Norma Minkowitz has quite a routine.
In the morning she goes to The Edge. Three days a week, she runs 1.5 miles on the treadmill. Then she does lunges, curls and core work with a trainer. She follows up with an hour-long spin class. The other days, she runs outdoors.
Then she heads back to her Westport home. She climbs the stairs to her studio, and begins a full day of work as an artist. “I run from one piece to another,” she laughs.
Next month, Norma interrupts that routine. She heads to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for a national championship track meet. She’ll compete in the 1500, 800 and 400 meter runs.
She hopes to win a US title in her age group: 80 to 84 years old.
At 81, Norma has spent fully half her life in Westport. She met her husband Shelly at Cooper Union. She studied fine arts; he was an engineer.
Jobs with Sikorsky and PerkinElmer brought them to Connecticut. But he changed careers, becoming a home builder. Harvest Commons is his work. Four decades ago, he built their house on Broadview Road.
Meanwhile, Norma pursued her own career. In the 1960s she began working with fiber. “Back then it was considered ‘arts and crafts,'” she says. “Now it’s a fine art.”
Her specialty is crocheted cotton thread. She also does pen and ink, and sculptures.
Her style is “very personal,” she says. “It has a dark edge, about life, mortality and human nature. I’m interested in sequences, and how things evolve.”
Her art grows stronger every year, Norma notes. “I’ve pared things down to simple lines, shapes, forms and meaning.”
Norma’s work is now in 32 museums. And they’re big: the Metropolitan, the de Young, the Wadsworth Atheneum.
She came to running later in life. In 1985, a friend talked her into training for the New York Marathon. She did not prepare well, and lasted “only” 20 miles.
The next year, Norma trained with a coach. At 49 years old, she completed all 26.2 miles in 4 hours, 6 minutes — a 9:25 per mile pace.
The year after that, she had bronchitis. She ran anyway.
But, Norma says, she is “not in love with long races.” In 1986 she began running shorter distances, in the Westport Parks & Recreation summer series organized by legendary track coach Laddie Lawrence.
Those were more her speed. She’s participated every year since.
These days, she often trains with 4- or 5-kilometer runs. It sounds daunting. But Norma insists, “that’s not real long distance.” After training, she feels “healthy, strong, accomplished — and tired.”
She also feels “like I’ve done something for my body. Maybe it’s the blood going to my brain.”
Running helps her artwork, Norma says. In her studio, she often stands. “Artists have to be strong,” she notes.
She sees people her age who “hardly move.” No one says that about Norma.
One reason she loves her spin class is meeting so many nice (and young) people. “Some of them tell me they wish their mothers did this,” she says. “And their mothers are younger than I am!” She’s made many friends through the running community.
Her fellow spinners — and runners, and artists — are in awe of Norma’s accomplishments. They know how committed she is. And how hard she is training for the upcoming National Senior Games at the University of New Mexico.
It’s a big deal. Over 13,500 “seniors” — ages 50 to 100 — will compete in age group categories. Events include swimming, diving, biking, paddleball, bowling, golf, pickle ball and pole vault.
She qualified for her 3 track races last year, in a downpour in New Britain and a follow-up meet in New Jersey. Her times were well below the cutoffs.
But she’s leaving nothing to chance. She has no idea how the high altitude will affect her. So she’s working with former Staples High School runner and coach Malcolm Watson.
Last month, she ran in the Westport Young Woman’s League Minute Man race. Her mile time was 10:30. “That’s pretty good for 81,” she says.
It is indeed.
“It’s exciting,” Norma says of the upcoming national meet. “I’m a novice. But you never know…”
And if Albuquerque goes well, there’s the 2020 Senior Olympics in Fort Lauderdale.
“That’s sea level,” Norma says with relief. “On the other hand, there’s the heat…”