The first time Marcus Chambers, a 2021 Olympic hopeful in the 400 meters, coached Madonna Hanna, who was a 65-year old sprinter, she….
Chambers was having Hanna show her flexibility at the start of the workout with some backward ‘A skips’, which are some high steps, a nice, easy icebreaker between coach and athlete. It was a blustery February day in 2019 in Tacoma, Washington.
Hanna just toppled over.
“I was laying there, laughing, on my back, and thinking ‘This young guy probably is saying to himself he doesn’t know what he has gotten himself into agreeing to work with this old woman,” Hanna said. She roared with laughter during a phone interview as she told the story.
“I got back up and he stuck with me,“ said Hanna who is entered in the 50 and 100 in next week’s Washington state games.
This is a story of Boomer-Millennial solidarity. A 26-year old world class athlete is showing a vibrant, effervescent 67-year old Geezer jock how to find a different gear for her 50-meter and 100-meter races with training, not parables of “do the best you can”.
The relationship works because Hanna’s life story has featured rebounds from tragedy and calamity, the falling down and getting back up. Chambers is rebounding, too, from his quest for the 2021 Olympics derailed by injury.
What should Geezer Jocks get from this story? Keep getting back up…and if you can find a track & field All-American to work with, do that, too.
Madonna Hanna won a Silver medal in the 50 in the 2018 Washington State Senior Games and finished third in the 100. She wanted to go faster, but her coach, who was her husband, was dying of cancer. Before he passed in late 2018, Stephen Hanna told his wife, “Keep running, go faster, wear the red, white, and blue.”
Hanna needed a coach now. Martha Mendenhall, one of the top senior Masters athletes in the world, also lives in Tacoma. She asked Chambers, an All-American in track & field at the University of Oregon, to work with Hanna one time, as a favor, to get Hanna ready for the 2019 National Senior Games in Albuquerque.
The partnership stretched to four months, then eight, and now two years because Chambers took it seriously. It was not charity to him because Madonna was dutiful in workouts and always wanted to go faster. She has an infectious personality, and can clown around, but never, ever does she not take the workouts on the track seriously, Chambers said.
In the first four months of working with Chambers, Hanna’s times dropped in both the 50 and the 100. She didn’t medal at the National Senior Games in 2019, but she was competitive, and it was enjoyable, and that’s all she wanted for her sake, and for her late husband.
They are training for the 2022 National Senior Games, which is serious business for Hanna, not intramurals.
Chambers said, “She’ll be ready.”
Chambers, who helped the University of Oregon win five NCAA track & field championships (indoors, outdoors), has Hanna doing interval training, which made her stronger for her dual events, the 50 and 100. She recovered faster.
“He had me doing all sorts of little drills and I’m going ‘What am I doing’. All sorts of exercises, running short distances and running long distance,” Hanna said. “When he gave me a drill to do, I was confused at first trying to measure distances on the track, how far to sprint, how far to jog. I didn’t keep up right away.”
Chambers also had Hanna work on her "strides”, which is form and efficiency. They work out an hour a week, Wednesdays at noon.
She wasn’t carrying the backpack of bricks like her husband had her do. The training was beyond that. She was doing the same drills that helped Chambers become an All-American at Oregon and claim a spot on Team USA.
“He took me seriously as an athlete, which surprised me,“ Hanna said.
"This is no hobby,” Chambers said. “This is the real deal. "These mature athletes want you to be as serious and professional as they are. They want your best and I was going to give her my best.”
Here is the rest of Madonna Hanna’s story, the falling down and getting back up.
She grew up in a suburb of Boston, the only Black child in a junior high school in the 1960s. The racism, she said, was merciless. Chairs were pulled out from behind her as she tried to sit down, so she fell hard to the ground. She was called the ‘N’ word and sat alone many lunch periods. One day, she went to her gym locker and saw it forced open and her wallet gone. Two girls came up from behind her, shoved her back into the open locker, scratched her face, and threw her wallet at her, Hanna said.
“I developed a thick skin, I had to cope, perhaps that’s why I am who I am today,” Hanna said. “I wanted to go into the fashion industry, be successful, and those incidents made me stronger and work harder.”
Hanna did go into fashion, first in retail staging shows, and then as a teacher in “fashion marketing”.
In 1987, she got another lesson in building courage. She was riding on a slick highway in Tacoma with a colleague when the car went out of control. It slid under a tractor trailer and came out the other side pancaking the car. The driver was dead. It was so horrific a crash the crowd passed word that the passenger, who was Hanna, was dead, too. She was alive, barely, and the muscles in her back ballooned threatening to bulge away from her bones. “I looked like the Hunchback of Notre Dame,“ she said.
It took months, but she recovered and continued her career in fashion marketing, but there was no bazooka blast moment of “I want to run and compete.” That took another 23 years.
She was doing dishes one night, at 57 years old, and what is it about rinsing a plate allows some freedom for your mind to roam to where it hasn’t been?
She thought I want to run. It was 2011. Her husband was a teacher and high school track coach and he said, "Ok, let’s do this.” He piled bricks into a backpack, bought her ankle weights, and set her loose on the track.
“It’s never too late,” she says.
Hanna entered the Washington State Senior Games in 2011 and when she looked around her after crossing the Finish Line she was startled to find out she won the 50 meter dash. Then she ran the 100 and won that, too. Competitors crowded around the new old phenom and told her “You have to go to Nationals.”
She was a bonafide Geezer Jock now with expectations. In 2013, she was a part of a 4X100 Bronze medal team at The National Senior Games.
And then came another of those calamities where she fell down and had to get back up.
She was in the Washington State Games about to win the 100 in 2014 when she heard the loud pop of the starter’s pistol. She thought, “That’s odd” to hear the gun a second time. The next moment she was waking up on a trainer’s table in the middle of the infield with a bag of ice on her left foot and lower leg.
It wasn’t the starter’s pistol popping. It was her Achilles on her left calf/heel popping. The whole crowd heard it, too, she said, just a few steps from the end of the race. Hanna fainted in mid-stride and fell across the Finish Line in second place.
When she told the surgeon she wanted to recover and compete again, he said, “At your age, this injury…” ….and she tuned him out.
It was an arduous recovery. When she started rehab, Hanna could not even rise up on her toes on her left foot. How was she was going to get into a two-point stance at The Start Line?
She did recover, though. Of course, she did. It was because of all the courage she had earned through the racism, the horrific car crash, and her husband’s illness.
She has acquired still more courage with the guidance of Chambers, almost 40 years younger. His drills made her feel valued as an athlete.
Watch the video below that they made during the Pandemic showing how to improvise in lifting weights. You’ll love it. It says a lot about their relationship. What made it more beautiful was when Chambers came up short of his dream of making the U.S. team for the Tokyo Olympics.
He injured his left knee and right Achilles issues two months before the U.S. Olympic Team Trials and struggled with his training. Chambers first lost his spot on Team USA, which was devastating, then got it back in time for U.S. Olympic Trials. He was far from 100 percent and did not make it out of the preliminaries.
Hanna, who has developed a detailed marketing plan for Chambers to build his athletic brand, drove from Tacoma to Eugene, Oregon where the trials were held to support her coach, who was now her friend. She is a motivational speaker and an effervescent personality and just the kind of person you wish to be around on a tough day. Chambers was grateful for the support.
Life is beautiful that way, especially when somebody like Madonna Hanna who has been given reasons to be bitter is instead grateful.