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Claremonters definitely walk the walk

When Claremont resident Mark Blaes first witnessed race walking, he was intrigued. The participants all looked great, even though some were over the age of 80.

“They looked so fit, so I figured they are doing something right,” he shared Tuesday evening during a break in a race walking class sponsored by the city of Claremont.

As a result, two years ago Mr. Blaes, with his wife Evelyn Blaes, recruited their longtime neighbor Sue Nayar to give the race walking class a try and decide whether they liked the sport. Now they are all hooked.

Ms. Blaes and Ms. Nayar had been walking partners for years and even completed the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon.

“Our walking was kind of our therapy. For when the kids get on your nerves,” Ms Blaes shared. Transitioning to race walking just made sense to them. Plus, they have made many new friends.

Many local race walkers cite the Pilgrim Pacers, including Bill and Grace Moremen, as an inspiration in starting the sport. The Pacers work out five days a week at Pomona College and their focus is heavily on competition. Some participants felt there was a need for an introductory class.

Retired sociology professor Ann Stromberg had been a runner most of her life, but was interested in a lower impact activity that was still a good workout. She thought it might appeal to others as well. So Ms. Stromberg approached the city four years ago about offering a relaxed beginners course in race walking as part of the senior recreation program.

Since then the class has evolved and now includes both beginners and intermediate race walkers. Some of the original students, including Carol Dyar and Sheila Kryger, have become competitive.

“I love being involved in a sport that is much less jarring but still a fabulous cardio vascular workout,” she said. “Many people in the class used to be runners.”

One of those former runners is Phalana Tiller, who ran 400- and 800-meter races in high school. Ms. Tiller, who admits she instantly became obsessed with race walking, has been involved for 18 months and was introduced by taking a Claremont recreation class.

“You can’t fudge it, you have to do it right. But it’s not harsh on the body and makes you stronger,” she said.

They have a team of teachers, many who started as students, including Ms. Tiller, who lead the class Tuesday evening at the Claremont High School track. She took the 13 participants through a series of drills that exercised their bodies and also their concentration.

The mental aspect of race walking stems from competitions, during which participants must follow strict rules. First, the leg must be straight when it hits the ground and remain straight until it passes under the body. Second, one foot must be on the ground at all times. Essentially, they must be walking and not running.

Race walking has been an Olympic sport since 1908 for men and 1992 for women. The Olympic distances are 50k and 20k, however local events are shorter, 5k or even 1500 meters. It is a race, so the first to cross the finish line wins. However, there are also five judges to make sure participants don’t break any rules.

This Sunday will be the third annual Claremont Classic race walking meet beginning at 7:30 at CHS. For the first time the event will include a 1500-meter and 5k race sanctioned by USA Track and Field. Racers must register in advance, but there will be an 800-meter fun race walk where anyone can participate. Record-setting race walker and master coach Susan Armenta will conduct a clinic during the event.

Organizers are expecting 40 competitors from a wide range of age groups with medals for the top three places in five-year age brackets.

“We won't know until Sunday for sure, but racers could range from middle school kids to 90-year-olds. It's a great intergenerational sport,” Ms. Stromberg said.

“The Claremont Community Foundation, Claremont Sunrise Rotary Club, and others have been generous in supporting the growing number of race walking activities in our city,” she said.

These include sponsoring Marcus Fortugno, who coaches race walking under head track and field coach Jonathan Eagleton, at El Roble as part of the city of Claremont’s TRACKS after school program.

The summer course offered by the city of Claremont will take place June 5, 12 and 19, from 6:30 - 8:00 p.m. with Ms. Armenta conducting a clinic during the third meeting. It has been relocated to the Pomona-Pitzer track due to scheduling conflicts at CHS. Registration is available at the city’s website and the course is open to those of all ages, not just seniors. The cost is $5, which covers the expense of keeping the lights on.

Maria Donhauser is new to the class, but enjoys walks and decided to give it a try. “I like to walk but I had not idea I would have so much fun,” she said.

—Steven Felschundneff

steven@claremont-courier.com