COLUMBIA — Race walking is more than just pumping your arms and walking fast. There are rules.
The sport is strictly judged from the knees and down. When the foot steps down, the knee must be locked and must remain locked until the knee is behind the hips again. Most importantly, one foot must always be on the ground.
The Missouri State Senior Games 5-kilometer race walk began at 7:30 a.m. Saturday. The air was wet with humidity and clouds covered the sun. Walkers warmed up by walking around and stretching in the parking lot of Cosmo-Bethel Park. Each received a t-shirt at check-in and were directed to the starting line on a nearby street.
The start was sounded, and the competitors raced off into a neighboring subdivision — locked knees, quick pace. The judges, who are former race walkers, were positioned throughout the course to judge the walkers' form and ensure fairness.
Maurine Lia has mastered the race walking technique. Lia, 80, has been race walking for 27 years. She began race walking after she went to a fun race walk with her daughter, Nina Reilly, and friends.
"She took it seriously," Reilly said. "And she won."
"I was pretty competitive off the starting line," Lia said.
For a while, Lia did not know "the walk," Reilly said. It was during a race when she finally raised the question.
"I saw two women ahead of me and I asked if they would teach me that funny walk," Lia said.
Ever since, people have been asking Lia how to do "the walk."
From Creve Coeur, a town near St. Louis, Lia belongs to a race walking club. She does not travel much for competition, aside from theState Senior Games and the National Senior Olympics, but she does train three to four days per week.
"Training. That's the name of the game," Lia said.
Lia has competed in seven National Senior Olympics. Every time she competes in both the 5-kilometer and the 1500-meter races. She has won every time. She also competed at the world games in 1995 in Eugene, Ore., where she finished in fifth place.
"I thought fifth in the world was pretty damn good," Lia said.
Lia keeps her personal records on a card in her wallet. She said she keeps them there because she is really proud of them. Her best time in the 5-kilometer race is 28 minutes and 53 seconds. Her best 1500-meter time is eight minutes and 57 seconds.
At this year'sMissouri State Senior Games, Lia competed in the 1500-meter and 5- kilometer race walk events. As usual, she won both. Her time in the 5-kilometer race was 39 minutes and 57 seconds. Lia said her times are getting slower, but that's what comes with age.
The course was more difficult than most she has raced on, Lia said.
"The hills are killer," she said. "And the humidity made it harder."