103-year-old runner becomes oldest woman to compete on American track

A 103-year-old runner has become the oldest woman to ever compete on an American track after finishing the 50- and 100-meter dashes at the National Senior Games in New Mexico on Monday, according to event organizers. 

Julia Hawkins was clocked at 21.06 in the 50-meter event, which appears to be a Senior Games record for the women's 100-plus age division. That's because she's the first to compete in that category.

"I've always liked competition," she said. "With running, I can just go out and do the best I can and not depend on anything else to help me."

The Louisiana resident already holds the world record for her age group in the 100-meter dash. She didn't beat her previous best Tuesday but crossed the line in just over 46 seconds.

The record-breaker has a simple goal on the track: "I hope I'm inspiring them to be healthy and to realize you can still be doing it at this kind of an age."

"Julia represents everything that the National Senior Games stand for. She's an inspiration to athletes over 50—and under 50, for that matter—and she embodies everything positive about our mission of promoting healthy lifestyles through sports," said Marc Riker, CEO of the NSGA. 

In fact, Hawkins said eating right and not drinking or smoking has helped her longevity.

Hawkins, a retired teacher, said a combination of things keep her going — from yard work around her home in Baton Rouge to the challenges of competition.

"I keep active all the time," she said. "I have an acre of land. I work in it all the time. I have 30 bonsai bushes - some are 40 or 50 years old. That keeps me busy."

Hawkins began cycling competitively in her 80s, participating in the senior Olympics. When she became the only competitor in her division, her children suggested she try running. She liked the idea of competing in the 100-meter dash at age 100. Now, she credits years of cycling for her strong legs. 

 "It was fun," she said. "Maybe I'll retire now—or maybe not. In two years I might be ready for the next one."

Born on Feb. 9, 1916, Hawkins graduated with a teaching degree from Louisiana State University in 1938. That's where she met her future husband, Murray Hawkins. She taught for a while in Honduras while he served in the Navy.

After surviving the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he asked her to marry him. They had four children.

A record 13,712 athletes are participating in this year's Senior Games, which will conclude June 25. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, local officials and organizers planned to celebrate the athletes during a special event Wednesday night.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.