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Runner has emotional homecoming at USA Track & Field

Ellen Hart walked over to her father and gave him a vigorous hug. With tears forming in her eyes, she bent down to gently kiss her wheelchair-bound mother on the side of the cheek.

Hart had just completed the 3,000 meters at the USA Track and Field Masters Indoor Championships Sunday morning at the Albuquerque Convention Center.

Hart, 57, a multiple-time world champion triathlete and 1980 Moscow Olympics qualifier in the 10,000 meters, knew she was out of her comfort zone from the moment she decided to enter the race.

There were no notions of winning, and she was okay with that.

“I entered this race for sentimental reasons only, and it’s completing a circle,” Hart said.

Hart, who resides in Denver, Colo., starred for Albuquerque Academy’s track and field team in the 1970s, and was part of the school’s first girls’ class.

“When I was 14, I ran in the state indoor track meet at the old Tingley Coliseum,” she said. “I was really nervous — like I am now. My parents were having a dinner party, so they couldn’t come and watch me.”

Hart’s father, though, surreptitiously left his own party to watch his daughter run, and it was worth the effort.

“With all of the din and cacophony, I heard (my dad) and no one else,” Hart said. “That he could get through my focus was really cool.”

Hart’s strategy was to stay with the pack, and on the final lap she kicked past the competition to win the state championship.

“That was one of those pivotal moments in my life where I knew I wanted to be a runner and I knew I wanted to be an athlete,” Hart said.  “Never in a million years would I believe that I’d still be an athlete at age 57 — 43 years later.”

Warming up before her race, Hart went for a short run in which she jogged past what was the old Albuquerque High School building. Clear images of her childhood growing up in Albuquerque came flooding back.

“It’s really funny because you never really expect to see your life with so much distance,” Hart said.

Due to the number of entries, Hart’s age division (55-59) was combined with the women in the 50-54 age class.

Unlike the triathlons where she expects to finish at or near the top of the field, Hart was fully cognizant that she was not remotely prepared to compete against world-class competition.

“You train your body for something specific, and this race is not it,” Hart said. “I recognized that the people who entered this race are really, really good. But this is an opportunity to wrap up the race in a box, put a bow on it, and give it to my parents because they are here today.”

From nearly the outset of the race, the majority of the 11 runners created some separation from Hart and two other entrants. Hart ran consistent split times for all 15 laps, and eclipsed her seeded time of 13 minutes by nearly 14 seconds finishing ninth.

During the race, Hart wore her game face, but was all smiles afterward as she greeted family members, longtime friends, and supporters from her running community in Denver.

She had just ticked off an important item on her newly-drafted to-do list, she had not come close to winning, and the final outcome mattered little.

“After you win a number of things, you realize that winning is great, it’s really fun, and it’s one of my favorite things to do,” Hart said. “But it doesn’t mean that much if you don’t have people that you love to share it with. And so, this was just really emotional (today). I just realized that at some point, it is close to the end.”

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