Author: Nicole Maloy, W’95
(For my previous Q&A with World Masters Track & Field competitor, Ruth Greenfield, Nu’92, check out Part I).
Today, Deirdre Morris-Abrahamsson, C’93, GEd’94, is a Communications Specialist at Widener University in Pennsylvania, and serves as a freelance sports/events consultant. But I remember her as the athlete with whom I shared the high jump pit for two years as my teammate on Penn Women’s Varsity Track & Field. When I was doing my plyometric training, sprints, short-approach jumping drills, and literal attempts at greater heights, there she was. The difference was, when I was done training or competing for the day, she was on her way to work on another event.
Deirdre was a pentathlete indoors, and a heptathlete outdoors. The former includes the 60m Hurdles, High Jump, Shot Put, Long Jump and 800m; the latter replaces the 60m Hurdles with 100m Hurdles, then adds the Javelin and the 200m Dash. So, yeah, I’m feeling a bit inadequate right now. She is trying to convince me to join her in competing again in the Master’s division (35+). Lord help me, I might be swayed. Stay tuned…
Q&A with Dee
4 years Penn Women’s Varsity Track & Field, Senior Co-Captain
Why did you join the track team at Penn?
I was successful in track at St. Francis Prep High School in Queens, NY and I was recruited by many colleges. I intended to continue competing, and I chose Penn over Dartmouth and Cornell, where I was also accepted.
Why did you stay on the team for as long as you did?
Good question! I loved the sport and my teammates, and I couldn’t imagine not being a part of the team. I never thought about quitting, I always wanted to train harder, achieve more and see what I was capable of doing.
(Note: Deirdre was also President of the Penn Irish Club, and was involved in the West Philadelphia Tutoring Project.)
What was your proudest accomplishment in Track & Field at Penn?
At the end of my junior year, I blew my knee out in a freak long jump accident at the Ivy League Championships at Yale.
(Side note: I was there, and the sound of her scream is still echoing in my head. I just want the readers to understand the severity of the injury and the pain she was in so you can have some context for her recovery and subsequent return to competition).
I had knee surgery in May and wore a cast for two months. I was running again by October, hurdling by December, and ready to compete again by January.
I had my ups and downs that indoor and outdoor season. At the Indoor Championships at the Naval Academy, I hit a hurdle in the first event of the Pentathlon and finished last in the event- in a fog. However, I ended my Penn Track career at the Outdoor Championships at Princeton with a fifth place finish in the Heptathlon and a personal record in the 800m. I crossed the finish line with a smile on my face. I had been through so much, and I had accomplished a lot. And, I didn’t have to run an 800m race ever again!
Your favorite Penn Track & Field memory?
The Penn Relays, of course! I competed in them during my high school years, and then as a Penn Track member it was so awesome to have that event take place on our home track. It was great fun to be a part of the meet, to watch amazing competition and feel the energy of the crowd. I remember walking on the track one day, and there were some older guys walking ahead of me, talking about the “ghosts” on the track and their days running at the Penn Relays. It is true. Thousands upon thousands of people have raced and competed at Franklin Field, each with their own stories of success, defeat, and pride at having competed at the famous Penn Relays.
And the people – my teammates and the alumni of both the men’s and women’s teams. I have made such wonderful friends, and we will always have the bond of being part of such a storied athletic program. My coaches Betty Costanza and Tony Tenisci are life-long friends and mentors, and Charlie Powell, the head men’s coach who just retired, is someone that I admire immensely.
What were your main activities and interests between your graduation from Penn and competing in the Masters division (including but not limited to sports)?
I was always surprised to hear from fellow athletes who stopped running once their competition days were over. I never stopped. I couldn’t imagine that. It was so ingrained in me and had been such a big part of my life for so long, that when I would be sitting at work and 3 p.m. would roll around, I always felt like it was time to head out to Track practice.
The year after college, I took up rowing. I learned to scull at the Philadelphia Girls Rowing Club. A recurring feeling that would come over me while doing a 10 mile row and watching runners race up and down Kelly Drive was: I’d rather be running! Plus, tipping my single scull and falling into the murky Schuylkill River didn’t help matters.
Rowing lasted for about a year, and then I started playing Ultimate Frisbee. I could not throw at all, but I could RUN. I joined a summer league team through the Philadelphia Area Disc Alliance, and I had a blast. It was tough, but so much fun. I played Ultimate for ten years, and in my career played at the Club level with Women’s and Mixed teams. I played in 3 US Championships, three World Championships (in Vancouver, Hawaii, and Germany), 3 Swedish Championships and numerous tournaments throughout the US, Canada and Europe. It is through Ultimate that I met my husband – an Ultimate playing Swede that I met at a beach tournament in Italy, south of Lecce. We met in 2001, lived in Salt Lake City until the end of 2002, and then in Sweden from 2002 – 2009.
Throughout this time I continued to run, and I competed in races from 5K to the half marathon. I have also continued weight lifting and I have really fallen in love with yoga. And Swing Dancing, did I mention Swing Dancing? I did this for several years in NYC and when I lived in Barcelona, and it is something that I really want to get better at.
