As I was warming up for the 200-meter-dash at one of the USATF MN indoor track meets this winter, I overheard the lady next to me talking about an injury she was dealing with. With my personal experience of knowing how difficult injuries can be, I made sure to go up to her after the track meet and tell her that I hoped she recovered fast, and after that, we started up a conversation. I soon realized that this was no ordinary person; I was speaking to quite possibly the coolest person ever.
Her name is Susan Adams Loyd, and she is a 60-year-old world-class sprinter, current Harvard student, CEO, and genuinely awesome person. If someone asks me what I want to be when I grow up, I think I’m going to say “Susan Adams Loyd.”
Not only was I impressed by her physical accomplishments, but her selflessness blew me away, as well. Even though she barely knew me, she gave me advice on some of my college applications and agreed to proof-read one of my essays. I am incredibly thankful for her kind actions, and for the sheer fact that I got to meet her! If you want to learn more about her story, mindset, and how she got to where she is today, you can check out her responses below. 🙂
How did you first get into sprinting?
At a friend’s retirement party, my colleagues and I were talking about the biggest successes and biggest disappointments in our careers. While toasting the guest of honor, Jerry, I asked him if he had any regrets. He said, “Not any. Do you?” And out of my mouth bubbled an emotional wail, “I have always wanted to be a sprinter!” Everyone at the table laughed, thinking how funny it would be to see a whole bunch of old people participating in track and field.
Of course, sprinting had nothing to do with my career, but it was a nagging disappointment that I’d always carried in my heart. As a pre-Title IX female athlete, there were few opportunities to play sports. I never had the chance to run track.
Jerry seemed quite certain, and said, “Why don’t you do it?” I said, doubting myself, “Because I am a middle-aged mom!” I was 46 years old at the time, and thought what would my children think? Jerry said, “Well, wouldn’t that be stupid if you didn’t?” Those were the words that stuck with me.
Three days later, I went to a track near my house and ran as fast as I could for 65m in my tennis shoes. That’s as far as I could go. When you haven’t done something in decades, sometimes your brain says “yes” and your body says “no”. Rather than being discouraged, I remember thinking, “Well, that was difficult, but you have to start somewhere.”
I kept practicing by myself and asking my family, friends and even perfect strangers about sprinting techniques. Finally, I sucked up enough courage to buy a pair of track shoes and to attend an organized meet. What struck me from that first real experience is how kind everyone was, and how willing they were to help, especially the officials.
With every meet came opportunity to learn and to meet more people who loved track. I entered any meet where master athletes could enter. That included youth and college meets where I ran as an “unattached” athlete. I often jokingly asked coaches to think of me as an athlete with “four more years of eligibility who had been red-shirting for more than 35 years!”
In 2009, I qualified for my first national meet at the National Senior Games at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. At the time, the 100m was my only event, and I advanced from the prelims, to the semis and all the way to the finals where I placed fifth. It was a dream come true. The stadium was teaming with “old” people who LOVED track and field. I had found MY PEOPLE!
My track career took off from there. Soon, I tried the 200m and 400m. I hired a coach and joined a sprint team out of Boston called Mass Velocity. (There are several of us in Minnesota, and we travel to meets various regional and national meets to be with our team.)
In 2013, I won gold the U.S. National Championship in the W50 – 400m. That was another turning point for me. It catapulted me into a group of master track athletes that competed at a higher level. I was later selected for select relays and other opportunities like the Penn Relays and Millrose. All those experiences have been remarkable.
Since my track career began fourteen years ago, I have competed in over 200 meets, many college meets, more than twenty national championships and four world championships. More than the medals or recognition that I occasionally receive, it is the people (old and young) that I enjoy most. Our mutual love for track brings out the most interesting conversations. I learned something every time I step into the stadium, and that inspiration carries over into every part of my life. What a journey!
(She currently is coached by Dean Herbert, and you can check out his website here.)
What accomplishment are you most proud of? (it doesn’t have to be track related)
I am most proud of being wife to my wonderful husband, Rick, and mother to my beautiful children, Adam and Julia. Everything else is secondary.
That said, I have had a fun career, and am most proud of certain chapters in my career such as when I was General Manager at WCCO Television, and now as CEO of the Better Business Bureau.
In track, I was blessed with the opportunity to be on both the 4X100m and 4X400m W55 relay teams at the 2015 World Masters Championship in Lyon, France. We won silver in the 4X100m, and gold in the 4X400m where we also set a new American record for our age group. It was an AMAZING experience, especially because we all ran our very best.
What was it like running in a world championship race?
Well….it is the best and the worst all mix up in one experience. There are prelims, semis, and finals for each event, and the competition is at the highest levels. There are strict rules about warming-up and checking-in prior to an event. The pressure is enormous, and staying focused over many days is emotionally and physically taxing. To be your best at an event like that is very difficult. There are several times when the pressure consumed me, and I felt spent before my event even began.
However, it is also so much fun to meet people from all over the world. Competing with the best of the best can be an uplifting challenge. The adrenaline and excitement make you run fast. And, if you don’t let the pressure get to your head, that energy can propel one to be their best. It is like anything else in that the experience at a world championship trains you to compete at that level. I have run at four world championships, and each time I got better at channeling my energy in a positive way. The first time, I can say I was miserable throughout the tournament, and so nervous that I raced poorly. By the fourth time, I raced well and had fun!
Do you have any favorite mottos,
mantras, or positive sayings?
Here is my friend’s advice: “Don’t worry about being the best. Do YOUR best.”
Usually, the beginning can be the most difficult part of starting something new because we don’t see the results right away. How did you get past this phase and keep showing up to practice even when you didn’t see results immediately?
