Muriel Gieni (photo by Louis Christ)

Track master

Aside from staying inside her own lane, competitive hurdler Muriel Gieni has an interesting strategy for ensuring she does not fall during a competition: she just doesn’t. 

By Lesley Porter

"I don't fall," she said with a laugh. "It's never entered my head! I don't crash!"

It sounds like big talk, but Gieni, a facilities and projects assistant in the College of Arts and Science, is a serial record breaker in Canadian track and field. Her activities of choice? Triple jump, long jump and, of course, hurdles.

She started competing 13 years ago, when her son Morgan joined the Riversdale Track Club. Gieni sat and watched him for the first year, but the following year, the club coaches invited parents to participate alongside their children. Gieni, who was active in track and field during high school, played volleyball during her post-secondary years and stayed physically fit after that, was intrigued.

"I missed out on the track and field, which is where I should have been," she said. "Rather than sit in my car, I joined base training."

She initially trained with younger groups at the track club and moved up as her fitness level increased. She then started competing provincially and then nationally as a masters athlete, a class of athletics for those age 35 and over.

Masters athletes are a small group provincially, she explained, but are quite extensive at the national level. Every five years, the athletes progress to a new level based on their age (35-39, 40-44, 45-49, etc), which Gieni looks upon excitedly.

"Every time you change an age group, you look at a new five years' worth of records to go after," she said.

She set her first record in 80 metre indoor hurdles when she was 45 years old. Since then, she has broken 13 various indoor and outdoor records across three age groups.

But one record almost didn't happen.

At the Knights of Columbus Games in January at the Saskatoon Field House, Gieni broke the Canadian triple jump record on her first try. "I was pretty happy about it," she said. Her excitement was short-lived, however. After the preliminary measurement of 9.22 metres was done, a volunteer raked the pit to prepare for the next competitor before a national official could record the distance. Any sign of her record was erased.

Gieni tried to recreate the jump but to no avail. Disheartened, she thought about throwing in the towel early. "I thought, ‘I'm done'," she recalled. However, she went in for her sixth and final jump and "it was the best jump of my life." To no surprise, she broke the record again. This time, the rakers left her imprint in the dirt until an official could inspect it and award her the Canadian record.

"It was a real learning experience for all of us," she said with a laugh.

Gieni said she owes a lot to her coaches, who "have always treated me like one of the group," as well as to her teammates and fellow club members, who help keep her motivated.

"My teammates are important to me because I can set a national record on a Saturday and it's a big deal, but on Monday you're just one of the group again."