What prompted you to start competing in the Masters division? What did it involve?
I have always thought about competing again in track but never really knew how or where. (I actually didn’t think I would ever STOP competing in track, so it was inevitable to start up again.) Playing Ultimate was a big time commitment, not to mention work and then kids. But after moving back to the USA two years ago from Sweden, I got reconnected with many Penn teammates. Ruth Greenfield, Nu’92, was very active with Masters Track, and I was inspired by her participation and great success. She kept encouraging me, and others, to take it up again, and finally, I did.
What are your strongest memories of your first competition as a Master?
I have only competed in a handful of track meets so far. My first meet was the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships in June at Widener University. As a former heptathlete, I can do many events. The easiest to just step back into though, besides the running events, is the shot put. I showed up and there were about fifteen men and one woman there ranging from ages 25 – 70 competing, with their shot put shoes, measuring tapes, and all the typical paraphernalia. There was a nice camaraderie and lots of encouragement among the participants. I was very nervous, but I did fine – and actually surprised myself that my form and strength is still there (actually, I feel stronger physically after having had children).
It was also a great surprise to run into two former Penn Men’s Track athletes who are also very active and successful on the Masters Track circuit: Jason Costner, W’92, and Mohamed Ali, EAS’92. It was nice to hear them cheer me on when I very bravely ran the 400m.
And to top it off, after my first meet, I was ranked #1 in the US in my age group in the shot. That was a thrill. I know that several of my teammates would rocket to the top of the rankings if they started competing again.
In which events do you currently compete or plan to compete?
I really want to high jump and long jump again, but, even though I still run, it will take a lot to prepare my body for that kind of impact and to get used to doing it again. The muscle memory is still there though. I have tried high jumping, and it feels natural to do it. I just need to take it slow! I also want to run all of the events up to the mile and see how I do in each. And I will continue shot putting as I really want to see how much I can improve.
Your proudest accomplishment in Track & Field at the Masters level?
In December, I competed in my first meet of the indoor season. My goal was to throw over 30 feet in the shot put – and I did! I also ran the 800m. Like many heptathletes, I dreaded running the 800m as the last of seven events. Although I am slower now, I feel that I am mentally stronger, and I really pushed myself and kept focused. I look forward to running it again, and I aim to whittle my time down over the season.
How does being a mom affect your life as a competitive athlete? How have your children responded?
The other day, my four-year old daughter said to me, “You are the best mom in the world, and the best shot putter in the world.” Alert the presses! My kids know that I love track and field, and my seven-year old son has been to many track meets and has watched a lot of them on TV – especially when we were living in Sweden and they were on TV all the time. He watched Usain Bolt run at the Penn Relays two years ago. This past summer, he participated in his first track meet, and he racked up the medals and had a great time. He “practices” throwing hammer, javelin, and shot put in the yard. I am excited for both my kids to come watch me compete at a meet this winter, and I think that if I went head to head in the 800 with Gavin, he would beat me. In fact, his favorite event to run is the 800m – so he has the advantage.
Sports are such a big part of our family, and it is natural for all of us to be active. We go watch Pappa play in an Ultimate Frisbee tournament, mom run a 5K, Gavin play soccer, and Violet swims. We will see if they become Track & Field athletes, but if they don’t, it won’t be for lack of exposure.
What advice do you have for other women/former college athletes who might be interested in competing again?
Remember in high school (or middle school) when you first started doing track and this whole new world opened up to you? You would go and hang out with your friends at track meets, compete in the 55m, the 200m, the triple jump, the shot put (for a laugh) and then run a relay or two? Master’s Track has that vibe. At the meets I have been to, people run multiple events and throw in a field event for good measure. I swear, I am pretty sure this one guy did run ALL of the events at my last meet.
It is a lot of fun, and you would surprise yourself at what you can still do. I know for me, I still have a competitive streak and I want to do my best and keep getting better. But in Masters Track, I am only competing against myself and my own times. The other competitors are very friendly and supportive, and it seems like a close-knit community. Find a Masters Track club in your area, or just show up at meet. If you are not sure what to do, just jump into the 55m dash for a start. Don’t forget to stretch!
And since there are fewer competitors, the meets don’t take all day as they do in high school and college. You can get a few races in on a Sunday morning and then be home in time for lunch.
Anything to add about your experience with Penn Women’s Varsity Track & Field?
I am very proud to have been a member of the Penn Women’s Varsity Track & Team. We worked hard, all year long, and it was a huge commitment. After I graduated, I wanted to stay involved with sports, and I have worked primarily in the sports and event industries. I am a huge sports fan, but Track will always be my favorite.
Anything to add about your experience competing in Track & Field in the Masters division?
It will help with motivation to find some people to train with. I recently started working at Widener University and have become friendly with the track coaches. I have been able to attend some of their practices and get a few training and throwing tips. It is a great feeling to head down to the track and be around the athletes.
Again, to read an earlier post “Q&A with World Masters Track & Field” competitor, Ruth Greenfield, Nu’92, check out Part I).