Four days, three nights. A kazillion reunions. and memories. Priceless.
Who knew how valuable this long weekend would turn out! And to think I very nearly missed the opportunity. I am reeling from the effects and cannot believe how many exciting races and finish lines I witnessed, rain and shine both, and how many friends I reconnected with. What an amazing four days. I just did not want it to ever end.
This was all made possible by the happenstance connection with a dear “old” friend dating back to 1977.
We met at the first National Women’s Conference in her home town of Houston, Texas. My teammate and best friend, Leal-Ann Reinhart and I attended to seek support and bring attention to our equal rights issue, the lack of women’s distance events beyond the 1500-meter in the Olympic Games. This was a prelude to the creation of the International Runners Committee two years later (1979). In Houston, we lobbied when and wherever we could, and had the good fortune to meet Henley Gibble (Gabeaux), from the RRCA who organized a torch relay which crossed the country to arrive at the conference in Houston. Here’s an excerpt from a previous blog on this website:
1977: International Year of the Woman
If I was influenced by the turbulent sixties to question authority, I was further influenced by the seventies feminist movement. The United Nations proclaimed 1975 the International Women’s Year. As a result, in the US President Gerald Ford established a commission for its observance and events were held over the following two years. In 1977, state conferences held across the country, which over 130,000 women attended. President Jimmy Carter appointed Bella Abzug to preside over the final culminating event in Houston, Texas, attended by more than 2,000 delegates. Houston native and Texas congresswoman, Barbara Jordan, delivered the keynote speech. A torch relay originated in Seneca, New York and was carried by 3,000 women en route to Houston. Dignitaries in attendance included Lady Bird Johnson, Rosalyn Carter, Betty Ford, Coretta Scott King and Billy Jean King.
According to the Handbook of Texas, “the conference opened with a clear sense of purpose as well as much fanfare…..” and “Although the National Women’s Conference was not a lawmaking body and could only propose non-binding recommendations, it was directed to arrive at a national plan of action to help remove sex barriers and better utilize women’s contributions…….to be submitted to the president and Congress….” It was these lofty goals which attracted me and best friend Leal-Ann Reinhart to the conference. We went seeking help for our cause.
“Twenty-six major topics were considered by the delegates, including the ERA, abortion, lesbian rights, child care, minority women, homemakers, battered women, education, rape, health, and a cabinet-level women’s department.” The enormity and importance of these issues empowered me and at the same time humbled me to the point that I felt fortunate that I had rights at all to run, and perhaps was being somewhat selfish to ask for more.
What I could not anticipate at the time, I learned years, indeed decades later. I had met a few key women in Houston that week in 1977: Peggy Kokernot, Henley Gibble, and Mary Cullen. From making those acquaintances, I could not have imagined their future influences and activism.
Peggy Kokernot was the amazing young woman who picked up the torch relay, in the state of Alabama where Phyllis Schlafly, of the “Stop ERA” movement, had convinced all Alabama women not to support this feminist organization event. There was a 16-mile stretch left vacant of runners that marathoner Peggy was asked to cover, which she did and saved the torch relay from being stopped in its tracks. Her picture on the cover of TIME magazine, combined with her winning the Houston Marathon shortly after the convention, and the strength she found after experiencing the conference opened opportunities she never dreamed of, according to her mother, Edith Grinell, in an interview by Jo Freeman, “The Last Mile – 1977.”
In retrospect, I am pleasantly surprised at the effect this event had not only for me, for each of my friends. The seeds were sown, and the years ahead were full of action. This “child of the sixties” had become a “feminist of the seventies.”
Peggy and I have been reconnected recently, after our last meeting in 1984 at the first-ever Olympic Women’s Marathon Trials in Olympia, Washington. We decided to have our reunion at this year’s Track & Field Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon. The minute we reunited, it was like we were never apart. I loved meeting her sister, Diana Kokernot, another energetic, adventurous woman after my heart.
