For most people, just living to be 100 years old would be an accomplishment. Not for Julia Hawkins and Diane Friedman. These two American centenarians recently broke records to become the fastest runners over the age of 100 in the world. They’ve redefined what’s possible in the realm of athletic achievement – and they did it within three months of each other.
Diane Friedman, 100, broke three masters sports records at the Michigan Senior Olympics on August 15th, 2021. She set world records in the 100-meter dash and 200-meter dash in the 100-104 year old age category. She also broke an American record for the javelin in the same age group.
Friedman ran the 100m dash in 36.71 seconds, breaking the prior mark set by Julia Hawkins by nearly 3 seconds.
To claim the world record in the 200-meter dash, Friedman came in at 1:29:78. Her javelin throw measured 6.25 meters.
Diane Friedman — no stranger to success
Friedman has been a household name in the world of masters sports for years. She was an avid competitor in the global track-and-field circuits in her 70s, and she set several world records in her 90s. Friedman is a two-time USA Track & Field masters age group Athlete of the Year. She has made two appearances in “Sports Illustrated.”
The person who is the least surprised by her latest record-breaking performance is Friedman.
“I’ve won a lot of medals. I’ve won a lot. I’m just so accustomed to it,” Friedman told Growing Bolder. “When I’m running, I don’t think of anything except keep my eyes forward and move.”
For years, Friedman has worked out with exercise physiologist Dr. Bruce Sherman, a trainer who was a former nationally ranked triathlete. Sherman says that even at 100 years old, what sets Friedman apart is her competitive spirit.
“Diane is a coach’s dream,” Sherman explained. “When the gun goes off, she has this thing where she is the ultimate competitor. Her body knows that when the gun goes off, that means race.”
Friedman’s accomplishments have even earned her a nickname with the National Senior Games Association. Del Moon, the NSGA’s Communications and Media Director, affectionately calls the track star Diane “Flash” Friedman, a nod to her new, record-setting pace.
Julia Hawkins Makes History
Just three months after Diane Friedman shocked the world with her times at the Michigan Senior games, the prior record holder re-entered the conversation setting a new benchmark of success.
Julia Hawkins, 105, competed in the Louisiana Senior Games on November 6th, 2021. She became the oldest female in history to compete in a sanctioned track & field event, when she ran the 100-meter-dash in 1 minute and 3 seconds.
Growing Bolder’s Marc Middleton witnessed the event live, and had the opportunity to spend time at Hawkins’ home in Baton Rouge. Hawkins said that she is proud to be showing people what they can achieve at the age of 105.
“I’ve had so many people say, ‘you are what I want to be when I grow up,’ or ‘you’re my example,” Hawkins explained. “If I’m being left here in life just for that, that would be good enough. To set an example for a lot of people, if that’s what I’m doing, I’d like that.”
While she is passionate about running, Hawkins acknowledges that it might not be for everyone. Instead, she urges others to find the thing that they love most and a purpose in life.
“I believe when you get older, you should have magic moments and passions because older people have to have something to look forward to, something to be ready for, something to care about,” Hawkins said. “I do care about a lot of things. I care about flowers and birds and sunrises and sunsets. I’ve seen so many wonderful things in my life.”
A Friendly Rivalry
Both Hawkins and Friedman joined Growing Bolder over the summer to talk about the impact they’ve had with their achievements. Prior to her new record run in Louisiana, Hawkins offered congratulations to Friedman for breaking the record she had previously set in the 100-104 year old age group.
“I’m happy for her,” Hawkins said. “The one thing about her and me, I’ve never had a coach, and I’ve never been trained. I just got out there and ran. If I had been trained…well, I didn’t want to do it that way. I just liked to run on my own and do what I could do.”
When asked who they thought would win in a race if they got together, these two legends had fun stoking the flames of their competitive fires.
“I think she would win,” Hawkins said.
“No, no, no, no!” Friedman responded. “That’s why we should meet. Because we’re going to be competitive. I’m going to beat the devil out of you!”
“There’s something about wanting to win that gets in your blood. I want to be ahead,” Hawkins said.
The impact of these two Senior Games stars goes beyond the times recorded as they crossed the finish line. They hope the bigger lesson is just the fact that they made their way down the track at all.
“Keep running, keep being active,” Hawkins urged. “Try to get more people that you know to get active, that’s important.”
“Come walk with me. This is good exercise,” Friedman tells her friends. “They’ll say to me ‘Oh, but I get so tired.’ Well, then, get tired. You’ll only get tired once, and then the second time you’ll feel even better. Don’t say you can’t. Do whatever you can.”
It’s a message that the National Senior Games Association has been preaching for years. The NSGA’s Del Moon says their focus has been to help more older adults stay healthy, get physically fit, and have fun.
“We hope that people look at it and not just say, ‘Oh, isn’t it great what she’s doing at 100 years old?’ We want people to internalize that and say ‘Hey, if I take care of myself a little bit better, maybe I can do something,’ Moon explained. “And that’s always been our message. Just find something you love to do and keep doing it to keep yourself going, and you might be surprised by what you can accomplish.”
There will be more inspiration on the way, with the 2022 National Senior Games scheduled to take place from May 10-23, 2022, in Fort Lauderdale. Thousands of athletes 50 years and older, including those past 100, will gather to compete, set new records, form new friendships, and continue inspiring older adults to stay active and to pursue their passions.
For more information on the National Senior Games, visit to GrowingBolder.com/NSGA