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58-year-old Grandma Makes Comeback, Rises to Olympic Racewalking Stardom

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Quick Smiles:

  • From being a homemaker to an Olympian, 58-year-old grandmother Michelle Rohl returns triumphantly to racewalking, two decades after her retirement.
  • Having previously participated in the 1992, 1996 and 2000 Olympics, she excelled in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials with an impressive time of just over an hour and 42 minutes.
  • Showcasing unflagging spirit and determination, she trains every day, covering a total of 45 miles per week despite several injuries.

Here’s a heartwarming tale: a grandmother from Pennsylvania has stepped back into her shoes to return to a path she once walked. Michelle Rohl, a former distance runner, has made an inspiring comeback to racewalking, a sport she officially retired from more than 20 years ago. Why did she hang up her shoes? To homeschool her five children.

Born and raised in Wisconsin, Michelle has a rich history with the Olympics. She was a part of Team USA for the 1992, 1996, and 2000 Olympic Games. Now, at 58 years old and having just become a grandmother three months ago, she jumped back into action at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials on June 29, qualifying with flying colors!

Her return to the sport was no leisurely walk. Michelle completed the 20-kilometer race in a remarkable time of just over an hour and 42 minutes. This incredible accomplishment earned her the third-place overall.

This determination wasn’t without challenges. Michelle shared the fact that she trains tirelessly, covering a total of 45 miles per week at an 8-minute-per-mile pace. And that’s not it; she persisted through numerous physical setbacks.

“I just said, ‘I have to stay on my feet and keep going forward,’” Michelle recounted her experience from a year ago when she had suffered a concussion after hitting her head on a curb during a race. Adding to her trials, she battled through a split chin during a race in Toronto just weeks ago. Her attitude was plainly one of grit, stating, “I was glad to be done. It would have been more rewarding if I wasn’t just trying to stay up for the last two laps.”

Her husband, Michael Rohl, praised her resilience, saying, “I’ve never known anyone who is as mentally tough as her.” He went on to say, “She likes to run, she likes to compete, and it’s a lifestyle for both of us. It makes her happy, and I’m just happy to be along for the ride.”

Despite her return to the racewalking, Michelle holds no regrets about her hiatus from the sport. “My middle daughter told me, ‘Mom, you were a really good athlete. Then you had kids,’ ” she reminisced. “‘And then we all grew up, and you’re a great athlete again. I think we were the reason.’”

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Michelle responded, “I wanted to” take a break from sport, adding, “I was ready for a break and I wanted that part of my life.”

At the recent Olympic trials, Michelle, as the oldest athlete present, did not expect to match her former performances. However, her unyielding spirit carried her through and she set the American mile record for women in her age group the previous year. It’s this spirit that will now carry her to the stage of the 2024 Summer Olympic Games.

“I told her, ‘You have to do this because you might inspire other people to keep going,’” Michael encouraged his wife. “‘Like who does this? The answer is, no one else has. So just go do it and have fun doing it because you can.’”

And with that note, Michelle is set to return to the biggest sporting stage in the world, not as a symbol of her past triumphs, but as a testament to what she can still accomplish today. Backed by the support of her husband and family, she’s ready to inspire us all by adding another remarkable chapter to her story.

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