Hanging out frequently at the Wild Duck and the Hoka One One shop next door was a great place for reunions, including Peter Thompson and Peanut Harms, who are in part responsible for the non-stop party at the Wild Duck. I had a heartwarming reunion with my longstanding friend Pat Devaney. There was Tom Derderian, Ron Wayne, and Christian Cushing Murray, who I’ve been seeing at other running events around the country, always happy to find them. Then there was one huge surprise –John Bragg. John was my first and everlasting adidas representative, who outfitted me during all my competitive years.
I got to visit with my closest, dearest lifelong friends (at least running lifetime), Joe Henderson, Janet & Tom Heinonen. And there was my Napa connection, Fran Vella. Joe Henderson edited my book, and Fran proof-read it. They know my life story better than I do! I think my enthusiasm to decide to come to Eugene rubbed off on my good friend, Mitch Garner when we recently saw each other in June. He decided to come and represent RRCA as the organization’s newly elected President. We certainly enjoyed this together.
One breakfast, Joe introduced me to Kees Tuinzing, who happens to coach Sister Marion Irvine. What a shock! I have a running photo of us running the Daisy Hill run in the Bay area back in 1978. It’s a story for another day, but I always wondered who he was!
Hard to know which of three such discoveries surprised me the most! One surprise after another! All in all, a successful set of reunions.
Now that the Boston Marathon is behind me by at least a week, I can reflect on what was a magical weekend. As the saying goes, you may leave Boston, but it never leaves you, and I do carry a piece of Boston in my heart.
This year was the 50th anniversary of Bobbi Gibb’s trek through the 1966 Boston Marathon as the very first woman to ever finish, and she did so three years consecutively, 1966, ’67 & ’68!
Boston 2016 celebrated her and 50 years of women running for all of us following in Bobbi’s footsteps. Amby Burfoot’s book, “The First Ladies of Running,” came out just in time for the festivities to tell the stories of 22 women runners who, as Amby says, were unstoppable. “Got that right!”
The First Ladies were treated like the royal family all weekend long, as we appeared at receptions, banquets, ceremonies, including the BAA Champions’ Breakfast and the BAA Marathon Milestones. Sara Mae Berman, who followed Bobbi as the subsequent three-time winner in Boston for 1969, ’70 and ’71, hosted several of us, First Ladies, in her large, rambling house in Cambridge. What fun we had, like a best friends reunion!
It was my honor to be named a keynote speaker at the Team in Training Inspiration Luncheon, hosted by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. In truth, every TNT runner is a story of inspiration in their own right. They run as double-goal athletes, because they are not just running for their best time; they’re running for a greater good, running for the cause.
Here’s what I told them, as I connected the dots for all my personal connections between Boston Marathon history, Team in Training, and some of my dearest friends from Hawaii to Boston:
Boston is Where Dreams Come True
In 1966, a young woman named Bobbi Gibb asked to enter the Boston Marathon and was told no, there is no women’s division. She questioned why. And she ran anyway, without a number.
Her dream came true at Boston. More than once.
In 1966, I was a senior in high school in Los Angeles. A new PE teacher on campus, named Dixie Griffin, observed that while we had a boys’ track team, we did not have a girls’ track team. She questioned why. And she started one anyway. I failed at all other sports, but I liked to run. I joined her team.
In late 1972, I had just won the first marathon I ever tried. I had been inspired to try because my teammate Cheryl Bridges ran marathons and I witnessed her world record, the first sub-2:50 ever run by a woman. A friend of mine from Yale said “You should go to Boston. They just opened a women’s division for the first time.” I said YES. Why not?!
In 1973, I won Boston and my life changed forever. Thank you to Dixie Griffin for introducing me to track. Thank you to Bobbi Gibb for opening the door to Boston. Humongous thanks to my lifelong coach, Laszlo Tabori, for believing in me, for training me hard, and preparing me for anything. He made everything possible. And a dream came true for me in Boston.
