Boothbay’s Matthew Forgues, Olympic hopeful in racewalking

“I feel like I have a very, very realistic chance of doing it”
Posted:  Tuesday, March 6, 2018 - 10:00am
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Matthew Forgues, otherwise known as Matthew Calling Elk, from Boothbay, is hoping to do his hometown proud by qualifying for the 2020 Olympics.

Forgues, 25, has been racewalking since he was 4 and his big sister, Lauren (now Albaum), was 9. Lauren had started racewalking through the USA Track & Field program at Wiscasset Community Center. “He was too young to start, but he wanted to do it, so we did the summer program,” Albaum said. “He wasn’t allowed to enter the meets, but he’d come to practice, and as soon as he was old enough he immediately jumped into all the track and field stuff.”

Racewalking is a long-distance footrace in which the athlete walks fast. It’s an Olympic sport. Forgues is training now, and will continue to train for the next two years, to hopefully secure a spot in 2020.

Racewalking differs from running in that one foot always has to be touching the ground, and the leading leg must be straight from the moment it touches the ground until it passes under the center of the body.

Brother and sister continued racewalking throughout middle and high schools, and each was the respective state record holder for Boothbay Region High School.

Now in San Diego, Forgues is training for 50K races after running marathons in Chile and New York. “He did great in both of those with no training,” Lauren said. “You need endurance for those longer marathons, and he has that.”

On Jan. 20, Forgues placed second in the USA Track & Field National 50K Race Walk Championship in Santee, California. It was his highest finish in a national championship race. In 2015, he placed fifth in that race; in 2016, he placed fourth; and in 2017, he came in third. “We’ll see what I do next year,” he said. “I’d like to keep the streak going.”

Forgues said his latest racing season started in July. In September, he won the 40K National Championships. His training had been going well, he said, then he pulled both hamstrings around Thanksgiving. “That put me on the elliptical for about two weeks. It was really, really painful.”

He got better, and then a week later, around Christmas, he came down with the flu. “I was out of commission for another seven days. I started easing back into it, but at that point I just kind of had to ride the wave and see what happened.”

A few weeks ago, Forgues and his coach decided to fly down to Monterey, Mexico for a race. The plan was to just walk the first 40 kilometers at a fast pace, and then if he felt okay he’d keep going, but if he felt it was enough, he’d drop out at 40K. “It was really supposed to be just kind of a test run.”

He started out at his goal pace, and stayed on it throughout. “When 40 kilometers rolled around I was still on pace, and I felt fine, so I decided to finish.”

He said he fell off pace a little in the last 5K, but he finished in four hours, 11 minutes, and 43 seconds – 12 minutes faster than he had done in a previous race. He came in eighth – his highest international finish ever. “It was a huge, huge personal best. Most people don’t ever set a personal best like that.”

After high school, racewalking was put on the back burner while Forgues attended first Ashford Univesity in Iowa, on a NIAAA (National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association's scholarship), then Goucher College, a private co-educational liberal arts college in Baltimore.

After graduation, he went to teach on an Indian reservation, Standing Rock, in North and South Dakota. There, he rekindled his love of racewalking, according to Albaum.

Serious racewalkers spend a lot of time training, and it costs money. Forgues holds down a full-time job as an educator at a Whole Foods Market in San Diego, and spends 20 to 30 hours a week training. He’s $15,000 in credit card debt. “It’s pretty much like working two full-time jobs. I put all my training expenses on a credit card. It’s a huge cost to train full time.”

There have been some food issues for the athlete, too. He started seeing a naturopathic doctor when he first arrived in San Diego. “Everything I ate was making me sick,” he said. “It was going on for months.” He learned he had a lot of food intolerances, including lactose intolerance, and low iron levels.

He’s still dealing with those, but is able to keep them under control by being very careful what he eats. He said he burns “a ridiculous amount of calories” training. On an easy day, he racewalks seven miles, but an average day involves 12 to 15. “In theory I can eat whatever I want, but in reality I can’t. I do eat junk food now and then, but I pay attention to diet and nutrition issues.”

To qualify for the Olympic team, Forgues will have to make the top three in his event at the trials and meet required time standards. “You could win the mile, but if you’re running the mile in eight minutes, they’re not going to send you to the Olympics.” He said the time standard for his event is four hours and six minutes. “It was a really, really good sign that I’m able to walk 4:11 now, and it was pretty easy. So that bodes well for 2020.”

“For my event there’s a window in which I can hit the time standard. I’ll have to break that 4:6 barrier anytime between Jan. 1, 2019 to May of 2020, and then I’ll have to finish in the top three at the Olympic trials.”

After the race in Monterey, Forgues said he feels like he’s gotten a huge boost in confidence. “I really truly feel like it’s not just a hope. So many dream of the Olympics and don’t make it, but I feel like I have a very, very realistic chance of doing it.

“That’s something I never thought I’d say. I knew it was going to be an uphill battle for me to meet the time standard, but after doing it last weekend, and doing it with such ease, I’m pretty confident that I can do it. After having shaved off five minutes in two years, I shaved 12 minutes off in a month.”

“I’m feeling a lot more confident than I’ve ever felt. You never know what will happen, but I’m feeling very capable now.”

Albaum had to give up her racewalking career a few years ago after contracting Lyme disease and, as a result, arthritis in one knee. “I’m limited now in what I can do, so now I have to resort to watching Matt, which is fine. He’s doing enough for the both of us.

“Physically he’s got what it takes to make an Olympic team, especially in the 50K. But he’s working full-time at Whole Foods, and it’s a full-time job to be an athlete. His workouts are four, five and six hours. If he can survive the schedule, he’s got it in the bag.”

Forgues is thankful for all the support he has gotten, monetary and moral. He’ll be visiting his hometown in May, when his sister promises him a niece.

Forgues is the son of Linda and Michael Forgues of Boothbay.