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Karla Del Grande at the World Masters Indoor Championships, Daegu, South Korea, 2017. The Toronto sprinter was named the world masters athlete of the decade recently.Doug Smith/The Canadian Press

Karla Del Grande decided to take up hurdling a couple of years ago. The multi-world record-holder thought it looked fun. She was 66 years old at the time.

The Toronto sprinter, who turns 68 on Saturday, was named the world masters athlete of the decade recently. A track athlete in high school, Part 2 of her career has been partly about making up for opportunities lost.

Del Grande ran track in high school, and with a background in gymnastics, would have loved to do triple jump, pole vault or the 400-metre hurdles. But girls were prohibited from those events.

“I thought triple jump, that looks like so much fun,’ and pole vault. But I was told ‘You can’t do it, your uterus will fall out,”’ Del Grande said.

Ontario’s renowned OFSAA provincial high school championship was a boys-only meet until a couple of years after she’d graduated.

“I really wish that I had rebelled and said ‘This is nonsense, this is ridiculous,”’ Del Grande said.

The 2020 masters season – including the world championships in Toronto – was virtually wiped out by COVID-19, and so World Masters Athletics decided to honour athletes of the decade rather than present an athlete of the year award.

Del Grande set nine world records between 2010 and ’19. She set global marks in the 100 and 200 metres in two different age groups, plus a 400 record in the W65 category. Indoors, she set world records in the 60, 200 (in two age groups) and 400 metres.

“I’m absolutely honoured, it’s very special,” said Del Grande, a retired teacher. “It speaks to my longevity and consistency, and that is important to me.”

She holds 17 Canadian indoor records, and 12 outdoor, including in her newest event, the 300 hurdles.

Del Grande, an avid road racer who coached track while teaching, rediscovered her love of the sport in her late 40s while participating in a speed clinic for road runners at a track.

“Most people were complaining and saying they didn’t like this, just going around in a circle. And I loved it,” she said. “Somebody said to me, ‘Well then why aren’t you doing track?’ I didn’t realize that masters track existed, track for grown-ups. So when I checked it out and found that it was indeed a thing.”

She reached out to coach Bruce Mitchell, who agreed to train her.

The sport has taken Del Grande around the world, to meets in Finland, Austria, Hungary, South Korea, Puerto Rico, Brazil, and across the U.S. Her husband travels with her, and plans their post-meet sightseeing.

Del Grande is a big believer in staying active throughout life.

“Any study will show that fitness is totally necessary, it’s necessary for your cognitive health, mental health, everything,” she said.

While endurance activities like road running provide health benefits, Del Grande is a proponent of sprinting and other high-intensity activities that raise the heart rate.

Del Grande keeps injuries at bay with a lot of “prehab” – including mobility work and strength training in the weight room.

She takes pride in paving a path for other women to follow.

“The records are great, but I look at them and I think they need to be broken to show what women can actually do, because we perhaps have not had the opportunities,” she said. “I see it as groundbreaking in masters track, that we’re showing (what) women can actually can do.

“Those records are a benchmark for somebody else to say, ‘Oh, yeah, if she can run that fast, let me try that.”’

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