VIENNA, W.Va. - Carol Seely the pupil and Donna Graham the mentor. The relationship turned out to be the perfect match at the National Senior Games. The two women, along with Mike Seely and Debbie Spears, recently returned from Houston where they competed against the country's top race-walkers in their respective age divisions and both brought home a pair of gold medals. On two separate days, the foursome battled extreme heat and humidity while racing in the 1,500 and 5K events. As a participant in the 55-59 age division, Carol Seely of Vienna completed the 1,500-meter course in a winning time of 8:56 and crossed the finish line first in the 5K with the clock showing 30:26. "This ranks right up there with getting married and having babies," Seely said. "It was so awesome. The experience was so wonderful that I took my medals into work." Graham, who lives in Lowell, Ohio, turned in winning times of 8:46 in the 1,500 meter race and 29:44 in the 5K. In the process, she defeated Yoko Eichel of California for the first time. "When I returned home, I found out I had set the record in the 5K for the 60-64 age division," Graham said. "That was an added bonus." Carol Seely's husband, Mike, competed in both events as well and managed to finish fifth in the 5K (34:12) and timed out at 9:42 in the 1,500. Injuries limited Spears to one race as she clocked a 10:48 in the 1,500. The road does not end there for the Seelys and Graham. The trio will journey to Berea, Ohio, later this month (July 28-31) to compete in both the 5K and 10K at the USA Masters Outdoor Track and Field Championships held on the campus of Baldwin-Wallace College. The age range covers any adult 30 years and older, so the skill level climbs several notches from what they witnessed at the National Senior Games. "All the big dogs come to this meet," Graham said. Graham's passion for the sport of race-walking originated several years ago when she suffered a serious fall on her farm. After 18 months of rehabilitating, she still had a noticeable limp. As a way to exercise, she discovered race-walking. And as they say the rest is history. Not only has she qualified for the National Summer Games twice, but she also traveled to Finland for the World Masters. "After I broke my knee, race-walking changed my life in a positive way," Graham said. "Race-walking is such an athletic activity and it's easy on the joints. I've met so many of my friends through the sport." Included in that group are the Seelys. Their friendship developed three years ago when the couple began attending race-walking clinics directed by Graham and Spears, who are considered as their coaches. It didn't take long for the Seelys to find an alternative to their exercise regimen. Their practice schedule covers three to four days a week in which they walk three to five miles each session. "Once we started, we couldn't stop," Carol Seely said. "It's changed our lives. It's definitely a wonderful thing to be part of because you stay healthy." As members of the River City Runners and Walkers Club, the Seelys take great pride in following proper technique as race-walkers. Just as impressive as their finishes were in Houston, the fact they did not receive any infractions also was a bonus. "My husband and I had never done a judged race before on the national level, so this was a huge deal for us," Carol Seely said. "There are specific rules with race-walking and it was very nerve-wracking because you were watched very carefully." The Seelys will showcase their ability later this summer at The News and Sentinel Half Marathon. Carol will compete in the two-mile, while Mike will attempt the half-marathon course for the first time. "It's one of those bucket list things where you want to look back and say you did it," Mike Seely said. "For my first year, I just want to finish and do the best I can." Carol Seely will also assist Graham as a monitor for the race-walkers on for the half-marathon race. Because of her interest in the sport, Graham has dedicated herself to lending her knowledge and expertise. She also has become a certified judge through the USA Track and Field organization. "Debbie and Donna teach a wonderful class," Carol Seely said. "They don't just tell you how to do it. They are also there to give you advice. When the clinic ends, it doesn't end the relationship with Debbie and Donna. "It's the club and the support from the clinic - we're all friends and it's a sense of community. We all have a common interest in keeping fit and race-walking."
Race-walkers Donna Graham, left, and Carol Seely, middle, each won two gold medals at the National Senior Games in Houston. Mike Seely, right, finished fifth in his age bracket in the 5K