship and share with her family who lived close to Toronto. She and some other athletes had organized a competition where athletes would time and measure each other at a track. Each wore their Team Canada singlets with pride. Louise also planned on having her family join her by making cardboard cutouts of her family and putting in the stands. While she wasn’t able to make them, her family was with her, in spirit, cheering her on.

Deb Cane, W40, USA, was locked down and could not get to a track. That did not deter her from competing. She and her family measured a path for steeplechase laps around her home. Her family made a steeple barrier which they moved in front of the deep end of their pool when she needed to water jump. They marked off a course in their neighbourhood, blocking driveways, so Deb could run the 400m Hurdles while being cheered on by her neighbours.

The highlight of the Challenge for Meirwyn Walters, M55, USA, a founder, was the performance by his mother, Mair Walters, W93,  GBR, the second oldest competitor, who was competing in her first athletic competition of any kind. He had been trying to get Mair to join him at a local meet for ages but the prospect was too daunting for her. She sees the photos of Meirwyn’s impossibly fit women MassVelocity teammates and they are an intimidating bunch! The beauty of the Challenge is that it allowed a number of people in similar life circumstances to give it a shot from the privacy of their neighborhood track. Colleen Milliman, W90, USA, former WMA record holder in the mile, was also registered for the Challenge but not in the 100, 800 or 1,500.

The 100 was the thrill for Mair, Meirwyn and the rest of the Walters’ cheering section. When the “gun” went, she took off and started running at an honest stride that would have gotten her 3 penalty flags and a DQ if she had been racewalking. She even had a bit of a lean at the finish. After a warm-down, which every elite athlete knows to do, she exclaimed that she could not remember the last time she had run and that the feeling of freedom was exhilarating. Mair won the 100, 800 and 1500 meaning that, for the first time ever, the Walters household has a World Champion!

Lester Laughton, M65, Jim Blair, M85, Kelley Charles, W35, Toni Oudemans, W40, Alison Newall, W70 and Noni Callander, W70 met on a cool winter’s morning in Dunedin, NZL to throw in the Challenge. Everyone was pleased to represent New Zealand and some, in spite of the cold, threw personal bests!
José Ángel Salguero Tencio, M65, CRC running 200m in the streets with a bib made by Team Costa Rica epitomize the spirit of Challenges.

WMA Members were also actively involved helping their athletes register and participate. The Worldwide Virtual Masters Challenge Team awarded ADEMA Costa Rica, especially Lauren Retana Vargas and Erika Krumm,  the Team Spirit Award, sponsored by MastersRankings.com, to recognize their exceptional work to help their athletes. Lauren registered many of the 54 Costa Rican athletes. ADEMA Costa Rica made bibs for each of the athletes; measured race distances on roads and in fields since they could not run on a track; timed races; officiated events, videoed performances and shared athletes’ experiences on social media. The team made this really special for their athletes. They continued making this Challenge special for the athletes by conducting an award ceremony  to present the Team Spirit Award medals to them.

The Challenge Team was nervous while watching one athlete running 200m in the streets near his home. A dog was running and appeared very close to interfering with the athlete. Thankfully the dog crossed the path before the athlete so the Team did not need to decide whether to credit him with 200m hurdles too!

There are so many stories we wish we could share. Clearly, this event was an amazing opportunity for athletes worldwide to do what we love. We look forward to hearing more of your experiences participating in the 2021 Worldwide Virtual Masters Challenge!