Author: Nicole C. Maloy, W’95
(To read Part II of the interview series with Track & Field Masters competitor, Deirdre Morris-Abrahamsson, C’93, GEd’94, go here).
When I joined Penn Women’s Varsity Track & Field in the fall of my Freshman year, Co-Captain Ruth Greenfield was a positive voice in my ear, and a stellar example of what any collegiate scholar-athlete would want to be both on and off the field. Well, ladies and gentlemen, she’s still got it.
Ruth Greenfield-Webster, a married mother of two in Yonkers, NY, now works as a Registered Nurse and a Certified Legal Nurse Consultant. And, in her spare time, she competes at the national and world levels in the Masters division of Track & Field.
Track & Field “Masters” are athletes aged 35 and over (30-34 gets you “submaster” status), and who, to put it simply, just aren’t done yet. I became more and more intrigued by this phenomenon and Ruth’s involvement in it first because, let’s face it, it’s pretty awesome. But second, because I qualify. Gulp. Might I find myself high jumping again one day?
Two of my own former Track & Field Captains say yes but, as they both compete now, they are biased and not to be trusted. Still, what is it like? This, Part I of II, is Q&A with Ruth, who still holds the #2 spot in Penn’s record books for both the indoor and outdoor Triple Jump. Part II will feature Deirdre Morris-Abrahamsson, C’93, GEd’94, who remains among Penn’s top 10 in both the Pentathlon and the Heptathlon, which consist of five and seven events, respectively. For anyone who’s not clear on that, we’re talking about 5 or 7 events in one track meet.
Q&A with Ruthie
4 years Penn Women’s Varsity Track & Field, Senior Co-Captain
Triple Jump, Long Jump, 400m Dash, 4x400m Relay
Why did you join the track team at Penn?
I was recruited out of Mount Vernon High School (New York) by Coach Betty Costanza. I had also been competing at the Penn Relays as a high school athlete so I had grown to love the campus and the track. After visiting Penn my senior year of high school and spending some time with the coaches and the track team, I decided that Penn was the best fit for me, both athletically and academically, as the U. Penn School of Nursing was the #1 nursing school in the country at the time.
Why did you stay on the team for as long as you did?
Participating in sports (particularly track and field) has always been a part of who I am. The Penn Women’s Track Team was essentially a second major for me. I arrived at U. Penn with two goals in mind… to succeed at obtaining a degree in nursing and to succeed as an athlete in the sport of track and field. Even when it got tough and it became difficult to juggle both, it never crossed my mind to quit. That was a self-imposed “non-option.” I loved it too much! (Note: Ruth was also involved in the Penn Gospel Choir and Friars Senior Society.)
Your proudest accomplishment in Track & Field at Penn?
There were multiple proud moments: breaking the indoor and outdoor school records in the Triple Jump, being a 4-time Heptagonal (Ivy League) Champion in the Triple Jump, being the recipient of the University of Pennsylvania Althea Gibson Award for athletic excellence which I received at graduation in 1992, and being invited to the 1992 Olympic Trials in the Triple Jump!
What’s your favorite Penn Track & Field memory (if different from the above)?
All of the above! But if I had to pick one…it would be breaking the school records!
What prompted you to start competing in the Masters division? What did it involve?
While I was playing volleyball in the league in NYC, one of my friends discovered that, in addition to our love for volleyball, we also shared a history as track and field athletes. He then told me about “Masters Track and Field.” I had never heard of that division. I thought my track and field life was finished in 1992 when I turned down the invitation to the Olympic Trials and that unless you were an elite athlete, track and field was over after college.
He asked me to go to a track meet with him (he was in his early 40s and had competed in it 10 years prior). I hesitated at first because I didn’t know if I had the time to dedicate to it (I knew I couldn’t just do it as a hobby…I would want to REALLY train). I was also working full time, had my 2 young children, and was running my business. But like a true competitor, I see everything as a challenge. I did not want to back down from what I saw as a “challenge,” so I went out and bought some cheap spikes the day before the meet, did a few bounds in my front yard, and went to the local track meet the next day.
