Making it to the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics is a dream come true for Joanne Dow, and one that she has most certainly earned after 14 years of training and previous Olympic Trials disappointments. So it comes as no surprise that she is savoring every Olympic moment in Beijing as she awaits the 20K race walking competition on August 21.
With so many trials and tribulations and years of hard work behind her, her latest victory at the Olympic Trials is even more meaningful and emotion laden. Her story is a study in perseverance.
The impact of that emotion was tangible during the Opening Ceremonies. "The opening ceremonies were overwhelmingly emotional for me. I cried the moment we began to walk into the stadium," she said. The emotional spark grew as the Olympic flag was raised when the torch was lit.
Although she has participated in numerous international events in the past, she says the breathtaking beauty of the Olympic facilities in Beijing can not be fully captured by television and photos. The magnificent setting adds to the depth and richness of the overall experience.
Dow has been one of the top female race walkers in the U.S. for more that 12 years. Her career highlights are numerous spanning those years. Her credits include the 2008 Olympic Trials Championship and 2008 Indoor runner-up; three-time USA Outdoor champion; ('98,'02, '06); five-time US Indoor champion ('99,'02,'03,'04,'06); 2003 Pan Am Games bronze medalist; 1998 Goodwill Games Bronze Medalist; and 1998 Pan Am Cup Gold Medalist. She has represented the USA at the World Championships several times.
What makes her career even more compelling is that throughout her many years of training and competition, she never lost sight of her dedication to her family. She takes as much satisfaction from her children's accomplishments as she does from her own international competitions.
In return she has reaped the benefits from their devoted support as well as the encouragement from her husband, Tim. As dedicated as she is to race walking she, maintains a successful balance with her family.
The Beginnings of a Great Career
Growing up in Manchester, New Hampshire, Dow enjoyed competition from an early age. Her primary sport at that time was swimming. Though she was a former high school sprinter, she became a collegiate swimmer at the University of New Hampshire, where she competed in the NCAA Division II nationals in the relay.
She did not begin race walking until 1994, when her children were both under the age of four. At the time, she was teaching a fitness class in walking at the Executive Health Club in Manchester. Some of her students were local race walk competitors who encouraged her to try her first judged event. She placed third and with that she was hooked. Her enthusiasm and dedication to the sport continued to flourish throughout the years.
Even with limited training, she began to see progress and was inspired to participate in a 10K in Niagara Falls. There she met she met national team coach and expert Martin Rudow, who helped her master her technique. She won her first national title four years later.
By 1997, Dow was fourth in the USA Outdoors and ranked fourth in the U.S. Her success continued in 1998 when she was second in the 3,000 meter walk at USA Indoor, won the USA Outdoor and was third at the Goodwill Games. She won the 1999 indoor 3,000 meter title and placed second at the Outdoors 20K.
2002 proved to be a banner year for Dow as she won both the Indoor and Outdoor titles and was ranked No. 1 in the U.S. She captured the USA Indoor titles in 2003 and 2004 in addition to being first at Chula Vista (1:32:55) and first at Overland Park. A third place finish at the USA Outdoors in 2005 was followed by a first place win in that championship the following year. In 2006, she swept both the Indoor and Outdoor USATF Championships again and set a U.S. record on the track of 1:34:46.52. A first place victory at Chula Vista in 2007 (1:34:21) ensured her prominence in the sport. In addition to being the 2008 Olympic Trials champion, she is also the 2008 USA Indoor runner up.
Long Road to the Olympics
But as far as she has come and for all that she has accomplished, Dow had yet to make it to the Olympics until now. Just as her career has been defined by outstanding achievement, it has also been marked by setbacks and obstacles, including a series of Olympic Trials misses dating back to 1996.
In 1996, just two short years from her inception in race walking, Dow's high hopes to make the Olympic Team were dashed when she placed 10th in the U.S. Olympic Trials. However, she made the U.S. National Team and began her international level competition, despite a hamstring injury before and after the Trials.