Local Track Legend Adds to Her Accolades
Lifetime Sport: Carla Hoppie Places Third at World Master Athletic Championships
By Jordan Nailon
ONALASKA – Carla Hoppie says she likes to envision challenges like a mountain. It’s a concept that she uses regularly in her daily life and that she constantly tries to convey to her athletes and ingrain in her practice plans as the head track coach at Onalaska.
Earlier this month Hoppie’s mountain climber mindset paid off on the global stage when she placed third in the heptathlon at the World Masters Athletics Outdoor Championships in Malaga, Spain.
Hoppie, who graduated from Centralia High School in 1975 when her last name was Burks, described the Masters Athletic Championships as “The Olympics for old people.” The definition of “old’ in this case is as inclusive as can be with this year’s participants ranging from 35 to 101 years of age.
In all there were more than 8,000 competitors representing 101 different nations. Essentially, if you are old enough to be president, you can still move and you have a desire to compete, you can.
The competitors are broken up into age groups that are separated in five year increments with divisions for both men and women. For the heptathlon Hoppie had to be prepared to post competitive scores in seven events over two days. The first day she ran hurdles, cleared the high jump bar, heaved a shot put and bolted a 200-meter dash. The second day she started off with a long jump, followed by a javelin huck, and then wrapped up the bronze medal with her personal favorite event, the 800-meter race.
“My best event is the 800 and that’s usually everyone’s worst event in a heptathlon,” Hoppie said. “The one I have to work at the most is the hurdles. I don’t think it’s because I’m not good at them it’s just that in my mind it’s quite an obstacle.”
Success on and around the track is not something new to Hoppie, who has been leading the Loggers’ track and field program since 2012. During her high school years as a Tiger she ran for coach Mary Erickson and set several records along the way. Her crew even claimed a state championship in the 400-meter (mile) relay in her senior year and she still holds the record for the best 800-meter time in school history.
“They are changing things around at the school but it’s somewhere around there,” she said of the banners and plaques proclaiming her prep achievements.
There’s a pair of Hoppie’s records, though, that have fallen by the wayside since she donned her black and orange cap and gown.
“I held the 400 meter and 100 meter records briefly until they put that brand new track in. I think that was around 1981,” Hoppie recalled.
After high school Hoppie eventually found her way to Las Vegas where she lived for 23 years before going back to school to attain her Bachelors degree, which she earned from Eastern Oregon University in 2007. Now she’s come full circle and finds herself living in Centralia again while helping the athletes in Onalaska find their stride.
Hoppie’s unique drive to remain active in both mentorship and competition have not gone unnoticed by those who know her well. Onalaska athletic director and long-time basketball coach Dennis Bower even went out of his way to email The Chronicle and highlight some of Hoppie’s bonafides.
“She clearly demonstrates that you are never to old to compete. What a great way to validate the PASSION pillar in The (Ony) Way!” wrote Bower. “Carla is also one of our outstanding para-professionals, and still finds time to be OHS’ concession manager!”
A humble record setter if there ever was one, Hoppie would be the first to deflect praise. Still, she admits that she has been uniquely motivated to get out and put herself through the paces from a very young age.
“When I was young in grade school I always watched the Olympics. I wanted to be an Olympian and I just loved the play days at school and I always just loved running,” said Hoppie.
Once she reached an age where track and field events became organized Hoppie said she naturally gravitated toward the track team. That’s where she found her people and realized she had found her life’s passion, even though her coaches insisted on shooing her away from the shot put pit so she could focus on running.
“I think it’s the camaraderie that you have. Even though it’s not a team sport like soccer or basketball you still have that camaraderie where you all support one another and you cheer everyone on. It just feels good to accomplish something whether you win the race of you just better yourself. Everyone just supports everyone,” she explained.
Hoppie noted that the community atmosphere of the Master Athletic Championships is even more amplified as each participant faces the reality of depreciating physical returns head on.
“I would even say more so because even though we’re from all different countries we all kind of come together, and even though we are competing against each other we want everyone to do well,” noted Hoppie.
In addition to her head gig as track coach she also volunteers her efforts to the Loggers’ cross country teams. The fact that track and field offers so many gateways to a lifetime of physical activity is one of the reasons that Hoppie remains inspired to use sport to mentor youths.
“It’s definitely a draw for me. I try to get that across to my athletes. I don’t know that they really get it yet but I think that they will when they get older, but it’s definitely something you can do for the rest of your life,” said Hoppie. “Even if you can’t run, which a lot of people can’t because of knee problems or whatever, you can pick up a put or a jav and throw. You can pick from 17 events.”
Interestingly, Spain is not the farthest Hoppie has traveled to run and throw. In 1997 she participated in a competition in South Africa and that’s when she first became aware of the elders heptathlon event and reserved herself to competing in it one day herself.
Now Hoppie is the proud owner of a bronze medal that proves she climbed the mountain she set her sights on 21-years ago. She says that pursuit has helped to keep her motivated and she’s learned a few things along the way about how to keep her body in the best condition possible while preparing for the next obstacle she may need to summit.
“I have to do more specific things with hurdles and more focus on speed because as we get older we lose our speed and our range of motions so we have to work on that,” noted Hoppie as she started to laugh. “Although you have to watch how much you do because you can also hurt yourself. While we may still think like we’re twenties our bodies don’t respond the same. I’ve learned that lesson many, many times.”