From Fashion Teacher to Track Star

It's Never Too Late: The Inspiring Journey of Sprinter Madonna Hanna

Madonna Hanna, a 70-year-old sprinter from Tacoma, Washington, began competing in the 2011 Washington State Senior Games. Despite facing setbacks, including the passing of her husband, Steven Hanna,  in 2018, she found a new coach, elite track athlete Marcus Chambers, who helped her win two silver and four gold medals in-state games. Madonna's story is a testament to the fact that there is always time to pursue your passion and achieve personal goals.

Madonna started running at the age of 57 while teaching fashion marketing at her local high school. She had an overwhelming feeling to run 100m. This “calling” pulled her forward and would not let her go. Madonna's passion for running started in her childhood when she loved watching the Olympics. However, in high school, there wasn't a track team for girls. So, she pursued her love for fashion by working in the fashion industry as a retail executive for a major department store and then a women's apparel manufacturer. She never lost her love for running, but she put it on the back burner until it started to call out to her at 57.  

I just listened to that call, and I got out there and ran.  I was hooked and continued to compete.,” said Madonna. 

Her husband was very supportive of her newfound hobby and started to coach her. Madonna entered the senior games at 57 and won two events. People encouraged her to compete again and go to nationals, so she did. Madonna competed in the 2013 National  Senior Games in Cleveland and placed 9th in the 100m. She also had the chance to fill in on a 4x100m and won a bronze medal, even though she had never done a relay in her life before. Her teammates were literally explaining to her how to do it in the 15 minutes before the race when she signed up to help out. 

I led the relay and had a 10-minute crash course before. I was on the first leg, which is a curve, and Id never run a curve before. It was all new to me. We won a bronze medal, and Id never done it before. When we were up on the podium getting our medals, the first-place team had broken a  world record, and they started chanting Good job, Madonnafor me. It was so nice that they acknowledged me in that way since they just broke a record, but they had heard it was my first relay race.”

The positive experience and supportive community had Madonna continue with her training for future senior games. 

Running through adversity

But in 2014, Madonna faced an uphill battle. Madonna ruptured her Achilles while racing in a 50m event. 

I heard a pop - that was my Achilles rupturing -  and everything went dark. I finished second because I had fainted over the finish line. Next thing I know, I'm looking up at the sky and confused.”

The surgeon gave her a choice at the hospital. He said, 

"At your age, you may elect out of the surgery, but this may mean you could heal with a limp," he said. "Or option two, we will do the surgery, but just because we do the surgery, we cant be sure you can sprint again. Even if you can run again, you likely wont have the same explosive speed."

Despite the risks, Madonna chose the surgery. She wanted to have the chance to potentially run again, and she had faith. So 2015 meant almost a year of rehabilitation before she could get back out on the track to train for the next Senior Games. 

Her husband continued to coach her, and with hard work and dedication in 2017, she won the 50m and 100m events.

"Just because a surgeon said I might not be able to didn't mean I couldn't," Madonna said. "I never thought I wasn't going to be able to get out and run again. Anything is possible, and it's never too late to get up and do something and to get up and share."

In 2018, Madonna's husband was diagnosed with his third bout of cancer. As he battled cancer, he continued to support her and coach her to the best of his abilities until he passed away later that year. 

"One of the things he wrote in a dying request was that I continue to race. He recommended that I build up my thighs (he was always in his coaching mode) and wear red, white, and blue," recalls Madonna.  

It was hard for Madonna to consider another coach after the loss of her husband, life partner, and coach. She spent some time searching for the right replacement and mentally preparing herself to train for the next legs of her journey without Steve by her side. 

Pushing Past Loss

In 2019 Madonna found her new coach, a millennial Olympic hopeful, Marcus Chambers. While his methods were different, and Madonna was skeptical, she stuck through all the changes, and it paid off. 

There was a transition between my husband and Marcus. We had 13 state-level competition medals and 1 national medal together. And Marcus was focused on new stuff - mainly drills. I doubted myself and thought, this is too different, this is too hard, but I remembered what I had always told my students - not to be a quitter and to have a goal and go for it,so I stuck it out. Accepting change comes with accepting an attitude change.”

The drills paid off. Madonna has won six state medals and one national medal, and a ribbon since Marcus became her coach. 

Marcus is training me to be more competitive at a national level.”

Madonna considers her work with Marcus a success. Plus, she likes to tease him that his efforts with her, though they were a ‘favor’ for a friend of his, are actually helping him build his reputation.  She knows it can be hard for athletes her age to get coaches and feels lucky to have found a good one. 

"My coach is now 28, and he's pretty successful," Madonna said. "I tease him that he's coaching me at the largest multi-sport venue in the world for people ages 50 to 100+, and that alone makes him a success."

Gaining Sponsorship As An Older Athlete

This year Madonna will be representing not only her coach and the State of Washington but also GetSetUp,  the online learning and discovery platform designed for older adults, as she competes in 50m and 100m sprints at the National Senior Games in Pittsburgh from July 7th-18th. 

I love the concept of seniors, this vital group of people, being able to reach out and learn from each other and others. Im a proponent of learning, and there are studies that once people leave college, many people stop reading or reaching out to learn. I never stopped reading or learning. I think that GetSetUp is an extraordinary opportunity for seniors to be able to reach out and be part of a global community where you can learn and explore something different.”

Madonna has been training five days a week since November for the upcoming July events (three days on the track and two days in the gym lifting) combined with virtual coaching sessions.  She’s balancing her workouts with massage therapy and has had to adjust training to get past shin splints. 

Im fortunate to have a great team working with me, including Erik Waterland, my fitness/PT trainer, Marcus, my coach, and Todd Valetine, my massage therapist.” 

Thanks to GetSetUp’s statewide partnerships with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, Madonna and all Washingtonians ages 60+ can enjoy GetSetUp classes at no additional charge. 

GetSetUp is sponsoring GetSetUp Athletes as an initiative designed to inspire and support older athletes by providing them with sponsorship and a platform to promote their passion for sports in order to empower their peers. GetSetUp Athletes are sponsored by GetSetUp, and each athlete will receive a $1000 stipend to help with their training and competition expenses, along with a full GetSetUp branded kit for their sport. These athletes will be sharing their journeys and insights with the GetSetUp community as they promote healthy and active lifestyles.

Learn more about the GetSetUp Athletes
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