Ruth Welding spun three times before unleashing an explosive hammer throw.
Seeing the Elk Grove Village woman's chiseled physique from a distance, nobody could be surprised she's a reigning world champion in her age group.
But then after one throw, her hat flew off and revealed a crown of silver hair.
Suddenly her accomplishments somehow seemed even more impressive: she's 56.
Which means she fits right in with most of the 1,000-plus athletes competing this weekend in the USA Masters Outdoor Track and Field Championships at the Village of Lisle-Benedictine University Sports Complex in Lisle. Organizers say all the competitors have passed their 30th birthday and the oldest registered athlete is 95.
USA Track and Field is the governing body of the competition that continues through Sunday. Participating athletes must be members of USATF and are grouped in age divisions based on 5-year increments.
Both seasoned veterans and novices compete in an inclusive, supportive environment, organizers say.
Welding won the hammer throw in her age category at the world masters meet last summer in Sacramento, Calif.
And on Thursday she made a last-minute comeback after falling to seventh place in her event. Her "tennis elbow" tightened at one point, Welding said, and forced an early release of the hammer, weighing almost 7 pounds. But she saved her best throw, more than 40 meters, for last and seized the top spot.
Successfully competing at her age is "not impossible," said Welding, an assistant girls track coach at Elk Grove High School and a professional fitness trainer. "It just takes a little effort and interest."
Welding was a collegiate swimmer at Purdue University, experimented with track and field and focused on powerlifting before her success as a hammer thrower. Several doctors have told her she needs shoulder replacement surgery, which could jeopardize her masters sport, Welding said.
"As one of the orthopedics told me, for my age, I've put more than twice that many years of use into my joints," Welding said.
Nolan Shaheed, 63, a jazz musician who's played with Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, was another competitor battling some aches and pains Thursday.
A world record holder in his age group, he finished the 5,000-meter race despite a painful calf muscle he iced after his run.
"I'd rather be here hurt than to be anywhere else in the world right now," Shaheed, of Pasadena, Calif. said.
Shaheed, who specializes in trumpet, often composes arrangements during his running routines, including his song, "Just Another Day."
"Now I think I get more of a kick from running than I do from playing music," said Shaheed, who runs 12 miles a day.
Welding, meanwhile, says the "support group" from other masters athletes pushes her to compete and train regularly. She logs up to four days a week rehearsing hammer throws at Harper College.
"Those friendships are lifetime friendships," Welding said.