What’s with that wiggle? York race walkers explain

They call them the wigglers.

They move quickly, faster than many people jog, but they’re not running. Their hips rotate well beyond a normal gait, swaying from side to side as they power down the track, keeping one foot on the ground at all times.

They’re race walking. And while Marv Berkowitz admitted the wigglers’ sway might look funny, it’s what allows race walkers at the Olympic level to hit a six-minute mile pace. By comparison, a typical person walking a mile down the street might take 20 minutes.

Mark Berkowitz, left, with his daughter Brie, center, and wife Darla after a recent 5K.  Berkowitz doesn't compete in official race walking events, competing in local 5Ks instead.

Berkowitz was a runner, cyclist, triathlete and a weightlifter, but 18 years ago, an Achilles injury ended his running career for good.

Devastated, he searched for some other way to recapture the feeling he got from running.

That’s when he discovered race walking and joined the ranks of the wigglers.

“You adapt,” said Berkowitz, now 64. Longing for the sights, smells and experience he’d had when running, he studied the technique involved in race walking and, as his form improved, was able to go farther and faster.

Lana Kane does a race walking drill exaggerating her steps as she walks the track at Spooky Nook Sports.  Race walkers swing their hips, walking with one foot right in front of the other to make a straight line and increase pace.

“I was getting the same feeling that I was getting from running,” Berkowitz said. “I captured it.”

But race walking is not just walking fast. The technique and rules are specific.

“It’s such a simple sport, but it’s so technical,” Berkowitz said.

Running is natural, instinctual, Berkowitz said. Race walking is not.

Workouts with a twist

The rules?

Walkers must have one foot on the ground at all times. There’s no flight period like in running – race walkers are firmly planted. They also must keep their leg straight until it passes under their body, no bending of the knees. During an official race, lifting the feet or bending a knee will result in a warning from one of several judges monitoring the course. Three warnings and you’re out.


Lancaster County’s Lana Kane learned that the hard way a few years ago.

Kane said it only happened once, but when the 76-year-old talks about it, you can still hear her aggravation at the incident. It was during an indoor meet in Boston an official came on to the track where she was walking to escort Kane off the course.

“They claimed I had a bent knee,” she said.

Unlike Berkowitz, who used race walking as a way to reclaim the feeling he got from running, Kane found satisfaction in the sport in its own right.

“I think I did maybe two 5Ks in my lifetime that I ran the whole thing.” Kane said. “I just hated it.”

She’d run fast, get out of breath then slow to a walk.

“I thought, this is ridiculous,” Kane said.

Olympian Hali Flickinger thanks York County

Then in 2000 she tried to walk and discovered she was good at the sport. Instead of getting passed during 5Ks, she got the satisfaction of passing other runners as they dropped out.

“That’s a lot of fun to see the look on their face when you pass them,” Kane said. “I’d just keep walking.”

Lana Kane pushes a sled with 90 pounds of weights piled on top.  When Kane was in high school, the only sport available for girls was half-court basketball.  Now, at age 76, Kane competes in race walking, 100M, 200M, javelin, shot put, weight throw and super weight throw at the national level.

With no race walking events nearby, Berkowitz competes in 5Ks that don’t have judges for race walkers, holding himself to an honor system to obey race walking rules.

Kane, meanwhile, travels to compete in official race walking events. She competed in national USA Track and Field championships not just in race walking but in javelin, shot put, weight throw, 100 meters and 200 meters. She regularly places in her age group.

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