MASTERS TRACK AND FIELD: Sierra Gold open to all, offers unique approach
Sprinters, distance runners, jumpers and throwers — all are welcome.
Skill level and experience doesn’t matter either, because the Sierra Gold track and field team has a spot for you. That’s the sentiment coach Clyde Lehman and the Sierra Gold team is spreading throughout Nevada County and beyond.
“We are to open to everybody,” said Lehman, who coached the Nevada Union cross country team to national prominence in the 90s. “From beginners to world champions, we want to be inclusive. So far, we have had eight national champions, we’ve had world champions and we’ve had 40-some All-Americans, but we also have beginners. As long as they are willing to be coached, we will help them.”
Sierra Gold is a track and field team that boasts athletes ranging in age from 30-90, many of which participate in Masters competitions.
Masters programs offer a variety of competitive and fitness opportunities in track and field, long distance running and race walking. Competitions generally take place in 5-year age divisions. Age divisions begin at age 30 for track and field and race walking, and at age 40 for long distance running, according to the USATF Masters website.
Lehman is one of three Sierra Gold coaches who work with the Sierra Gold Masters athletes. Lehman is joined by coaches Dick Hotchkiss, a local track and field legend and Nevada Union Athletics Hall of Famer, and Steve Conrad, a 2004 Nevada Union graduate and former decathlete at the University of California, Berkeley.
“Another thing that makes us unique is those two guys,” Lehman said of Hotchkiss and Conrad. “(Hotchkiss) is an icon wherever we go. Throwers flock to him. To me, he’s one of the best throwing coaches in the country. He’s coached high school, college, Masters, seniors — he does it all.
“Steve Conrad is one of the best track and field athletes to come out of Nevada Union. He still holds four records there. He’s an amazing athlete, and it’s not always easy to be a great athlete and turn into a great coach, but he was born to do it. He’s an amazing coach.”
Conrad and Hotchkiss have been instrumental in helping develop Kathy Slouber, 66, into a National Champion in both the shot put and weight throw.
“The most important thing is we have coaching up here,” Slouber said. “I have found over the past few years, going to the different meets, most the people don’t have a venue and or coaching. They are just out on their own throwing. We are so lucky to have that.”
Slouber was a talented thrower in high school, but hadn’t done it since. That is, until three years ago when she started working with Conrad.
“You don’t have to be excellent at this stuff,” she said. “You can come out because you enjoy it. To me that’s the most important thing. You’re getting in better shape, it helps with bone density and I can’t say enough good things about Dick Hotchkiss and Steve Conrad for getting us in shape.”
Conrad, who also coaches high school athletes at Nevada Union, said he enjoys the coach-to-Masters athlete dynamic.
“At this point, they really want to be there,” Conrad said. “It’s no longer about testing things out like it is with some of the high school athletes. The Masters athletes come out here because they are committed to getting better, and they really want to work hard and improve.”
Slouber is just one of several Sierra Gold team members that have won national championships and earned All-American status.
For Lehman, making the team inclusive and open to any athlete, regardless of skill or experience, who wanted to join was of high importance. Because of that, Sierra Gold boasts members from all over the Sacramento area.
James Beckett of Vacaville is one such example.
“As a race walker who turned to running in my 70s, I looked in vain for a coach or track team in or near Vacaville who could show me how to run and how to train,” Beckett said in an email.
Training with Lehman and several other local runners opened Beckett’s eyes to what runners in their 70s are capable of doing, he said.
“I am very grateful for the boost that coach Lehman and his team gave me in my conversion from race walker to runner. Coach Lehman helped me to go from average to elite nationally in my age group.”
While Masters meets can take athletes all over the country and world, there is one such meet in Nevada County that is growing in popularity.
Sierra Gold Festival
The Sierra Gold team will be hosting the second annual Sierra Gold Masters Track and Field Festival May 20 at Nevada Union High School’s Hooper Stadium. Lehman said he expects 300-500 Masters athletes from all over the United States and beyond to be in attendance at this year’s event.
Last year’s event was such a success, it garnered sponsorship from the National Masters News and MastersRankings.com as well as a Richard Stepp. This year’s festival will feature track and field events in throwing, jumping, sprints, hurdles and distance running. The event will also feature cash prizes, a rarity at Masters meets.
“If you set a world record, we’ll give you a check for $1,000,” said Lehman. “If you set an American record, we’ll give you a check for $500. This is all courtesy of Richard Stepp.”
For more information about the Sierra Gold Masters Track and Field Festival or to register to compete visit http://www.sgmtff.org.
The meet will also feature a Heroes’ Relay during the Opening Ceremony.
A 4×100 meter relay will kick off the Sierra Gold Masters Track and Field Festival featuring teams from various organizations and professions such as police, sheriff, highway patrol, search and rescue, firefighters and teachers.
First, second and third place teams will receive world class medals. The overall winning team will also take home the perpetual championship plaque engraved with the relay team’s names.
“Hopefully it will develop into something that has bragging rights and something the community looks forward to,” said Bob Arnds, a Sierra Gold team member who is organizing the relay.
If interested in competing in the Heroes’ Relay contact Arnds at 916-601-4401 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Sierra Gold Masters Track and Field Festival is a community event and Lehman encourages the entire community to come out to Nevada Union on May 20 and root on the Masters athletes, both local and those just visiting for the event.
“We have a Heroes’ Relay and that’s one thing, but also these Masters athletes are also heroes,” Lehman said. “They are showing us what can be done no matter what your age is. It doesn’t matter your age. Age can’t stop you anymore.”
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email email@example.com.
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