Dr. James Veenstra, pathologist and owner of JVee Graphics, has a lot to be proud of this year. In less than a year since he began competing, he has won the U.S.A. Track and Field Masters 5K Race Walk in his age group.
For those of you who have never heard of race walking, here is some background on the sport. Race walking first appeared in the Olympics in 1904, but it did not get its own event until 1908. The two strictly enforced rules of race walking are: one foot must always be touching the ground and the knee must be straight as the foot comes down. Because the knee is straightened, according to Veenstra, the shock of the impact is transferred to the upper body. This makes the sport easy on the knees while still using 95 percent of the body’s muscles.
Race walking being easy on the knees is what initially attracted Veenstra to the sport. He used to be a runner, but after suffering a knee injury he could no longer continue. However, as a physician Veenstra is very passionate about people staying active, especially as they age, and he wanted to find a way to maintain his activity level without further damaging his knees. Brent Bohlen and his book Boomer Walk helped Veenstra a lot because it is about why the Baby Boomer generation should try race walking to stay active. Once he tried it, he never looked back.
While race walking is an Olympic sport, there are many opportunities for Baby Boomers to compete. The two biggest competitions for seniors (in most instances this means age 50 and up) are the National Senior Games and The U.S.A. Track and Field Masters. The National Senior Games take place every two years and will occur in 2015. To compete in it, one must qualify at one of the state senior games (some states, like Illinois, call these events the Senior Olympics). At the U.S.A. Track and Field Masters, one does not have to qualify to compete, but there are preliminary rounds to go through. At the U.S.A. Track and Field Masters, at age 30 the officials begin to separate the competitors into five-year age groups.
To train for a competition, Veenstra begins by doing a 5K race walk every weekday and incorporating some speed work (moving up to race pace for a certain amount of time) during the week. As the competition gets closer, he tries to do a 10K race walk and speed work twice a week. At the U.S.A. Track and Field Masters that took place July 17-20, 2014, the training paid off because Veenstra won the 5K race walk in his age group. He also performed for the first time in the 10K race walk, but was disqualified at the end because he violated one of the two rules mentioned above three times.
Veenstra already has his sights set on the 2015 National Senior Games. He qualified for them by winning a 5K race walk in Iowa. Even though he has already qualified, he still plans to compete in the Illinois Senior Olympics in September because race walking is so much fun. Veenstra says he needs a competitive goal to keep himself motivated, but race walking is a fun and friendly sport. In his experience, everyone competing supports and cheers one another on; there is nothing cutthroat about it. In fact, one of his favorite moments from the U.S.A. Track and Field Masters was watching two teenagers cheer on their mother during a race walk. All in all, Veenstra says, race walking is just a great way to get moving.
Though it is a low-impact sport that anyone can learn to do, Veenstra recommends checking with a doctor before beginning any new exercise regime.