Ontario Masters Athletics own, Karla Del Grande, was named World Masters Athletics Female Athlete of the decade (2010-2019). Karla competes in both long and short sprints, holding 17 Canadian indoor masters records and 12 national outdoor records, some of which date back to 2003 when, at the age of 49, she first began competing in masters athletics.
In 2018 and 2019, the WMA named her the Female Sprint Athlete of the Year, and again in 2019, the NCCMA (North American, Central American and Caribbean Masters Athletics) gave her overall Female Athlete of the Year honours. She has also been inducted into the Ontario and Canadian Masters Athletics Halls of Fame.
Although Karla has been the recipient of many awards, they are not the definition of success for her.
“None of this is about getting awards or medals for me. It’s about doing the best that I can do, so I don’t look to awards to validate success. I don’t think ‘oh maybe if I’ve done this, or won that race, I may win whatever award’, No. That’s not even a thought” she explained.
However, they are like the icing on top of the cake for Karla. “Don’t get me wrong, it is very, very special and I am incredibly honoured”. She even gave a nod to some of her British friends overseas stating she was “Gobsmacked” when finding out she was nominated for the award.
Since WMA didn’t give awards in 2020, this was a new award they developed to reflect on the past decade. In the beginning of March, Karla was notified that she was nominated as one of the top 6 finalists, amongst 5 other athletes from around the world.
“I just thought to myself, there are so many great women participating in masters athletics and doing awesome things, especially in the past decade where women’s participation has really increased. So, to even be named as one of the top six, I was incredibly honoured, then to win overall I am just blown away.”
In the World Masters Athletics release announcing the Athlete of the Decade Nominees, Karla shared the importance of her family, coaches, and supporters on her many successes.
“When I found out, the first person I called was my daughter. She’s not a big runner, but I know she’s incredibly proud. She knows the work that I put in so she understands what it really means to me, that it’s an honour but not something I necessarily strive for.”
Karla holds national and world records in many events ranging from the 60m to the 400m. Karla recently took up long hurdles setting a Canadian age group record in the 300m hurdles during the limited 2020 outdoor season.Some might wonder why in a year with so few racing opportunities, she would choose to compete in a new event, rather than use the opportunity to improve her regular events.
“We had actually started working on hurdle technique at the end of 2019, getting in the rhythm and so on. I was so disappointed when I thought the outdoor season would be completely cancelled. Then when that wasn’t the case, I really wanted to see it through and try it in competition”.
Karla says her interest in the event sparked from simple hurdle mobility drills.
“I thought to myself, there must be a better reason for doing these drills than just working on hip mobility and flexibility. I do find them fun, but when I suggested to my coach, Jamal Miller, that I’d like to try the event, he immediately shot down the idea. Eventually I wore him down and began training with some other members of our group who specialized in the event, who I have immense respect for. Essentially, I just wanted to try something different, which would also benefit my longevity in the sport. If I’m going to keep going, I’ve got to keep it fun and different sometimes, so to add the hurdles was an element of fun for me.”
Karla holds World Masters Athletics records in 2 age categories, and 5 events, indoors and outdoors in this decade showing longevity and versatility. One core value of Ontario Masters is “athletics through life”. When asked what this value means to Karla, she shared;
“Whether it’s cycling, swimming, running in any form, throwing events, or whatever it may be, everyone needs to find something to do to help keep them fit and healthy that will last, and hopefully it’s something that they’re passionate about. When you find that passion for fitness, why not carry it on throughout life? There is no reason certain sports or activities should limited to certain age groups. Through the opposite lens, athletics also can become a way of life. It doesn’t have to be for everybody, but my training is a way of life for me now. My passion takes me beyond the recreational level that the sport offers, to where I want to see the best that I can be at a competitive level.”
We had the opportunity to ask Karla a few more questions about her past decade in sport, and what’s to come in her next decade.
Q: What is your most memorable experience, or experiences from the past decade that you feel may or may not have contributed to this award.
A: “This is one of those questions like asking ‘which child is your favourite’… Luckily I only have one so I’m okay there” she joked.
“It’s really the friendships that you make with people from all around the world. I still get amazed when I think that there are women doing exactly what I do in another part of the world. In Ontario I sometimes feel like a bit of an anomaly, because there are not many older women doing what I do, it’s different for people to see. So when I look globally, I see women doing this same thing and it motivates me to keep going and I have something to aim towards. That way I don’t feel as though I am running and training on my own, I know I have those friends around the world that are constantly pushing me to do better. And it’s those friendship with people that are really, really special because they truly understand what I do and my way of life.”
“Then of course there is competitions, especially competitions at the world level. World competitions bring together people from all over the globe who share the same passion, and you can not only feel that shared passion, but you’re spreading it as well to the people of that city where you’re competing. It is so special and unique”.
Q: What are you most looking forward to moving into the next decade of your career?
A: “I’ve been doing this since 2003, so I just carry on. I don’t have any thoughts of stopping and I plan to keep striving towards new goals and competing. I’m definitely going to be working on 400m with trying to run the time of my age”. Karla will be turning 68 this summer and hopes to run 400m in under 68 seconds, which is an annual and long standing goal that she has set for herself. “Being a new event, I also want to work on developing my hurdles, hoping to lower the Canadian record and maybe break the world record”. She joked that her and a good friend, Wendy Alexis, have a plan to continue even when they have walkers. “we’ll just wheel them up to the track and then off we go! Just point us in the right direction and we’ll know what to do”.
Q: Besides this award, what would you say is your biggest accomplishment, sport or otherwise?
A: “I think having the world record in the 100m, 200m, and 400m in the same age group, at the same time. In the past, there was some records I would have at once, but never all 3 at the same time. The training for those three events is very different, so it is a challenge to get them all right in competition at the same time. I captured all 3 within the same year, and that’s something I’m quite proud of”.
On behalf of the Athletics Ontario and Ontario Masters Athletics, we Congratulate Karla on this outstanding achievement and look forward to watching her success over the next decade and beyond!
Other related articles:
Canadian masters sprinter Karla Del Grande earns female athlete of the decade award, The Globe and Mail