'People say that they want to be just like me when they grow up... And I think if I can please people and give them hope, then it's worth living longer.'
A 105-year-old Louisiana woman made history at the 2021 Louisiana Senior Games competition earlier this month by becoming the first female track and field athlete and first American to set a world record in the 100-meter dash for her age group. According to the National Senior Games Association, Julia "Hurricane" Hawkins crossed the finish line at 1:02:95 but was disappointed that she couldn't do better. "It was wonderful to see so many family members and friends. But I wanted to do it in less than a minute,” she said after the race. When someone in the crowd asked whether it made her feel any better to realize that her time was still less than her age, Hawkins flatly said: "No."
Speaking to USA TODAY a few days after the race, she said: "The older you get, the more passions you ought to have... Keeping active is one of my most important passions. I keep thinking, 'Why am I left here?' Why haven't I been called by now?' People say that they want to be just like me when they grow up... And I think if I can please people and give them hope, then it's worth living longer."
Hawkins, a lifelong teacher, started competing in sprints at the age of 100. It was her children who registered her for running after she decided to quit biking, which she did for about eight to 10 years prior. "When I started running, I found it was a pleasure. I enjoyed doing it. So it was a new challenge, and I took to it like a duck to water," Hawkins said. "I felt that would be a neat challenge to run the 100 [meter] dash, at 100, in under a minute."
This wasn't the centenarian's first record-breaking race. She caught the world's attention in 2017 when she set the 100-meter world record for the 100-104 age category at the National Senior Games in Birmingham with a time of 39:62. Although that record was broken in September by 100-year-old Diane Friedman, Hawkins had by then entered a new age bracket at 105. "The only other track and field athletes to reach the 105+ age mark have been males – Japanese shot putter Hidekichi Miyazaki and Polish runner and discus hurler Stanisław Kowalski," the National Senior Games Association states on its website.
Hawkins revealed that although she doesn't run every day anymore, she still stays very active by walking or jogging a mile or two almost every day. She also does a 50-meter dash to practice every now and then. "When you're 105, you don't have too many 100 [meter] dashes left in you, so you save them for when you need them," she said. When asked the secret to living a healthy and long life, Hawkins told WGNO: "Marry a good man. And if you're married to a good man that you respect and love and like and he's your best friend, then you'll be happy all your life."
Hawkins' husband of 70 years passed away several years ago at the age of 96. "When he died, she just really thought her life had ended. So having this come along and happen, this kind of out of the blue, that she has this new fame and all this attention and people telling her you're my role model and because of you, I started exercising again, has really given her a whole new lease on life. It's been a great run for her," said the record-making athlete's daughter Margaret Hawkins-Matens. The Louisiana Senior Games serve as the state's qualifying event for the biennial National Senior Games, which will take place in May 2022 in Greater Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Hawkins explained that she's still deciding on whether or not she'll compete.
Until then, she hopes to continue to inspire people of all ages to lead active, healthy lives and chase "magic moments" – on and off the track. "I believe in magic moments, thinking of things that you see and do and feel that more than just usual. They're absolutely out of this world, they're so unusual. And wonderful," she said. "Every time I race it's a magic moment."