I competed and later discovered that I had jumped well enough to beat that year’s National Champion’s jump by 2 feet. I was really shocked that I was still able to jump so well, so it was a no-brainer after that as to what my decision would be. My friend became my coach (he was also a Triple Jump specialist in his youth) and I started to train with the intent of becoming a serious competitor.
What are your strongest memories of your first competition as a Master?
After that initial meet, my first real meet (post dedicated training) was at the Armory (New Balance) Track & Field Center in NYC! I will never forget walking on to the track, standing on the runway, twirling around and looking up at the rafters and saying to myself, “I’m home!” with a huge grin on my face.
In which events do you currently compete or plan to compete?
I started out with the Triple Jump and Long Jump, then figured I might as well do the 60m Dash & 100m Dash since I’m sprinting in training anyway. I was never trained as a short-sprinter at Penn, so that took a lot of guts and I was infinitely nervous before each meet. But I had to come out of my comfort zone. After my left knee surgery in 2008, I dropped the Long Jump (that leg was my take off leg for the LJ, but not for the TJ). After a 2 year recovery period, I wanted to go back to having 3 events, so I decided to add the 200m Dash to my 100m Dash and TJ events. Like I said before, I love a challenge, and I especially love to challenge myself! So currently, I compete in the 60m Dash, 100m Dash, 200m Dash, and TJ.
What was your proudest accomplishment in Track & Field at the Masters level?
Again, there are a few! My near-American Record in the TJ in the W35-39 age group (I missed it by a mere 1 inch at the age of 39). Individually, I’m most proud of my National Champion titles and #1 U.S. rankings, as well as my World Championship Silver and Bronze medal titles and Top 10 World rankings in the TJ. As part of a team, I’m most proud of my World Champion title as a member of the U.S. 4x100m Relay team.
How does being a mom affect your life as a competitive athlete? How have your children responded?
It’s been interesting juggling it all. When I started competing again, my children were ages 4 and 8. I took them to the track to train with me because I had to. At first, they pouted and resisted, but after a couple years of accompanying me to the track to train and to my track meets, they began asking to train with me and wanted to compete as well, so that’s what we did. Both of my daughters have won racing and jumping events in their youth divisions and they are very excited and anxious to continue pursuing training and competing in track and field. Of course, I’m on cloud 9 because having my children compete in the sport that I have such a passion for has always been a dream of mine (even before I even had children). The fact that I can compete AT THE SAME TIME they’re competing is a tremendous bonus for me and I feel truly blessed!
What advice do you have for other women/former college athletes who might be interested in competing again?
If the thought even crosses your mind to start competing again, please reach out to those of us who are currently competing. It can be very daunting to try to figure out how much time it will take to train and compete and how to incorporate training and competition into what is usually an already busy adult life that’s filled with work, family, and other obligations. We understand! We’re living it! And we can tell you, it’s not impossible! And… it sure is a heck of a lot of fun! Anyone that’s interested in competing in Masters Track and Field can visit websites such as: http://www.usatf.org, http://www.usatfmasters.org, http://www.masterstrack.com, http://www.nationalmastersnews.org, and http://www.world-masters-athletics.org for more information.
Anything to add about your experience with Penn Women’s Varsity Track & Field?
An AWESOME group of coaches and an AWESOME team of AWESOME women who became my family away from home! That experience has helped me to become the strong woman I am today. There’s nothing you can tell me that I can’t do!
Anything to add about your experience competing in Track & Field in the Masters division?
The health benefits go without saying. But there’s just something about this sport. Even at this level, the camaraderie and feeling that regardless of where you are (nationally and internationally) we are one big family, is ever-present. You develop friendships that extend beyond the track and field. And the experience of constantly being around dedicated, motivated, and kick— people is PRICELESS!
See Part II, Q&A with Penn Track & Field alumna Deirdre Morris-Abrahamsson, C’93, GEd’94 on January 13!
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