NEW HAMPSHIRE'S Joanne Dow is hoping to go out on a high note.
One of the most decorated race-walkers in American track and field history, the 48-year-old Manchester resident will compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials Sunday morning in Eugene, Ore.
The oldest member of the U.S. Olympic track and field team four years ago, Dow said she doesn't expect to make it to London for the 2012 Games next month but does hope to close her career with her head held high.
Her event, the 20-kilometer (12.4-mile) race walk, kicks off the last day of the trials, beginning at 10:30 a.m. EDT.
“This is a chance to write the last chapter, to close the book on my race-walking career and retire from competition,” Dow said.
“I really felt like I needed a sense of closure. It was still walking, but not with any purpose. This gave me a goal and a purpose for a year. I'm going to give it a go.”
This will be Dow's fifth Olympic Trials. She made the team for the 2008 Games in Beijing, where she finished 31st. Her racing resume includes three outdoor USA Track and Field championships, five indoor national titles and a bronze medal at the 2003 Pan Am Games.
With such a storied career behind her, Dow wants this one last chance to race in front of her family — less than two months after her daughter, Hannah, received her undergraduate degree at the University of Pennsylvania and the same week Joanne received her master's from the University of New Hampshire.
“I really just want to be able to walk a respectable race,” Dow said. “My goal for the race is to walk a smart race, and I hope to feel good physically. I want to share this one last experience with my family.”
The final hurrah comes at a time when Dow is moving on to a new phase her life. With her newly minted master's in kinesiology, earned while serving as a part-time assistant cross country and track and field coach at UNH, she hopes to land a full-time coaching job in the near future.
“I realized a few years ago that I wanted to coach at the college level,” Dow said. “I went back to school to get my master's and got college coaching experience. I spent two years focusing on the next step of my life.”
Dow put race-walking on hold to complete her master's, but coaching college athletes changed her perspective. Working with the Wildcats gave her a spark and told her maybe it wasn't quite time to call it a career.
“The energy over there at UNH was great. I did some workouts with (the student-athletes), and they went on some walks with me. It was fun for me again,” Dow said. “It helped to keep the fire burning the past six months.”
A toe-dip back into the race-walking waters at the USATF Indoor Championships in New Mexico last winter did not go as well as Dow would had hoped.
“It was out in Albuquerque, and it was at altitude, and it was awful,” Dow said. “I came home and said to (coach Rob Hoppler), 'I'm glad I did that because it was the reality I needed.'”
But after placing fifth in Albuquerque, Dow raced in California shortly afterwards, and the result was different.
“I raced a 20K a couple weeks later and felt good. I walked faster than I thought I would,” she said. “That's how I ended up back here.”
Dow was already qualified for the Olympic Trials thanks to her spot in 2008, but her results in California earned her an Olympic B qualifying standard.
So on to Oregon and her farewell event. But regardless of her finish on Sunday, Dow's place in race-walking history is secure. She remains an inspiration to younger race-walkers and often tells them that they have plenty of time.
“I hope that one of the things I've been able to contribute to the sport is the sense that this is something you can do (long-term),” Dow said. “This isn't four years or eight years and you're done. There is some longevity in this sport.”
- - - - - - - -
Ian Clark may be reached at email@example.com.