Different generations, same goals

Different generations, same goals

Even though they are 41 years apart in age, Madonna Hanna and Marcus Chambers are in lockstep with two loves: Competitive running and Toastmasters.

Hanna, 66, is a veteran of state and national competitions for senior athletes, while Chambers, 25, is an Olympic hopeful on Team USA’s track and field team. Both are members of Thursday Nite Live Toastmasters in Parkland. The two have developed an enduring friendship, in which they coach each other. Chambers is Hanna’s running coach, while she serves as his Toastmasters mentor.

Theirs is perhaps an unlikely partnership, given their age differences and life experiences. Chambers—a lifelong athlete—is the first male in his family to earn a college degree. Hanna picked up running on a whim, thanks in part to her late husband, Steven, who coached her to racing success. In her career, she was a fashion and retail executive, author, and high school teacher before becoming a professional speaker. She won an educator’s award and grant in 2007 for an anti-swearing campaign she created for her students.

Despite their age gap and different backgrounds, working together and communicating came easy for Hanna and Chambers. It’s a simple matter of respect.

“I respect her, and even though I am much younger, she respects me,” Chambers said. “It’s honestly a great fit.”

When Hanna lost her husband to cancer in 2018, she wanted to continue running and needed a new coach. Her physical therapist connected her to a few people, and she ultimately reached Chambers.

When Chambers first met with Hanna, he wasn’t sure he had the time for coaching. But he realized she would put in the time and effort to become a better 100 and 50-meter sprinter, and he wanted to help her do so. Together they poured hours and effort into practice. The effort paid off when Hanna ran in the U.S. 2019 National Senior Games in Albuquerque, N.M. and significantly cut her sprinting time.

“She is very coachable, positive, and determined to do well,” Chambers said. “The pure satisfaction of helping someone reach their goal is personally rewarding and warms my heart.”

Today, Chambers still coaches Hanna while training to compete in the Olympic trials next year in hope of running in Tokyo, Japan, at the 2021 Summer Olympics in the 400-meter event.

During their training, Hanna discovered Chambers’ interest in public speaking. As a longtime Toastmaster, she introduced him to her club, embraced the role of a Toastmasters mentor, and found ways to connect speaking to running to help Chambers learn.

“Speeches need polishing and fine-tuning just as running needs to be smooth and effortless,” she explains. “Preparation is essential in speaking and running. From start to finish, it’s a journey that includes daily practice and discipline.”

Perseverance is key to both activities, said Hanna, who overcame a ruptured Achilles tendon in 2014 to continue her running pursuits.

The lesson resonated with Chambers, as he learned that improving his speaking skills involved more than he anticipated.

“I just thought I would have to practice every now and then. Madonna taught me there was a lot more to it,” he said.

Chambers is aiming to not only compete at the Olympics but to also become the most well-spoken athlete in the Olympic Village. Ultimately, he wants to be an international motivational keynote speaker for young audiences, sharing stories of his own victories and tips for positively handling defeat.

“When you’re speaking in front of people, you have to be confident. When I’m running in front of thousands of people, I have to be confident in myself,” Chambers said. “Toastmasters has given me confidence, and I bring that in my training for the Olympics.”

Madonna Hanna, 66, and Marcus Chambers, 25, are each other’s mentor and coach in their pursuit of track victories and oratory skill

One of the key pieces of advice Hanna gave Chambers is simply taking a deep breath before beginning to speak. This came naturally to him because he often utilized similar breathing techniques just before a race. Chambers said breathing slowly and visualizing the outcome of a race or speech allows him to perform to the best of his abilities.

“Speakers and racers seek opportunities to perform, as well as improve their skills daily,” Hanna said. “There is always something to be tweaked, whether it’s gestures in speaking, or how arms are positioned to maximize speed when racing. Every time someone runs or speaks, they have an opportunity to learn something new.”

Toastmasters training has also helped Chambers with posture, a lesson that transferred directly to the track.

“Thinking about and actively working on my posture in Toastmasters reminds me to focus on it during practice,” he explains. “When racing against the fastest people in the world, it isn’t just about speed. It’s about who can run the most efficiently. In the end, maintaining good posture is going to help win the race.”

As they continued to work together, the two runners learned more about one another and the generations they come from—and the stereotypes surrounding them.

“Supposedly, millennials are selfish. That label definitely does not describe Marcus Chambers,” Hanna said. One trait he does have is regular use of his cellphone and texting, to which Hanna said she has adapted.

“Madonna is text-savvy,” Chambers noted. “However, she likes in-person meetings, too. I had to adjust.”

Though like many millennials he prefers digital communication, on the track Chambers is vocal and encourages two-way communication to ensure Hanna understands the drills and avoids injuries.

The duo has enjoyed running and speaking together so much that they teamed up to speak at a local church to an audience of students. They talked about their similar and different experiences as successful individuals from two generations, aiming to inspire the students to work hard and never give up. It likely wasn’t the last time they speak together on that subject, Hanna said.

Hanna, who has competed in international Toastmaster contests, plans to continue keynote speaking and hopes to compete in the National Senior Games as long as she’s healthy and injury-free.

Though the Olympics have been delayed a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Chambers plans to continue his training and keep pursuing his Olympic dream. In the meantime, he is starting to realize his second dream of becoming a youth-focused motivational. He recently completed a contract with a public school district to speak at every middle school in the area on preparing for college.

The future looks bright for these rising track stars, and though they come from different backgrounds and generations, they continue to train together, speak together, respect one another, and learn from their differences—no matter how great the generation gap.


Laura Mishkind is an assistant editor for Toastmaster magazine. She wrote this article for the magazine.


About Toastmasters

Toastmasters International is a non-profit organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through its clubs worldwide. Headquartered in Englewood, Colo., the organization lists 358,000 members in more than 16,000 clubs in 143 countries. More information is available at toastmasters.org.