Call to ActionWhen Florence Dagata was growing up in Rhode Island, there were no such organizations—especially for women. Dagata attended an all-girls French parochial school where she says, "There were no athletics whatsoever." She enjoyed taking her Girl Scout troops on hikes and bike rides, but few other options existed for her at the time to participate in sports or exercise. Dagata's story is a familiar one among ladies of the 65 Plus Club, all of whom were (at youngest) in their late 30s by the time women were first allowed to compete in the Olympic Marathon in 1984.
In college, Dagata occasionally played intramural field hockey and basketball. "I never took part in running or any other activity because I just didn't have the opportunity given to me," she explains. However, after retiring at the age of 70, Dagata was looking for a way to spend her free time when she stumbled upon an article on race walking. "I wasn't sure that running was something I could do at 70, but race walking I thought I could handle," she says.
When the club's former president approached Dagata at a local race, she joined the New England 65 Plus Club, and went on to become president herself a few years later. She says that running has transformed her life in many ways. "I've made a lot of new friends, and traveled to different places
I've never been before for races. It's been good for my mental health as I've gotten older."
Nothing But a NumberAt 67, Jan Holmquist is one of the younger members of the 65 Plus Club and one of its fastest, but she too was not given the advantage of testing her formidable running skills until later in life. "Being my age, many of us didn't know we had the DNA or the genetic talent for this sport because we were only offered water ballet, synchronized swimming and badminton," she notes.
The first time Holmquist ever considered running was on a dare. She was sitting with a group of parents on a freezing football field, waiting for her son's Boy Scout event to begin. To pass the time, one of the fathers challenged anyone in the group to run a mile under 10 minutes, a fitness test he'd heard about at his office. Holmquist met the dare as a way to warm up and powered around the football field to finish under the 10-minute mark. "I was immediately hooked on running," she says.
While Holmquist enjoyed running around her neighborhood, she didn't start competing until age 50. Holmquist ran a local road race on a whim at the request of her daughter, and in doing so unlocked an incredible potential. "I came home with this huge trophy, and I thought, 'Okay, well now
I'm hooked on this!'" she says.
Holmquist is not only fast for a 67-year-old woman; she's fast for almost anyone. In the 2011 Run for All Ages, the 65 Plus Club's annual event, she crossed the 5k finish line in 22:11, the second fastest time ever run by a woman her age. Holmquist herself set the number-one time a week before at a Syracuse Festival of Races 5K.
While she enjoys the competition, Holmquist says that her success is a shock. "I never thought that running would be such an important part of my daily life. I never knew I had the ability to do what I'm doing. It's a surprise to me because I didn't have that opportunity when I was younger."