Klee: On New Year's Day, Colorado Springs Woman Christel Donley Celebrates By Defying Calendar

by Paul Klee, The Gazette, Colorado Springs CO
January 1, 2015

Jerry Donley, 84, left, and Christel Donley, 79, sit among their personal hall of fame Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014, in their Colorado Springs home. The two of them still compete in the USA Track and Field Masters program. Jerry competes in the pole vault and Christel in the sprints and hurdles. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

My favorite track star in Colorado thinks 38-year-old Peyton Manning is "a toddler."

She's had four shoulder surgeries. After the last one, the surgeon asked: Do you still want to compete after this? She looked at the doctor as if he had 13 eyeballs.

Absolutely! she said.

The Colorado Springs resident trains every other day - first with five 100-meter sprints in the park, next with javelin throws, finally with dumbbells in the weight room.

Her birthday is Jan. 20. Christel Donley will be 80.

"She does what she enjoys," says her son, Nils Miller. "And she'll do it as long as she can."

Happy New Year, Colorado. Christel's resolution is one for the ages.

It's 2015. Christel's first year was 1935. I can't remember yesterday. She remembers World War II Germany. She was born and lived there until coming to the U.S. in 1968.

"Out of curiosity, mostly," she says.

I was curious, too. Curious how a grandmother of five will celebrate her 80th birthday by running a heptathlon 10 days later, how she ran college track at age 42, how she's still sprinting with members of a relay team she met in 1977.

"We can still beat a lot of the 70-year-olds."

OK, her secret: There isn't one. She pounds Starbucks. She doesn't drink alcohol, because "it does nothing for me," aside from a beer here or there.

"I am German," she reminds.

She likes chocolate and proper manners. She owns an iPhone but doesn't text.

"If someone needs to reach me, call me," she says. "I love a good conversation."

The Donleys vacation to track meets. Jerry Donley, her husband, is a high jumper and a pole vaulter. He's 84.

"We suffer together," she says with a laugh.

There's a rager of a party planned for Christel's 80th birthday. She says there will be cake, hurdles and a javelin. Competition runs in the family. Christel was 20-something when her mom signed them up for a mother-daughter race in Germany.

"She was in her 40s and could almost beat us," Christel says. "We dared to say we never want to compete when we're that old. Imagine that."

Imagine this: Christel next enters a new age group in Masters track and field, the 80-85 spectrum. "Still competitive," she says. "We don't trash talk, though."

It is for that reason she admires Manning, the Broncos quarterback, whose idea of a showboat is a wooden dinghy.

"The age stuff (with Manning) drives me nuts!" she says. "He's still so young."

Her relay team still holds reunions on the track. They met by chance.

In 1977, traveling in Europe, Christel stopped by an international track meet. Three members of an American relay team approached and asked if she would like to run.

"About 10 minutes later the Germans came and said, 'Are you going to run with us?' I was in a bind," she says. "I stayed with our team. And then we beat the Germans."

The USA Track & Field Masters recently named Christel its Athlete of the Year. She has plans to compete in the world championships next year in France.

"'Old' starts with 80-plus," she says. "And even that's under review."

In 2015, 80 is the new 20. Grandma wears track cleats.


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