Being one of 7 children and wanting to get more of her parents attention as a child, Grace Padilla started running competitively at the age of 12 and she spoke briefly on what inspired her to take up athletics competitively as a child. “My younger brother started racing and winning prizes and our parents were always so proud of him and rewarded him with money, running shoes, and training gear. I was jealous, so I started racing him to beat him. My parents saw that I was interested in competing so they registered me in my first 10k and I won my age group and loved the attention I got”.
As a high-school senior at South Gate in California, there were many scholarship offers on the table for Grace, but as she didn’t have the guidance required to take advantage of these offers, it wasn’t until after she started competing for a community college, that she then had more full scholarship offers to other schools.
By that time she had a great coach and her best friend, Gretchen Lohr, who helped her to get into a Adams State College on a full scholarship offer. After a year she transferred to California State Los Angeles. “Earning a full scholarship opened many doors for me. Most importantly, I had the opportunity to become a college graduate”.
Grace shared with us a bit about her life as a student-athlete: “As a student athlete, one of the things I really enjoyed was having a meal pass to eat as much as I wanted. I got to live in the dorms, which was fun and this was my first time away from home. As a student athlete I also had priority registration for classes and it felt good to be part of a team and have school pride”.
Between 1996 through 2003, Grace had a long time away from running and she spoke about this period of her life and what motivated her to get back into athletics after such a long break. “In 1995-1996, at the prime of my young running career, I held the American Record in the 3,000m steeplechase 10:30.2 and after competing in the 1996 USA Olympic Trials in Atlanta, Georgia, I stopped running to finished College and Grad School then I also got married and had two children. After being married for 5 years I went through divorce and I started running and competing which gave me the strength I needed to survive this tough time”.
As a junior athlete Grace found that she ran as a front runner until she died however; now as a Masters athlete, she knows how to better pace herself. “Some days, I still race like a teenager, but now I think I do a much better job at pacing myself and staying injury free”.
In 2010 she became double Masters 1,500 and 5000m Champion and Grace took us through her Master’s double experience. “The toughest thing about this double was 100 degrees weather they had in Sacramento, California where the championships were held. I thought I was going to die during and after the 5,000m. Pulling off the double national title was a great achievement for me. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was in my best shape”.
Highlights of her Master’s career includes competing at the 2011 USA Outdoor Track Nationals in the exhibit Masters 3,000m. “Stepping on the Oregon track for the first time and hearing the crowd cheering gave me chills and brought tears to my eyes. I ran a smart race, fought to the finish line. Although I took second place, by a tenth of a second, I got a PR and felt proud of myself”.
Her first ever Team USA selection came at the 2011 Master World Championships, which was held in Sacramento, CA and Grace took us briefly through some of the highs and lows of that 2011 season. “In 2011, I competed in my first Masters World Outdoor Track Championships where I got two silver medals in both the 1,500m and 2,000m steeplechase. Sustaining an injury just three weeks before the Championships, I wasn’t able to train as much as I wanted to so I lost a bit of speed.
After the Championships I struggle with the fact that I didn’t run a smart steeplechase and not only did I lose the world title, but I also lost my shot of a world record. I pushed from the start and went out at 75 second for the first lap. I kept pushing the pace and my legs gave up with 300m to go! I can’t get that out of my mind. It still hurts and I’m hungry for both the World title and Record”. Throughout her 2012 season she had many great races especially in the 3,000m.
Grace is now coming off of a fantastic 2013 track season which was highlighted by a 4x800m USA Masters and World Record: “I helped put together a 4x800m relay team which broke the Masters World record by a scorching 22 seconds at the Masters USA Outdoor Track Nationals in Olathe, Kansas. Our new World Record now stands at 9:18.33”.
She also won two other individual national titles in the 2,000m steeplechase and 5,000m. “Once again I came just short of the steeplechase world record as the conditions were less than perfect; it was hot, humid, and windy but as always, I’m thrilled if I can end a season on a high note and injury free”.
When she is not training or competing, Grace likes to spend time with her family. She visits her sisters, brothers, and parents and embraces all of her family gatherings. “My family has been very supportive of my running career! They helped me so much during my divorce both emotionally and with childcare. Allowing me to continue being an athlete and doing what I love most; RUNNING! I love making my family proud, it keeps me motivated”.
Grace Padilla is currently a member and team captain of Nike Team Run LA which has an outstanding group of elite runners (www.teamrunla.com/) several of which have competed at the USA National Championships on numerous occasions.
“Unfortunately, Nike has cut the team sponsorship this year and as a result of having no financial support the team has started to fall apart. Despite not having a contract, Nike has graciously continued to support our smaller team with high quality running gear and shoes. We feel blessed and thankful to have been sponsored by Nike for so many years! We are still in need of financial support for traveling and race entries. While we have many athletes interested in joining our team, we have nothing to offer them at the moment and it’s been stressful to keep some of our main athletes.
Throughout this experience and being a team leader I am reminded of the true value of loyalty! We continue to represent the team and Nike brand that we love. We will continue to work hard in achieving our goals as elite runners and representing our running community and the sport that we love”!
For the 2014 season Grace intends to keep on chasing the 2,000m steeplechase record which she narrowly missed at the 2012 Worlds Masters. “I came within 4 seconds from getting it at last year but unfortunately, racing alone makes it even more challenging. Not having a track where I can practice the water jump also presents other barriers for me and the water jump has become my Achilles tendon and I lose precious time in my race each time I land in it”.
You can be sure to catch more on this truly inspiring Masters athlete as she continues to face her challenges and make positive contributions to our sport.
Facts about Grace Padilla
Club: Nike Team Run LACoach: Sylvia Mosqueda Event/s: 800m, 1,500m, Mile, 2,000m and 3,000m steeplechase, 3,000m, 5,000m, 5k, 10k, and XC Age group: 42 years old; Masters Country: USA (Los Angeles, California) Occupation: Model, Runner, and Teacher Sponsors: Nike
Favorite foods: “I love pasta, fillet mignon, potatoes, bbq ribs, salmon, sushi, and hand-made tortillas! I pretty much eat the food that I enjoy”.
Favorite athlete: I enjoyed watching Suzy Favor race. She ran with her heart and was so beautiful to watch. I loved that she was very feminine and gorgeous!
Best Known Performances:800m – 2:11 1500m – 4:19 Mile (road) – 4:42 2,000m Steeplechase – 6:55.56 3,000m – 9:48.13 3000m Steeplechase – 10:30.2 5km (road) – 16:29 10km (road) – 34:50 Feature by Stewart Davis for www.trackfield97.com Photography by: Lily Derway – Masterstrack.com