Phil Raschker is the master of all masters
Phil Raschker looks completely at ease as she chats with her colleagues, poses for photos and savors yet another world title, this one in the heptathlon.
The petite, powerful redhead never planned on developing into a Masters track superstar, serving as an ambassador for the niche sport or providing inspiration for those following in her still fast-moving footsteps.
At 64, though, the two-time Sullivan Award finalist from Marietta, Ga., is all of those things, not to mention a devoted daughter who visits her mother in Hamburg, Germany, several times a year and a business owner winding down her work as an accountant.
Track? Raschker got her first taste when she was 13, then focused on other pursuits before returning in time to build a storied 31-year Masters career that includes 100 world championship medals, 73 of them gold, and more than 200 world and national age-group records.
Raschker, whose given name is Eileen Phillipa, came to the United States from Germany in her early 20s to work as a governess. She planned to stay for two years and return home, but instead got married -- she divorced 10 years later -- and became a U.S. citizen.
A gymnast and swimmer as a young girl, she joined a track club in Germany when she was 13. She dabbled in a variety of running clubs in the U.S. before spotting a story on Masters track in a North Carolina newspaper in 1979.
"I thought, 'I think I can do that,'" Raschker said while sitting in the shade under an infield canopy at Sacramento State's Hornet Stadium during the World Masters Athletics Championships that ended Sunday.
Track and field has become my family. I have such wonderful friends all over the world. I'm mostly alone at home.Phil Raschker
She did it well enough to earn a spot as one of five finalists for the Sullivan Award in 2003, joining eventual winner Michael Phelps, LeBron James, Apolo Anton Ohno and Diana Taurasi. Raschker was a finalist again in 2007 after winning 10 gold medals at the World Masters Championships, then losing to Tim Tebow.
"I'm still awe-stricken by not only once but that I got in there twice as a Masters athlete," said Raschker, who speaks with a hint of a German accent and remains fluent in her native language. "In a way, I couldn't believe I was a part of it."
Such recognition, though, hasn't changed her personable, easygoing style.
"She's an inspiration," said Mary Trotto, a 64-year-old Masters athlete from Kihei, Hawaii. "When I compete with her, I'm actually faster.
"She coaches you a little bit. She's not like one of these standoff people, 'Yeah, I'm so great.' She helps you. She's very supportive to the athletes, new and old."
Long Island's Kathy Martin, a 59-year-old Masters standout, called Raschker a goodwill ambassador who knows how to get the most out of her talents.
"She does so many events," Martin said. "To me, it's just amazing. Obviously, that comes from listening to her body."
Masters athletes talk about training smarter as they get older -- less is more -- and focusing on quality instead of quantity.
Raschker, fighting an Achilles problem before and during the world championships, has reduced her schedule from 20 meets a year to five or six.
Finances influence her scheduling, too, with the average Masters trip costing her $2,500.
She typically competes in at least 10 events: the heptathlon, 100-, 200- and 400-meters, 80-and 300-meter hurdles, high jump, pole vault, long jump and triple jump.
"Every event I went to, I gave it basically 100 percent," she said. "You can't do that ... You've got to be a little bit smarter."
Raschker, 5-foot-4 and 105 pounds, typically spends one day a week in the weight room, then hits the track on four other days for repeat 100s, 200s or 300s. She isn't competing as often, but sounds like she can't wait to turn 65 in February and jump into the 65-69 age group.
"That's really where my focus is," she said. "When you're in your 60s and 70s, I know the older athletes know that five years before seemed like nothing. Now it almost seems like, if someone new comes in, it can look like a 10-year gap. The body just slows down. It's a fact of life."
But despite those inevitable slower times and shorter distances -- she long-jumped 14 feet, 3/4 inches as a 60-year-old in 2007 before finishing third in the same event this year with a 13-9 -- she believes competing keeps her healthy. So does a simple approach to eating that includes oatmeal and fruit, chicken and salads and snacks built around carrots and nuts.
"Anything in moderation is OK," Raschker said. "Sometimes we just need to change our thought process on what's on our plate. You'll find out it's really OK to eat healthier.
"I grew up, we couldn't leave anything on the plate. [Now], I try to just have a smaller plate."
Water is Raschker's beverage of choice, even if she has to pour it into a wine glass in her home office to make it more appealing.
"Just to trick myself," she said. "It looks nice and I drink it. Whatever works."
Besides the challenge and health benefits, Raschker savors the camaraderie that comes with competing around the world with people from varied places and walks of life.
"Track and field has become my family," she said. "I have such wonderful friends all over the world. I'm mostly alone at home.
"It's just wonderful to have the opportunity to see friends you've pretty much known for 30 years. ... What a neat way, really, to embrace the world."
Raschker, an only child, returns to Germany several times a year to visit her mother, Elfriede, who at 89 recently suffered a stroke.
"I want to be there," she said. "It makes it difficult to train."
She's cutting back on her financial services work to care for her mom and maintain her place in the Masters track world, where getting older can mean getting better.
Raschker said she doesn't see well enough to continue another love -- making furniture -- but feels good enough to keep moving on the track.
"I like the challenge," she said. "Track and field is really what I love. I hope I can do it for many years to come. Some of my most admired athletes are 85 and older. I sit in awe, what they've accomplished.
"I would like to get to that point."