Written by Peter Kusnic
The runner positions herself on the starting line. To build confidence, she thinks: A hundred meters. Easy. But it has been 20 years since she ran competitively.
The gun pops, and she takes off. Seventy meters in, her hamstring kinks, sending jolts of pain down her leg. She pulls up, unable to finish. It’s an echo of her days as a Pitt sprinter, when she was plagued by injuries. Somehow, though, she knows the next race will be different.
Renee Henderson-Shepherd won several championships during her University years. “But,” she says, “I was more known for having my foot stuck in a cast.” She put away her running shoes when she graduated from Pitt in 1985.
She earned a law degree, moved to New Jersey to practice civil law, and started a family with her husband, Darryl Shepherd, who attended the College of General Studies and played basketball at Pitt. Decades passed. Occasionally, she watched track events on TV, and something nagged at her: “I didn’t get the chance to run as well as I thought I could have in college.”
That was before she discovered Masters Track for athletes older than 35. Last year, she twice won gold at the World Masters Indoor Track and Field Championships in France, setting two new American records. This year, she swept the 100-, 200-, and 400-meter races at the national championships, then set two records and twice won gold at the world championships in Finland. Recently, she was named New Jersey’s Masters Athlete of the Year for the second consecutive year. At age 45, she’s not looking back.