Karla Del Grande, Photo: Dan Slovitt

It takes a lot to stand out amongst your peers over the course of a season. Only the most exceptional performances, consistently achieved over a year’s worth of competition, will earn an athlete the distinction of being named Athlete of the Year.

Now multiply that by 10.

Canada’s Karla Del Grande was named World Masters Athletics (WMA) Female Athlete of the Decade recently. With the 2020 season almost totally disappearing during the COVID-19 pandemic, WMA chose to widen their focus and bestow honours over the 2010s.

“It’s very special. I think it speaks to my longevity and just getting out there and continuing to do it,” said Del Grande humbly. “We’re very welcoming, accepting and appreciative of each other. We all get what we have to do to compete at something like a world event. Longevity and consistency in getting good results is hard, but it’s appreciated by those of us who do this sport. It’s very special to look back at 10 years and say ‘Wow, I was able to keep out there and keep getting consistent results,’ and the bonus is doing what I love and getting recognized for that.”

Del Grande is a worthy recipient of such a far-reaching award, having set nine world records between 2010 and 2019. She owns world records in the 100 and 200 metres in two different age groups, plus the 400 metres record. Del Grande also holds 17 Canadian indoor records and 12 Canadian outdoor records.

Karla Del Grande, Photo: Dan Slovitt

She started with the sport at an early age, as many do, participating in track and field events in school. There were not many competitive opportunities for girls, so athletics became something that was just part of keeping fit as an adult, mixed in with aerobics and cross country skiing. Del Grande started taking road running clinics and it was at one of those clinics that she was re-introduced to the track.

“We were doing speed work for a 10K or half marathon and I really enjoyed it. Running on a track really took me back,” she said. “I loved road races. They’re social and they kept me fit and I saw parts of Toronto I’d never seen before. I didn’t know there was track for adults. I did a couple of events and I was hooked right away. I started with a coach and started doing sprint training, but I was still training to do some road races.”

That kind of dedication is a hallmark of Karla Del Grande’s success on the track. She says there’s no secret to her success besides hard work and commitment. “This is what I’m passionate about, so I am dedicated to making it work,” she said. “There are people that do this for recreation and I commend them for doing the exact same thing that I’m doing – getting out there and doing something they are passionate about in order to keep fit. For me to take it beyond that, to the next level, it means just that extra bit of organizing my time, arranging the cross training that supports my running. All those little pieces have to fit together to keep you going. It really becomes a lifestyle.”

Quick to share the credit for her long list of accomplishments, Del Grande recognizes the support that allows her to compete at such a consistently high level, highlighting the work of Ontario Masters and Canadian Masters to give Masters athletes a forum in which to compete. She thanked the physiotherapists whose treatment allow her to stay healthy. Finally, Del Grande put the value of a good coach in the spotlight.

“It’s not always easy to find a coach for a Masters athlete,” she said. “I am lucky to be coached by Jamal Miller – an awesome coach with Masters. When you do find a good Masters coach, they’re gold. They have to understand all the different demands that are on their athletes. There’s family, jobs, they might have aging parents to care for. The injuries can be very different. If you’ve got a good Masters coach that understands that, (you’re in a great position to succeed).”

Here at the start of another decade, Del Grande is not slowing down or planning on stepping away. She thinks of Canadian Masters Athletics legend Olga Katelko who competed until she was 95 years old, having only started competing in athletics at age 77 and having held 30 world records. She has maintained her training and fitness with hopes of competing safely again soon.

“I’ll be out there. We had so many events cancelled last year, including the World Masters in Toronto and the Canadian Masters,” Del Grande said. “If everyone does their part, and we get the numbers down, we can be back out there again.”