By Skip Cleaver
Posted Wednesday, 24 March, 2004
Joanne Dow is a race-walker, and a great one. She recently achieved the “A” standard for the Olympics by racing to a 1:32:54 for 20K at Chula Vista, California on January 11. Thus far she is the only American to reach that pinnacle. She also zoomed to her third consecutive National Indoor title in February with a 12:36.76, her fastest of four Indoor National Championships. She set two personal records in as many months, indicating that she has not yet reached her peak. Dow is building towards the Olympic Trials in Sacramento July 9 – 18. The Olympic flame has obviously rekindled Dow’s fierce competitive fire.
Dow has also achieved—and maintains—the “A” standard as a mother of two. She and her husband Tim have two children, Hannah age 14, and Timmy, age 12. She takes as much satisfaction from seeing them participate in road races and other events as she does her own international competitions. Mrs. Dow is intensely dedicated to her sport, and receives constant, devoted support from her husband, family, and friends. She is totally dedicated to them in return, and maintains an enviable balance between the two.
STAR RACE-WALKER, AND STAR MOM
Perhaps the following six races exemplify the attitude, dedication, and remarkable resilience of this world-class athlete. In 1998 she raced to a gold medal in the Pan American Race Walking Cup in Miami where the temperature exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit. She won the gold medal going away (1:38:57), exceptionally rare in recent US track and field. It was the first-ever women’s international competition at 20K. In the same year she won the Bronze at the Goodwill Games in New York, setting a PR for 10K with 45:36.92.
Even in a comparatively off year, 2001, Dow won the National Championship for the One-Hour competition, zipping to 12,891 meters in the cold New England weather, a drizzly 40 degrees that was a painful contrast to the heat of most summer events.
Several other races, however, involve local events rather than national or international competitions. And her two children raced in each of the three. On Mothers’ Day, 2003, Dow raced the Southern New Hampshire Medical Center 6K for the Kids in Nashua, a fundraiser for the local children’s running program, Fitness University, which is sponsored by SNHMC. Emphasizing Dow’s fame, they were able to bring in many additional participants. Organizers “challenged” runners to try to keep up with the international star. Few did. Dow finished third overall in the women’s race, using it as a light workout. After crossing the finish she sprinted back on the course to cheer her son and daughter on, finishing the last few hundred meters again with her son, Timmy.
Similarly, on Thanksgiving Day, 2003, Dow raced the Derry Turkey Trot 5K, this time running as a workout in a rare break form normal training. Derry is near her home in Manchester, New Hampshire, and the family was out for a little holiday fun and exercise. She won the women’s contest outright. Another probable Olympian, John Mortimer, a world-class star racing on his home turf, won the men’s race. Dow, however, was much more interested in her kids’ times than her own, her third local road race victory of the fall. She was a very proud mother as both kids placed in their divisions.
On December 28, 2003, the entire Dow family participated in the Millennium Mile road race in Londonderry, adjacent to her hometown. Joanne’s husband, Tim Dow, ran with their kids Hannah and Timmy in this unique event. Joanne, preparing for her competition in Chula Vista, walked the dog instead of racing, cheering as her family ran well on a gorgeous winter day. Seeing the pride in her face, you would have thought she won another international medal.
Dow grew up in Manchester, New Hampshire, attending Trinity High School. She dabbled in track as a sprinter and jumper for several seasons.
“I had that fast-twitch thing going, and didn’t run any distance,” she recalled. What she did, however, and did very well, was swim. From the age of 9 she was in the pool. She was a star swimmer at the University of New Hampshire, making it to the Division II nationals twice. She has always enjoyed competition.
Amazingly, Dow did not begin race walking until 1994 when her children were two and four. “I was teaching fitness classes at the Executive Health Club in Manchester, and we went to Boston for a non-competitive walking event. I met some race-walkers there, and they talked me into trying my first judged event the following weekend. I placed third. Then I began to train, although only a few days a week,” she said.
She began to see progress, even with limited training, and decided to participate in a 10K in Niagara Falls. On the recommendation of a friend, she also attended a clinic (in conjunction with that race) run by national team coach Martin Rudow, who worked with her on technique. She placed 13th in the race, but felt she had a lot to gain by training regularly, and by applying the proper technique she was just beginning to learn. It was a remarkable turn of events. Perhaps it was fate, perhaps talent, or raw ability, or the last three letters of his name; but Rudow believed Dow had the ability to race with the top women in the country, and he was right.
