Carol Bauer is passionate about running and competing.
She’s been coaching track and field at Fieldcrest since the school’s inception in 1992 and later started the school’s cross country program.
While coaching is at the top of her list of passions, Bauer still loves to compete herself.
And nothing stops her.
Despite having hip replacement surgery on May 1, Bauer competed this month at the National Senior Games, which are for athletes age 60 or older. The games are held every other year.
To qualify, athletes must finish top three in a qualifying meet or reach a certain time or distance.
Bauer, who ran track at Illinois State University, qualified by winning the 1,500 meters (6:39.88), the 400 (90.73), the 200 (38.41), placing second in the 800 (3:27.11) and taking third in the shot put (7.38 meters).
Due to her hip replacement, Bauer was only able to compete in the shot put at the national meet.
In the past, she’s run 12 marathons — including the Boston Marathon five times — and competed in triathlons and obstacle course races.
The NewsTribune caught up with Bauer to discuss her experience at the national meet, her desire to compete and her love of coaching.
NewsTribune: How long have you been involved in this type of competition?
Bauer: This is my third year. I did not realize they existed previously. I have done the USATF (United States Track and Field) races. In 2011, I competed in the World USATF Meet in Sacramento, Calif. That was pretty exciting. These athletes are older, but many of them competed and represented their countries in the Olympics.
NT: What was the experience like at the national meet?
Bauer: It was amazing. This was the largest national meet ever. There were 13,112 total athletes competing. It wasn’t just track and field. There was pickleball, softball, volleyball, bike races, triathlons and golf. It’s very similar to the Olympics except none of us are in the prime shape of our lives. But it’s a celebration of life and being physically fit.
One of the posters I saw that I really liked said, ‘The Senior Games: The real senior moment.” I thought that really captured the whole deal. The woman who won the shot put threw almost 35 feet. You get that type of athlete then you get someone like me who is kind of serious and wants to do their best but this isn’t our main focus. Then you get other women who because they are a little older or because their school wasn’t as progressive, they never had an opportunity to be an athlete and they’re just excited to be part of it. We all come together and we just enjoy it.
NT: How did you finish in the shot put?
Bauer: I finished about the middle of the field. I had hip replacement May 1 and that was very disappointing. I qualified in the 200, 400, 800 and the 1,500 and I had the best shot put of my life to get third to qualify, so that was a huge surprise. It turned out to be a blessing because I’m still not running. I’m walking pretty aggressively, but still not running. I went and watched the 1,500, and if I had just run my qualifying time, I would have medaled. It was a little hard to take, but I took away how lucky I was to be part of it all. Two years from now, maybe I’ll try again. You never know what life will bring you though. I didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity just because I couldn’t do the event I was best at it.
NT: When will you be able to get back to running?
Bauer: I’m getting close right now. I’ve kind of shuffled along. I went to Rush for surgery. The surgeon said I was ready to start running. My hip is healed enough, but I know I’m not ready. He said I would be able to run marathons and if I wanted to run a 100-mile race, the hip will be strong enough to eventually hold up to the training. We’ll see on that. I said I’d never do Boston again every time I’ve run Boston. I did my first one in 1989 and my last one in 2016. I do think it might be kind of cool to qualify one more time with a replacement hip. That’s kind of the carrot out there.
NT: Why do you like to continue competing?
Bauer: Some of my passion is always rekindled with coaching. Most of my athletes are guys, but when I give them a workout, they know I’ve already done it. It’s just the respect of them knowing I’m in the trenches with them, and while I’m not nearly as fast as they are, I understand the pain.
Some of it stems back to my age group, which refers to itself as Title IX babies. My freshman year of high school was the very first year of intercollegiate sports in our area. I remember, and girls today would cringe thank goodness, but the week of our first basketball game we were in home economics class using patches you would put in the knees of jeans to cut out our numbers and iron them onto cotton T-shirts, and those were our — air quotes — school-issued uniforms. We really had to fight for the right to be treated equal, and that’s kind of a loose phrase. I think when I go to these senior meets now, the largest groups are right around mine because we take it as an opportunity. It’s something that wasn’t guaranteed to us so we appreciate it. Some of it is, we continue to compete to show the girls who are coming up that this is there for them.
NT: Do you do other competitions besides track and field and marathons?
Bauer: I did an Obstacle Course Race last summer or two summers ago. It’s one of those where you’re climbing up ropes, jumping off things into water, climbing over bars. It’s one of those really crazy things. It was the first time I’ve ever done it, but I did a lot of training at Xercise Science to work on my upper body strength. I moved into first in my age division in the last 30 meters of the race. I saw a woman in the mud pit and I could see the finish line. I dove into the mud pit, crawled on all fours past her and qualified for Worlds in London. I didn’t do it, but I was proud I could take on a completely different sport and do that.
I have done triathlons and I did finish the Wisconsin Ironman where you swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 then run a 26.2-mile marathon. It keeps training exciting.
(Competing) keeps me relatable to the athletes I coach. I do all this and I love it. I’m passionate and very dedicated, but I truly love coaching and helping other people. Seeing a high school athlete whether it’s a kid who had never broke 30 minutes in a 3-mile race get a (personal best) or having a Brian Peterson who got second in state in cross country and won the 2-mile in track, the thrill is the same watching a young person do something they never thought they could. That moment when you hug them after a race and they’re like, ‘I never thought I could do it. Thank you.’ That’s what’s really important.
I love what I do (competing) and it’s for me, but when I coach them, I like to think at that moment the world is a little bit better of a place.
NT: Do you plan to continue coaching for a while?
Bauer: I retired from teaching last month. I got my 400 wins in (junior high) volleyball last season so I retired from volleyball. My 4-by-800 that qualified for state are all returning. I told them when they were freshmen I would see the group I had at that time through, so for sure I’ll coach two more years then I’ll evaluate.
If somebody young and passionate came in and really wanted to coach and give the kids what they deserve, I’d be glad to step aside and maybe be an assistant or volunteer coach. I want it to be someone who plans on teaching in the district and staying around for a while. Right now, there’s not anyone like that in the wings.
Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.