Some people are just born overachievers.
Take Carol Benjamin of Bowie. She has won numerous fencing competitions, including the NCAA women’s championship in 1966 and a gold medal in women’s individual at the Seventh Maccabiah Games. That was in 1965 when she was 19 years old.
She has been cycling, running and ballet dancing ever since.
Now, she is training to compete in this summer’s 19th Maccabiah Games in the half-marathon. The Games will be held from July 17 to July 30 in Israel.
Benjamin will be competing in the Masters Division for people 35 years and older, meaning she must run past racers almost half her age.
“I can’t stress how overjoyed I am, partly because I am going back to Israel, partly because it’s the Maccabiah Games, and because it means I can still function,” joked the 67-year-old, who has three children and three grandchildren.
Benjamin grew up in New York but has lived in Bowie since 1973. She is a counselor, specializing in grief and loss. She currently works part time in that field.
When she was in high school, Benjamin was impressed with her school’s highly ranked fencing team and decided to try it out.
“It looked very interesting, and it turned out I was good at it,” she said. In those days, a woman could only compete using a foil and not with a saber or epee, she explained.
She went on to college at New York University and immediately joined its fencing team.
Soon she was ranked second in the United States and frequently practiced at a fencing club, where she met her husband-to-be.
After college, she took to cycling and pedaled around the country.
Then, at the age of 51, “I started running marathons just to see if I could do it. It was fun,” she said.
After submitting her times from several recent races, Benjamin learned she had been picked to go back to the Maccabiah Games.
“I am so ecstatic. I jumped around the room when I got the letter,” she said.
Participating in the Games “means a lot to me, and it meant a lot to me then,” she said of her first experience. She still recalls the thrill of first stepping off the plane and being in Israel.
Athletically, the Games are similar to the Olympics except when it comes to “the cohesion, the interaction with Jewish people all over the world in a heavily competitive spirit.”
She has not returned to Israel since the 1965 Games and is looking forward to sightseeing at some of the places not open to Jews back then.
“Part of Jerusalem was closed,” she recalled. (In 1965, Jerusalem was divided between Israel and Jordan. The city was united following the 1967 Six Day War.) Benjamin also wants to visit a kibbutz.
This time she will be traveling with her husband, Mel, who has never been to Israel. They are going a week before the Games to join a special tour for older Maccabiah athletes.
Meanwhile, Benjamin is training, running often but also doing a lot of strength-training exercises. She also is preparing her body to cope with Israel’s heat, she explained.
Benjamin’s best time for the half-marathon, which is 13.1 miles, is two hours, 21 minutes and 30 seconds, which she described as not amazing but OK for her age.
When running, she “thinks of all kinds of stuff. I don’t wear earphones. I meditate.”
Sometimes, she is concentrating on “the pace of my feet against the ground,” she said. Other times, she is just watching the scenery, and “sometimes I just breathe. In an odd sort of way, it’s relaxing,” she said of her running.
Benjamin’s youngest daughter, Sarah Seibold, is manager of Family Bike Shop in Crofton.
Her mother stressed being fit and healthy, Seibold said, noting their kitchen was filled with low-salt foods, fruits and vegetables.
“Fried food. We just never did that whole thing,” she said, adding, “I grew up with a trophy room” packed with her parents’ athletic accomplishments.
She learned the love of bike riding with her family and met her husband, the owner of Family Bike Shop, that way.
She is very excited for her mother, noting, “It’s a totally once-in-a-lifetime thing, and she gets to do it twice.”
Seibold has become the self-appointed fundraiser for her mother’s trip. Besides the expense of going to Israel and a registration fee, Benjamin is required to raise $6,000 for the Games — the amount suggested for her those competing in the Masters Division.
Siebold will not be going to Israel with her parents and plans to watch by streaming her mother’s race live, cheering her on from afar.
It’s the kind of support Benjamin has come to expect but does not take for granted from her “very close family.”
To contribute, go to http://www.maccabiusa.com and click on Benjamin’s name under half- marathon.