That is easy! The mere fact that I started running for the joy of running made it easy to be awkward and clumsy at the beginning. Seeing small improvements is fun if you don’t compare yourself to anyone else. My goal was to run fast, not to win medals. For me, the winning has always been secondary to being…to live in the moment and to feel the gratitude of an opportunity that almost slipped away. My advice to anyone who wants to start something new but is afraid of how difficult it is. Pick something that gives you joy in practice.
The greatest of the great in any field of accomplishment are the people who loved to practice and study their craft. Their passion came before their greatness. Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Bill Gates, Einstein, and my favorite, Prince, are all people who had passion for practice.
How do you bounce back from races or practices that just don’t go your way?
I rarely have a practice that doesn’t go my way. Just being on the track is so fun, that I usually come away from that feeling proud, especially after having “slugged” my way through a tough practice. I try to keep my sense of humor. When I am with my training partners, we all help each other, and I love them all! My coach teaches his athletes to a adopt a mindset that performance on the track is neither bad nor good. Instead, a time on the clock is just information of where your body and mind are at that exact moment. He insists that we track all information to give us clues as to why my times are faster or slower, and we look for patterns that can be replicated. Learning to be less judgmental is difficult, especially if the wheels come-off at an event for which I have been training for a long time. Usually, a call to my coach or to my husband helps to get my head on straight. I will admit that I have to work hard at not letting disappointment or nerves get the best of me, but I am better at this as time goes on.
I read a quote where you said “It’s not about getting a medal. It’s about trying, seeing if you can. It’s about running your race.” Can you elaborate more on what you meant by that?
I have found that if you focus on the competition and on their race, you lose energy and become distracted. I am never sad or disappointed if I run my very best even if I don’t medal or make the final. Of course, it is fun to win, and I love it when I do my best AND can be the best. But, honestly, it is when I focus only on winning that I am sloppy or distracted. In 2015, I ran one of my best 60m times ever. I was completely in my zone. Minutes after the race, one of my competitors congratulated me for capturing the bronze, and I had to walk back out of the locker room to look at the scoreboard for confirmation. Ha! The finish was so close that I didn’t notice. My coach and I still laugh about that one. “Yes!” He says. “That is how you should be focused~ running your own race!”
Another quote from a previous interview was, “People often think that you have to have a destination, but for me, running is the destination.” Can you explain what you meant by that?
Being on the track is all that matters….it is my destination…doing what I love in either practice or competition. It is all fun to me!
Were there times that you doubted yourself? How did you keep moving forward?
Oh, that is a good question. Doubt can be the component in any situation that causes you to slow down. That can be both good and bad. It’s my doubt that causes me to prepare for everything and slow down. But, historically, my doubts sometimes have turned to anxiety which can be paralyzing. Pushing through that doubt can build character and courage.
One of the benefits of growing older is learning that aiming for perfection can get in the way of doing well enough. If you always expect to be perfect, you will miss out on opportunities to improve and to enjoy and to be part of something much bigger than yourself.
What would you say to someone who is scared to do something because they don’t know how it will turn out?
Craft an experiment.
Practice and adjust.
Listen to feedback from others.
Expect failure but accept it as part of the process.
Keep your sense of humor.
Build on strengths, not weaknesses.
How has becoming a world-class sprinter changed your life?
Who knew that my dabbling in sprinting would have been led to so many friendships and learning experiences.
I have learned that you are NEVER too old to follow your dreams. Starting track & field has taught me that it is never too late to start or try anything. If I had not started sprinting, I would have probably just grown old and bored at my desk. Without regular exercise, I would have suffered from health issues, and maybe never had the courage to try new things. Because of track, I have opened my horizons to many opportunities including my pursuit of a second masters’ degree at Harvard. There are many chapters to come in life, and anything is possible.
What is your definition of “success”?
That is another great question. Certainly, there are many definitions. For me, success is very personal. I define it from a measure of fulfillment, joy and good health.
Where I have been most successful in my life, career and track have come from an abundance of hard work, passion, and support from my family. The success that I cherish most has come from things that were earned. Yet, the Universe has remarkably granted me good fortune.
One of my mentors used to say, “Luck is opportunity meeting preparedness!” I believe that if you work very hard for something, every now and then, luck will work in your favor.
Is there anything you would go back and tell your teenage self?
Take more risks. It’s ok to fail. Failure makes you wise and experienced.
If you could share one message or piece of advice with the world, what would it be?
You don’t know what you don’t know.
Taking yourself out of your comfort zone can introduce you to people and things that you never could have imagined. Try new things!
For example, after knee surgery, my surgeon said that I had to train more in the water than on the track. My first response was, “I hate swimming. I don’t want to train in the water.” But, I tried it, and now, three years later, it is something that I enjoy.
You’re a world-class sprinter, Harvard student, and CEO. The sky is the limit for you. What’s your next goal?
After graduation this spring, I am going to focus on my training. The 2018 World Championships are in Spain in September. Now that I am 60 years old, I am in a new age category. My goal is to do my best at this event.
Recently, I took up playing the accordion. I’ve always enjoyed playing the piano, and I’d like to play even better. My father’s banjo uke is being restored, so I hope to spend more time playing and studying music.
My plans also include writing a book and studying French.
One day, I’d like to run a small business.
I would like to send a HUGE thank you to Susan Adams Loyd for taking the time to respond to my questions and give me some insight on what has helped her become the incredibly accomplished woman she is today. I hope you guys enjoyed this as much as I did. Stay tuned for more interviews from other high-achievers from all walks of life, and if you have any suggestions for people I should contact for a Q&A, please let me know!
Thanks for reading, and as Susan said, you’re never too old (or too young) to do something different, like start sprinting! Or start a blog. 😉 Whatever your passion is… go for it!