Saturday December 31, 2022 – 9:00 am
“Running is also the sword of Damocles that I have to fight diabetes, hypertension… to imitate the sun, and shine even if there are clouds”
At 84, Edilia Camargo breaks all the molds and stereotypes that —sometimes unknowingly, and other times consciously— most of us assume as ‘normal’ within society.
And it is that it would not seem “normal” for an octogenarian to insist on being a world-renowned elite athlete (she is). Or that a professional, after a successful international career, refused to accept retirement as a natural process. (She is still active at work; she does not believe in retirement or retirement).
Nor is it at all common for a ‘grandmother’, who distributes her time with stays between Panama, Paris or New York… being able to enjoy her trips, her grandchildren or whatever I know how much pleasant and serene activity, prefers to ride a international forums fighting for the rights of older adults to a healthy and productive life.
I already knew all this before meeting Edilia in her apartment in Panama City. But That day she would know other social norms that are broken in the life of this outstanding Panamanian. Just an example: He showed me a permanent tattoo on his belly that just a few weeks ago had been ordered to be made (very fashionable, by the way!).
When I saw her happily showing me and explaining the meaning of her tattoo, I tried to imagine for a moment my grandmother entering a tattoo parlor… however, the image did not enter my head.
But within a few minutes of starting my conversation with Edilia, it became clear to me that she does none of this to figure (In fact, I had to wait and insist for the interview to finally take place). She is simply who she is, and she remains faithful to her convictions and life principles.
And —I think— as an additional bonus to that fidelity, life has given him a kind of supernatural power to stop the effects of the passage of time on his bodily resistance.
Up close, she looks full of vitality, conveys security, and talks about future projects. And in the interlocution she gives away expressions brimming with sincerity: ‘Look, I’m not optimistic by nature; I am by force by reasoning, by conviction. Sometimes I tend to shrink, but I cheer myself up, and I say… No! We must move forward’.
But to tell the truth, I was at his house to meet his facet of an athlete (rather, a high-performance athlete). He had previously asked him to have some of his medals won in marathons, semi-marathons or in track and speed competitions where he has represented Panama. And there in plain sight were the medals.
But at first, she seemed more interested in talking about her new literary project or her activism to insist that the National Assembly of Panama approve a convention prohibiting age discrimination in old age.
I insisted on channel the talk towards sport. It was not difficult because it is something that he is also passionate about. But my newsworthiness was partially successful that day: I got him to come down to the building’s gym to watch one of his intense physical training routines, but I didn’t (at least that day) get him to go outside and train in the open.
“Are you sure you want to go running with me?”
—Yes, I answered naively (later I had to sweat the fat drop).
Watching her run is impressive. She does it with a very professional technique and with a strength that has nothing to do with the general idea of an 84-year-old woman.
But he explains that they have been training for more than three decades: “I ran my first marathon when I was almost 50 years old… but since then I’ve been doing it as a master athlete.”
—Yes, it’s athletics, it’s not recreation… be careful!
and adds that they are elite athletes over 35 years of age who refused to withdraw: ‘This is a totally different version of floral games or old men who go for a walk and who are going to compete… it is high-caliber people who compete’, precise in a very serious tone.
As serious is also his marathon record. And let’s not forget that the marathon is 42 grueling kilometers.
But despite this, in his career as an athlete he already has 22 marathons (2 of them awarded worldwide). Has run —for example— 2 times the New York marathon and 9 times the Paris marathon. There, in France, he did his best marathon time: 5 hours.
“And to think that I started in this, as the French say, putting the thread on the needle,” he says between smiles.
That in reference to when I worked in Europe, at the Unesco headquarters, By chance, he joined the entity’s athletics team to compete in a relay race in Italy. It was her turn to complete 12 km. She and she did, but she came last.
Remember that day they mocked his agony to reach the goal. But those taunts were only the impetus to develop a love to run and compete. The following year (already with due training) he was raising his first cup. And more than three decades later that love keeps intact.
‘They gave me a challenge and I took it. And from that moment I started competing. Later I went on to do marathons and then to participate in world championships’.
Until the Porto Alegre Championship, Brazil, in 2013, the introduction of a rule called ‘pass time limit’, demotivated her with long-term competitions.
I was running a semi-marathon (21 kilometers) and suddenly the organization required a minimum time of 3 hours to pass a certain point, and whoever exceeded that time was disqualified.
‘I was the only one registered worldwide in the category, and they took me out of the race because I had passed a minute later’.
With the energy that characterizes her when confronting what she considers unfair, Edilia at that time, as director of the Panamanian delegation, refuted the introduction of that strange rule: “I told them: show me where that rule is! They told me that it doesn’t exist, but they continued to apply it anyway.”
And after some bad experiences of disqualifications for this intrusive rule, Edilia Camargo decided to turn towards speed competitions, towards track racing, starting in 2019.
As a master athlete, he entered the 100m sprint… and the result was impressive!
‘I broke the current record. I have the Central American record of 100 meters (in my category 80 – 84 years). I did it in Guatemala, with the best time for women. I did 24.63 seconds’.
And not satisfied with this feat for her age. The next year he further lowered the Central American record, leaving it at 24.04 seconds.
For someone over 80 years old, Running 100 meters in 24 seconds is quite a feat, if one takes into account that the young three-time Olympic champion and ten-time world champion, the Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, runs it in 10.67 seconds.
But Edilia Camargo, just as she does not box herself into stereotypes of life, he also doesn’t seem to be intimidated by any distance format to compete within his master athlete category.
Just as he won medals in the marathon and 100 meters, he was also encouraged to compete in other distances, with successful results. And he says it quite naturally: ‘I have medals and records in 1,500, 5,000 and even 10,000 meters’.
And when we all think of him Edilia Camargo sees the year 2023 as a new page for personal and work challenges based on athletics.
With a sparkle in her eyes, she told me how excited she feels about, soon, move up to the next category (85+) and how much he is enjoying his preparation to compete in the 800m in Daegu, South Korea in March 2023. “I’ve raced in Daegu before, but this time I’m focused on lowering my mark to 6 minutes.”
At the end of our first meeting I had the audacity to ask to accompany her to a training session. We were summoned early (the photographer and I), at 7:00 am, in a sector of the Cinta Costera.
When we arrived he was already running. She had the grace to break the routine and talk to me as I slowed down to a brisk walk and warm-up exercises. The photographer takes advantage of the pause to record his routines.
I wasn’t the only one who was impressed. Someone came up and asked me: ‘How old is the lady?’ 84, I responded to his disbelief.
I cheered up and told Edilia: ‘I’m going to run alongside you.’ The photographer was also encouraged… but after a few meters We only had to stop to see his figure as he walked away.
‘I ran my first marathon at almost 50 years of age. They threw me a challenge and I took it. Then I understood that my health was also at risk’
PHILOSOPHER AND MASTER ATHLETE
[VIDEO] Edilia Camargo, the 84-year-old athlete who continues to accumulate km and medals