BRICK – Dianne DeOliveira won’t even think of slowin’ down. Not at the age of 50.
The 1989 Toms River High School North graduate starred on the Mariners’ girls track and field and cross country teams, speeding to several championships in the 1600 meters and blazing over hill and dale often enough to win more titles and leave numerous opponents in oxygen debt. The owner of 12 varsity letters – one for every cross country, indoor track and field and outdoor track and field season – and 12 Most Valuable Performer Awards, she was inducted into the Toms River Athletic Hall of Fame on May 16, 2008.
The Brick Township resident continued to set the pace at Middle Tennessee State University, sparkling as a distance runner on a full athletic scholarship.
A road racer as a youngster, she returned to the roads after her scholastic career, emerging as one of New Jersey’s top women’s runners at the 5K, five-mile, half marathon and marathon distances. She has completed the New York City and Boston marathons.
These days, DeOliveira prefers competing on the track where the pace is faster as the distances are shorter than those of the road races.
The summer of 2021 was far from a day at the beach for DeOliveira, who starred at the USA Track and Field National Masters Outdoor Championships at Iowa State University in Ames.
Competing in the 50-54 age group, she sped to first place in the 1500 in 5:21.90. There was a winning 2:26.70 – a seasonal personal outdoor best despite sun that breathed 103-107 degree fire – in the 800. There was a second-place finish in 1:04.11 – another outdoor personal best – in the 400. And, she ran a leg on the first-place team that set the American masters outdoor record in 4:23.24 in the 4×400.
“I love the track,” she said. “I know exactly where I am in either practice or a race. I see everyone and everything. I don’t get lost in either a crowd or a pack. I like knowing exactly where I am in a race.”
DeOliveira, 50, has managed to out run the aging process.
“I think as you become older you learn how to run smarter,” she said. “I have been able to try different ways of training over the years and figure out which types of training I respond to best or what I need to do to get in shape in a shorter amount of time. Also, as you age, the recovery is more important. It takes longer to recover from a hard workout race at age 50 than it did when I was either 15 or in college. I have never been a high mileage runner, but I’ve learned to gear either my runs or workouts to how my body responds best.”
DeOliveira also had to cope with high humidity in the 1500, her third race of the meet.
“It was hot and humid,” she said, “so my plan was to just sit in second place for the first lap to see how the pace felt and then take the lead from there. My time wasn’t my fastest, but I had raced the 400 on Friday and the 800 on Saturday and I still wanted to have something left for the 4×400.”
It was the first outdoor national 1500 title for the ex-Mariner.
“One of the women in the 1500 (Elizabeth Guerrini, 52) had already won the 10,000 meters on Saturday and I had never competed against her before,” DeOliveira said. “She entered a faster seed time for the 1500 so I decided to run smart on the first lap and see how I felt. I was happy to get the win.”
DeOliveira competed in the 800 with an added dash of determination.
“The 800 is the race I really wanted to do well in,” she said. “I knew it was going to be hot and humid in Iowa and my race was in the early afternoon. I made sure most of my training in New Jersey was in the middle of the day when it was above 90 degrees to adjust. I would have liked to have run faster, but it was my season personal best. I knew I was mentally and physically ready to run a good time because I had done most of my training in the same conditions. I had come off an Achilles injury that sidelined me for 15 months. I couldn’t run for about six months so I was happy to be back and run a solid time.
“I felt confident going into the race because I had trained in the same conditions, heat and humidity, that were forecast for Iowa and the times I was hitting in my workouts were coming down to where I needed them to be. I had to completely change the way I train because of my Achilles injury so mentally I was a little freaked out, but physically I was where I needed to be. I took the lead from the start and just tried to push the whole way.”
DeOliveira ran the first leg of the 4×400 in 64 seconds. Her teammates were Andrea Collier, Sonder Hawkins and Terry Ballou. Collier, who organized the team, asked DeOliveira to join the fleet foursome. Hawkins is Collier’s training partner. DeOliveira had raced against Ballou in other meets.
“It was amazing,” DeOliveira said. “Most of us had already competed in multiple events and the 4×400 was the final event on the last day of competition. We thought we had a shot at the record, but we weren’t 100 percent sure. We had a great neck-and-neck race with the 54-59 team. They had taken the lead, but Sonder was able to come back and get the win. Both teams pushed each other.
“When Sonder crossed the finish line and I saw the posted times, I realized we broke the record. Most of the women in the 4×400 are friendly and highly competitive. Both teams were going for records so everyone just tried to go out and run as hard as they could.”
DeOliveira was well aware of the importance of her leg of the race.
“I knew I had to put us in the lead from the start to set up Andrea for the second leg,” she said. “She had come off a foot injury and still ran an incredible second leg and time. All of us did what we had to do for each other and the outcome was a new record. Both teams were going for records so everyone just tried to go out and run as hard as they could.”
Despite consisting of just three athletes, DeOliveira’s team, Bella N Motion, scored 38 points for 30th of 111 teams in the meet. A USATF certified coach, she founded the organization in 2014. It’s an all-female USATF club for females of all ages and abilities.
“My track teammates and the entire group of women who belong to Bella N Motion are the reasons why I still love running and competing after all of these years,” she said. “They are inspiring and just an amazing, supportive group of women. I think of all of them and how hard they work and train. That’s what motivates me to give everything I have when I step on the line. I plan to compete until I’m physically no longer able to.”
The 5-foot-3 DeOliveira will compete in the USATF Masters Indoor Track and Field Championships at the New Balance Track and Field Center from March 18-22 in New York City. She and her teammates hope to break the American and world indoor records in the 4×400, her final event of the meet. DeOliveira plans to compete in the open 400, 800 and mile.
Team DeOliveira consists of her husband, Kevin Gaine, and 12-year-old son, Bryce Gaine. The latter competes in cross country for the Lake Riviera Middle School. She hosts a morning radio show on 107.1 The Boss.
“Kevin and Bryce have been supportive in holding down the fort while I travel to races,” she said. “I met my husband through running.”
DeOliveira said she is self-coached. She ran in her first 800 in April of this year and competed in Iowa in July.
“When I ran the 800, I was able to run a time just as fast as before my injury,” she said. “I raced a few more times in May and decided I would compete in Iowa.”
DeOliveira stresses quality running over quantity running.
“My mileage is still very low, just 15-20 miles per week, with two to three days of speed work,” she said. “I don’t really have a motto. It’s more of a mindset of being grateful to still be able to step on the line and not get overly serious about competing where it’s no longer fun. I know if I train hard I’m ready to race hard and that no matter the conditions everyone is competing in the same elements.”
DeOliveira began her career as a fifth-grade student at the Silver Bay Elementary School after being asked by her teacher, Wayne Gray, to compete in a one-mile race in Ocean County Park. Attired in corduroy pants and a winter jacket, she earned a medal, finishing in the top 10. She ran her first road mile as a sixth-grader in a race at the Ocean County Mall.
“My parents (Dianne and Arlindo DeOliveira) tried to talk me out of the race in Ocean County Park because I had asthma and had never run,” she said. “When Mr. Gray asked if anyone wanted to run the race, I said, ‘Yes!’ I was fast in gym class and liked to run so I convinced my parents to let me do it.”
Many, many miles later, DeOliveira is glad she agreed to run. As for her opponents … well …