When Dr. Helen Kinsey injured her back in 2012, and it took her about a year-and-a-half to recover, she sought a different exercise outlet than running.
Now, seven years later, Kinsey is one of the top senior female race walkers in the Midwest. This weekend, the local gynecologist will compete in the National Senior Games in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“I used to run and also bike, so I was disappointed I couldn’t run the Mill Race Marathon,” Kinsey said. “I’m just naturally a quick walker, so some friends encouraged me to walk for the half marathon. Before, I thought, ‘Walking, that’s for sissies.’”
But after walking the first Mill Race half marathon in 2013, Kinsey wanted to improve her time. She wasn’t happy with her speed.
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“So I looked online for how to increase your speed walking, and came up with race walking,” Kinsey said. “I watched some You Tube videos and sort of self trained myself at that point.”
Kinsey still did some biking at that point, but then broke an elbow in bike accident. So she started doing more walking at that time because it’s something she could do with her arm in a sling.
“Then, I went to a clinic to try an improve myself and found out I was competitive,” Kinsey said. “Then, I started doing more.”
Two years later, Kinsey broke another elbow and had multiple surgeries. Her orthopedist, Dr. Darryl Tannenbaum, ran marathons and suggested to Kinsey that she might try walking a marathon.
“That sparked my interest,” Kinsey said. “I was inspired to try a marathon.
So Kinsey walked the Mill Race half marathon in a cast in 2017 to prepare for the Monumental Marathon In Indianapolis, which she completed later that year.
“I thought it was the most stupid thing I ever did,” Kinsey said. “The next morning, I woke up planning how I’d do it better the next time.”
Kinsey went to a race walking clinic in Louisville and then started competing. Last year, she swept the 1,500- and 5,000-meter race walk events at the Indiana, Kentucky and Michigan Senior Games.
In race walking, competitors have to have one foot on the ground at all times. On each stride, their leg has to be outstretched with a straight knee, and it has to stay straight until it goes under their body.
“When you’re running, your goal is just to get to the end as fast as you can,” Kinsey said. “When you’re race walking, you have certain rules you have to follow. Otherwise, you’re disqualified. So that’s actually one of the really hard things about it, compared to running. That was actually my biggest fear, and I wanted to see if I was doing it right.”
Kinsey said that running uses more of an athlete’s quad muscles, while race walking uses more hamstrings, glutes, lower back and core muscles.
“I can get my heart rate up just as much (race walking) as I could running,” Kinsey said. “It takes as much effort as running. One of the reasons that I switched is, you have a lot of impact on your back running, and with the race walking, it decreases that by at least half.”
Kinsey’s goal was do six marathons before she turned 60. Now 61, she has done five marathons, and the sixth was rained out.
In the coming days, Kinsey will compete at much shorter distances. The 1,500 race walk is Saturday, and the 5,000 race walk is Monday at the University of New Mexico.
Kinsey’s best times are 8 minutes, 53 seconds for the 1,500 and 32:23 for the 5,000. She hopes to place in the top five in those events in the Women’s 60-64-year-old division.
“There’s people in my age group that have been doing this for probably 40 years,” Kinsey said. “So there’s stiff competition, but I’m hoping to place. It depends on who comes and how the day is.”
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Name: Helen Kinsey
Hometown: Winchester, Tennessee
College: Indiana University
Occupation: Gynecologist physician at Cummins Live Well Center
Family: Husband Steve, two adult daughters