Irene Obera (b. 1933)
Irene Obera taught in the Berkeley school district for 36 years; the last 8 years of her teaching career (1988-1994) were at Willard, where she taught P. E. and computer skills, playing a crucial role in the development of the computer lab in that era. “Her outstanding teaching ability has enabled her to win the favor of many students and teachers alike,” read the dedication in the 1994 Target. “We admire Ms. Obera for her many achievements and the honor she brought to Willard.”
Those many achievements include numerous world records in track and field. While Obera began running as a young woman, competing in the 1960 and 1968 Olympic trials and drawing a mention in Sports Illustrated in 1962, it was not until she reached age 45 that world championship wins and records became commonplace. She repeatedly set records in her age group for the 200-meter, 100-meter, and 400-meter dash. She continues to break records in her eighties. In 2014 she became the oldest woman to break 40 seconds for the 200 metres, running 38.10 in an all comers track meet at Cal, and later that year broke two world records, in the 80m hurdles and 200m hurdles. In 2015 she set a World Masters Record at the USA Track & Field Masters Indoor Championships as the first ever woman over 80 completing an indoor pentathlon, and then went on to set a world record for her age group in the 80-meter hurdle at the World Masters Athletics Championships held in Lyon, France. She is one of the “fab four”—the four best women in U. S. masters sprint history—along with Phil Raschker, Kathy Bergen, and Renee (Henderson) Shepherd. In the fall of 2016, Obera traveled to compete in the WMA Championships in Perth, Australia, where she set world records for her age group in the heptathlon and in a pair of 80-meter hurdles events, and won multiple gold, silver, and bronze medals in other events.
“I don’t think about age, like most people do,” Obera told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2015. “I’d run against a 5-year-old or a 20-year-old. It doesn’t matter.”