Photos by Eliesa Johnson
She missed benefitting from Title IX rules for gender equity in sports and didn’t run a race until she was 47. She has not stopped since. Meet Minnesota’s own Susan Adams Loyd: executive, mother, world-ranked runner, and the 57-year-old hometown favorite in track and field at this year’s National Senior Games.
When Susan Adams Loyd tells her story, everyone who’s ever had a dream tears up.
“I was at my friend Jerry’s retirement party. He said to me, ‘Do you have any regrets?’ I blurted out, ‘I’ve always wanted to be a sprinter!’ Everyone fell silent and looked at me like I was crazy.
“But Jerry said, ‘Why don’t you do it then?’”
Here come the tears: “Right then I had this emotional wave come over me that it wasn’t too late.”
Or was it? She was in her mid-40s. She had two teenagers, an executive career in television (she’s now president of Clear Channel Outdoor), and an executive husband. She was busy. She was active, but in no way sprint-fit. She feared the things we all fear about physical performance: “Hurting myself, embarrassing myself, embarrassing my children.” She had never run in a “real” track meet.
Loyd had only played “little kid sports” in her hometown of Edina. But she did it with relish. “I was born to play games and that’s what we did.” Until she was 12, that is. Then, if you were a girl, “They had a rule that you couldn’t play in a mixed-gender situation if you might possibly touch someone of the opposite sex. And girls weren’t allowed to keep score.” She was a year too early to see Title IX legislation result in sports equity in her high school, so she found herself in one of the few sports in which girls could compete: figure skating. Except for one short and humiliating track season at age 13, she never found herself on a track.
Until 30 years later. There she was, a middle-aged woman, sprinting in everyday athletic shoes on a track behind her house on a bet from her friend Jerry. “I ran less than 100 meters and it was so hard! But I said to myself, ‘If you want to do this, you have to start somewhere.’”
She just kept showing up.
She learned to show up when the high school boys were there. “I didn’t know anything about the blocks, the shoes, the guns—I’d yelp like a dog when they went off. But you’d be surprised what people will do if you ask, ‘Can you help me?’” She learned what most adult athletes and fitness lovers learn: There’s community out there. Even at her first competitive meet, “I literally just showed up,” she says. “I felt really stupid. But I walked onto this field and some really cool people said, ‘Come on! I’ll show you what to do!’”
Slowly she relearned what she’d known as a little girl—she was born to play games. And when she placed fifth in her first medal race at age 51—the 100 meters at the Senior Games in Palo Alto, California— “I was living my dream,” she says.
Today she’s run in three world championships, four countries, and more than 100 NCAA meets as unattached. The University of Minnesota has made her an honorary member of the women’s track and field team. “I love being around young people,” she says. She has a running coach, a trainer, and a sprinting club out of Boston. Three years ago, when she turned 54, her coach convinced her to shift her focus to the 400 meters. “It’s a race invented by Satan,” Loyd says. But hers is an unusual athleticism: strength and endurance paired with that sprinter’s quick twitch. And in 2013 at the National Masters Indoor Track & Field Championship in Landover, Maryland, she pulled ahead in the 400-meter final with 150 meters left, thought, “What do I do now?!” and did what she was born to do. She won.
“My story is about letting go of your assumptions that you’re too old,” she says. “It’s not about getting a medal. It’s about trying, seeing if you can. It’s about running your race.
“Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know about yourself.” And sometimes you do know but aren’t admitting it, or the years have made it easy to forget.
Loyd recently started a second master’s degree program at Harvard, a challenge she wouldn’t have accepted before running competitively. Because she’s a student now, and because she never ran collegiate athletics the first time around, she’s actually NCAA-eligible. “I’ve been red-shirting for 38 years!” she laughs.
Harvard coaches might want to take a look at this prospect: She’s fast. She’s 57. And she’s running for real.