By Bonnie Stein, M.Ed.
Eight years ago I was standing at the finish line at a run/walk event in Fort Lauderdale, Florida when about a dozen women in the 50-59 year old age group all came running over to me at the end of the race. They were waving their arms and yelling about a woman in their age group that they observed running during the walking race. She came in first in their age group and they were upset that she would receive the walking award for that age group.
I was not yet teaching any racewalking classes (I started in 1989.) Yet, we had a small, but growing group of racewalkers in South Florida. Unfortunately, we paid attention to only half the equation, but didn’t insist on judges. We talked the race director into including awards for racewalkers (one for each age group male and female, plus first overall male and female.) We considered that to be fair since there were lots more runners than racewalkers.
What we learned is never to do that again. As the group frantically described the woman “cheating” (none of us knew her) I told them that they had to go tell the race director since we had no judges on the course. The group of women marched off, but shortly thereafter returned to me at the finish line with the race director huddled between the pack.
“What did you decide to do?” I asked him. “I decided that you, Bonnie, are the racewalk judge today. It’s your decision what to do about that woman, and please decide quickly before we announce the awards. By the way, you better have this worked out before we ever include another racewalk in any of our events,” and he turned around and walked off. Ouch!
With the women all focused on me, I did what any concerned future racewalking teacher would do. I made up my own racewalking rules. With the dozen women following behind me (think teacher with her kids following behind on the playground) I approached the 50 year old “winner” and told her that I was the finish line judge. I informed her that there was a little known racewalking rule that stated, if more than ten people in a race tell the finish line judge that a participant was running during the race, that the participant must be disqualified and the award would go the next legal finisher.
I said this with a straight face and with the women behind me nodding together as if they had ever heard of that “rule.” I went on to tell her where our club meets and that if she wanted to learn racewalking, she should join us . . . But, she didn’t hear a word I said because of the steam sizzling from her. She was fuming, and I admit I felt safer with these women nearby to protect me in case she decided to take a swing.
I never saw her again at a race, and I felt bad about that episode for a long time thereafter. I asked myself, was she cheating? Or, maybe she had been running and walking in races for years and it was always acceptable. We also know some “racewalkers” who think they are perfectly legal; they believe they are complying with the rules of racewalking and don’t understand why they’re called cheaters.
Lots of positive things have happened since this experience eight years ago. First of all, I don’t make up racewalking rules anymore. Second, I never recommend or participate in races when there are walkers’ awards, but no judges. Lastly, we ended up having a great working relationship with that Fort Lauderdale race director and a racewalk was included in all of his races in the future. Judges were at every future race, too.
Now I realize that it wasn’t the race director’s job to monitor the walkers. I got so caught up in the excitement of including the racewalk awards for our group that I forgot how important the judging component is. Now in Atlanta, if a race director offers to include a walk with awards, I say that it must be judged and that we will provide the judges. That is our responsibility - to make sure the race is fair for all walkers. If you’re going to participate in a unjudged walk, you will surely encounter people who are not complying with the rules of racewalking, nor even walking for that matter. Some may be flagrantly cheating, but not most.
That’s why we appreciate judges. Not only do they make the racewalk fair for us, but they also make sure that all of the walkers are aware of the rules at the start. Furthermore, it makes me especially happy not to be selected as a “finish line judge” at the end of a race.