Growing older, getting faster

It's hard to believe Kathy Bergen is 71 years old. The mother of five and grandmother of nine is in better shape than most 20-year-olds, and is far from the typical senior citizen. In fact, she's a record-breaker.

Seven records — six World Masters marks and one American Masters track and field record — have been set by Bergen. She's been named the athlete of the year by the Southern California Striders track club, along with age-group athlete of the year by the National Masters News.

The road to becoming a record-breaker began 17 years ago for Bergen when her husband, Burt, suggested they compete in the 1994 Senior Olympics. It was there that Kathy learned of her athletic prowess.

"We had been track-and-field fans for years, but I had no idea I could do what they do," said Bergen, whose previous sports experience had been limited to a year of basketball as a high-school senior and friendly doubles tennis matches with her husband.

Burt, who also competes as a high jumper in Masters events, pushed his wife to compete because he saw how quick she was on the tennis court.

"I don't think either of us knew how fast she could run," Burt said. "She's a natural — you can only train so much — if you can't run fast, you can't run fast."

Ever since then, Kathy has been breaking records in her age group, 70 to 74. Her first record-breaking effort came in the high jump in 1997. She started doing her homework after that, researching what records were within her grasp.

This year, Bergen has grabbed six records; three came at the Indoor Masters Nationals at Boston in March. She set the 60-meter record at 9.21 seconds, the 200 at 32.31 and the high jump at 1.29 meters. It was in April at a Mount San Antonio Invitational that Bergen became the first 70-year old woman to break 15 seconds in the outdoor 100 meters.

She set the bar at 14.76, shattering the old mark of 15.16. She bested two more marks in the Masters Outdoor Nationals, held at Sacramento State in July, when she set the world high-jump mark at 1.30 meters and the 200 with a time of 32.35.

Bergen said all the success is the product of three things: her competitive nature, her physical therapist, Sandy Sheklow, who runs DSC Physical Therapy in La Cañada, and her coach Eric Dixon, with whom she began working in January.

Dixon, who lives in Aliso Viejo in Orange County and who coaches Bergen online, knew he had his work cut out for him when Kathy first approached him.

"She's getting older and should be getting slower, but I have to get her faster. I thought she was crazy at first," said Dixon, who primarily coaches youth and teens for USA Track and Field.

There is still work to be done for Dixon and Bergen, who wants to continue to set new marks. In fact, she is determined to break every record she's set this year.

"She hasn't reached her peak yet," Dixon said. "I definitely think we can break the records she already set."

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