“My husband and I had 13 hours of driving to talk it through on the way home,” she recalled. “He said, ‘If this is what you want to do, you know I will support you all I can’, and he has been there all the way, and is the greatest husband for me,” she said.
Dow won her first championship later that year, the New England 15K in Rhode Island. Only two years later, just over two years after it all began, she was tenth in the Olympic Trials and ranked 10th in the USA by Track and Field News. Unfortunately, Dow suffered a torn hamstring, which took her off the road for many months leading up to the 1996 Olympic Trials. Incredibly, she still finished 10th and made the US National Team. She moved up to a fourth place ranking in 1997, and was fourth in the nationals, before her true breakthrough year in 1998.
She won the 10K national championship in 1998, finished second in the indoor championships, won gold in the Pan American Walking Cup, and captured a bronze at the Goodwill Games. In a relatively short period of time Dow has built a powerful resume.
In 1999 Dow soared to her first national indoor title, took second in the 20K outdoor nationals, and placed fifth in the Pan American Games in Winnipeg. She also represented the USA at both the World Championships in Spain, and the World Cup of Race Walking in France. She set her second American record in the 20K (1:33:27) at the US World Cup Trials at Bull Run Park, Manassas, Virginia, which she subsequently lowered again. Friend and rival Michelle Rohl of California has since set a new mark.
In 2000 Dow underwent knee surgery, but came back to place an amazing 4th in the Olympic Trials with 1:36:17, and was first alternate for Sydney. The following year she won the US One Hour Championship.
In 2002 she again won the US Indoor Championships and accomplished an amazing double when she also won the Outdoor 20K Championships. She was ranked number one in the USA and represented her country in Turin, Italy in the World Cup of Race Walking.
Last year she won her third US Indoor title, and represented the USA again in the World Championships in France. She finished a very respectable 24th in 1:36:32. She finished second in the US 20K Championships behind Rohl. She went on to win the bronze medal—her third international medal, more than any other US woman—at the Pan American Games in Santo Domingo.
Her remarkable start for 2004, including the Olympic “A” standard, two PR’s, and a third consecutive Indoor Championship, are just the latest chapters in the book on this personable and humble world-class athlete.
READY TO PEAK
Dow is off to her best year ever. It is normal for distance athletes to peak between 10 and 12 years, and she has been in training for just over 10. She has been an athlete all her life, however, spending many years in the pool where she had built a base of aerobic fitness, if you will, but with absolutely no impact.
Dow celebrated her 40th birthday on March 19, although she appears at least 12 years younger. Age 40 is just one number among many, and all the numbers are in her favor. Athletically, she is very young. Yes, she is very young, extremely talented, and completely dedicated to the sport and to racing at her very best.
“You would not believe how incredibly hard she works,” said long-time training partner Vickie Kalil, herself and accomplished master runner. Kalil, from neighboring Auburn, New Hampshire, is temporarily sidelined with a back injury, although the two will partner in coaching the track team at Hannah Dow’s junior high school.
Joanne Dow has had the support of Adidas since 1998. “They began to sponsor me even before I won a national title, “she said. “ That’s pretty amazing for race-walkers. They have wonderful contacts who are very supportive and take really good care of me,’ she said. Most would agree that Adidas has been most fortunate, and was in the right place at the right time with the most remarkable athlete.
After many years under the guidance of Coach Mark Fenton, Dow transitioned to the nearby University of New Hampshire for coaching under the eye of Robert “Hop” Hoppler. The chemistry seems to be just right. Dow occasionally works out with the UNH runners, and is very comfortable with the University of New Hampshire arrangement.
Dow has expressed interest in competing in a marathon some day, and possibly the Mount Washington Road Race. But right now her eyes are focused on Sacramento and Athens.
Joanne Dow has accomplished much in her relatively brief career. She is, quite simply, an amazing endurance athlete. She has combined fantastic natural ability and athleticism with a powerful dedication and work ethic to achieve incredible results. Her competitive fire is burning very brightly, as bright as her smile when she sees her kids accomplish something significant. Her opportunities, thanks to the exceptional support of family and friends, have never looked better, or brighter. She is a world-class mom. She also happens to be a world-class racer.