ADVENTURES IN FOOD AND FITNESS: Indiana Tech distance runner gives race walking a try

Indiana Tech senior distance runner Aleesha Goodwin competes in her first meet as a race walker Jan. 19 at Goshen College. (By Tanya Caylor for News-Sentinel.com)
Indiana Tech senior track athlete Aleesha Goodwin, left, listens to advice from Tech distance coach Kristi Walker-Zoltek after a Jan. 19 race-walk meet at Goshen College. (By Tanya Caylor for News-Sentinel.com)
Indiana Tech senior Aleesha Goodwin (wearing No. 1, at right), listens to instructions before a Jan. 19 race-walk meet at Goshen College. Because the field was so small, male and female athletes competed together in the race. (By Tanya Caylor for News-Sentinel.com)
Indiana Tech senior distance runner Aleesha Goodwin, a former track and cross country star at South Adams, is trying race walking this season in an attempt to qualify for the NAIA nationals. (By Tanya Caylor for News-Sentinel.com)

The field was small but intimidating, with an Olympic finalist on the track.

When the judge asked whether anyone had never competed in an official race-walking event before, only Indiana Tech senior Aleesha Goodwin raised her hand.

The former South Adams track and cross-country star was experimenting. Frustrated with her form – “I’m kind of a shuffler,” Goodwin said before the Jan. 19 race at Goshen College – she was heeding Tech distance coach Kristi Walker-Zoltek’s suggestion that her low leg lift might actually be an asset in race walking.

Neither of them knew much about the obscure event. But with a relatively small pool of athletes competing for a spot at the NAIA nationals, it seemed worth a shot.

Goodwin finished last at Goshen, with a time of 18:44 in the 3,000-meter event. But she wasn’t discouraged.

“It was fun,” she said.

There’s a lot more to race walking, it turns out, than simply walking fast. The rules dictate that you keep your front leg straight and maintain one foot in contact with the ground at all times.

The most obvious difference is in the hip rotation, which looks odd but boosts speed and efficiency while using more muscles and burning more calories than regular walking. Competitive racewalkers can maintain speeds of up to 8-9 mph at marathon distances, yet injuries are uncommon.

“Race walking is hard,” says former Goshen track coach Doug Yoder, who started recruiting race walkers a little over a decade ago after meeting Ohio high school star Tina Peters, who went on to become four-time national champion while at Goshen.

Race walkers, he says, are “very committed and serious athletes” who work just as hard, if not harder, than anyone else on the track team.

“It is not for everyone, and not everyone can do it successfully. I have worked with some good athletes that just couldn’t do it – they couldn’t get the technique,” Yoder said.

Though not well known these days, racewalking was a popular spectator sport in the 1800s and has been an Olympic sport for more than a century.

“Back in the day, people would bet on race walks. Now it exists primarily in small pockets around the country,” says Jennifer Peters, who helped time the event at Goshen.

The wife of former USA Track and Field national race walking chairman Vince Peters, who coached their daughter Tina as well as current Goshen race walking coach Jacob GunderKline at Yellow Springs High School in Ohio, says their daughter learned the sport at an age when most kids are trying T-ball or soccer for the first time.

Peters can vividly recall her kids racing around the dining room table, with 6-year-old Tina admonishing her younger brother, “bent knee, Andy, bent knee!”

According to Yoder, it’s actually possible for a race walker to walk as fast as he or she can run, at least in longer distances. That wasn’t the case at the relatively short indoor race at Goshen, which was the equivalent of 1.86 miles. Still, some impressive times were posted, with Ohio high school phenomenon Taylor Ewert placing second overall in the combined male-female event at 13 minutes, 45 seconds.

The six-time Junior Olympic champion was one of a handful of unofficial entrants in the college meet, which also included 2013 Indiana University graduate Melissa Moeller, who placed fifth at the 2016 U.S. Olympic trials in the 20-kilometer race walk.

“Had there been enough certified officials at this race, (Ewert’s) time would be the new national indoor high school record by 30 seconds,” GunderKline said.

As for Goodwin, her time at Goshen was well over six minutes slower than the 11:58 she ran the same distance in December’s Circle Logistics Warrior Invite.

But Walker-Zoltek noted that they got key tips from the much more experienced coaches and athletes at the Goshen meet. Though Indiana Tech won’t be adding a race-walking event at its home meets this year, they now know of more races Goodwin can travel to.

Most importantly, Goodwin only needs to shave 59 seconds off her Goshen time to meet the provisional qualifying time for the NAIA nationals, GunderKline said.

“We’re in a learning curve,” Walker-Zoltek said after the Goshen race, noting that both coach and athlete still have much to learn. “She’ll get there.”

Tanya Isch Caylor blogs about postfat living at www.90in9.wordpress.com. Contact her at tischcaylor@gmail.com. This column is the personal view of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.

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