Twelve wins out of fifteen marathons in my competitive years, including two world records and being the first to break 2:40, I am grateful and satisfied that I achieved more than I set out to do when I joined my high school track team. That’s for certain. However, I also realized as the number one woman marathoner in the world for a period of three years, there was an injustice – because I was a woman, I could not run in the Olympic Games. Women were limited to the one mile run as the longest distance allowed. As President of the International Runners Committee, we lobbied and sued until at last we had a marathon for the first time in 1984, but had to drag through the courts before all the women’s distance races were included. Through it all, I finally had the opportunity to join scores of women able for the first time to go to an Olympic Trials in May of 1984.
On April 16, 1984 at Boston, I qualified for the first ever women’s Olympic Trials Marathon – just in time because it was the last day possible to qualify. I finished against all odds, given I was recovering from injuries that required surgery, and ran two failed prior attempts to qualify, plus finished Boston in a heavy rainstorm, in the grips of hypothermia, where I completely blacked out. The only thought in my mind as I fought to finish was this mantra, “I deserve to finish, I deserve to finish.” This was combined with exhaustion of working on the women distance runners’ lawsuit, which ironically enough began in court on that fateful day, April 16, 1984. It could not have been a more dramatic day in my life. Or so I thought.
But my dream came true in Boston again. I was going to the Olympic Trials, the first ever. I was past my prime as an athlete. I was sick and injured, but it WAS my Olympics experience nonetheless.
In 1996, I pulled myself out of running retirement to run the 100th Anniversary and was so happy to participate in the best way I knew how. Running. All the living champions returned to Boston to participate, running or not. It was a glorious time. It was the biggest field Boston ever experienced, at the time. That would change.
In 2013, I celebrated my 40th Anniversary at Boston. Several of my friends purposely qualified for the Boston Marathon that year, in order to join me in celebration. A few of them ran for Team in Training. I had been coaching Jeaney Garcia for years, I just began coaching Michele Tritt, and although I was not his coach, we have a mutual friend from Honolulu in Kit Smith who has run many times in honor of the daughter he lost to Leukemia. He is an inspiration to all of us. Kit’s daughter, Patty was 19 years-old and in college when she succumbed to leukemia. Her diaries were memorialized in a book her father, an accomplished sports writer, published. He maintains the most positive attitude I have ever seen. And he continues to run marathons and run for the cause.
On this day, I had the honor of shooting the starting gun for the women’s race. And I was shuttled with a police escort back to the finish line in time for the first finishers. I was even able to gain access to stand right on the finish line to greet each of my runners as they raced in. And because we were staying on Copley Plaza, I could escort them each back and forth to the hotel from the finish. It was on our way back to the finish line for my final runner to come in, my best friend Jeaney, when we heard and felt the two blasts. Kaboom, kaboom. Like a sonic boom and an earthquake (at least it seemed so to this Californian). You all know what took place. We were separated by two bomb blasts near the finish line and it took hours to reunite and to know that each other was safe. We cried and hugged when we finally found each other. Others were not so fortunate. We grieved for a long, long time. I had no idea in 1984 that, in my experience, Boston could ever hold more drama. I had no idea drama could be so tragic.
In 2014, most of us returned to Boston, perhaps for closure (if there is ever such a thing). I’ve looked up the definition of “closure.” The dictionary says it’s a feeling of finality or resolution, especially after a traumatic experience. A letting-go of what once was. A complete acceptance of what has happened and an honoring of the transition away from what’s finished to something new.
Jeaney ran for TNT again. She could’ve taken the free pass to return and run on her own, as offered to all of those who did not get to finish in 2013. But she chose to fundraise all over again. She was honoring LLS, she was honoring Kit Smith, and she respected the fact that she might be taking the spot of someone else would have raised funds for a cause. She did it because it was the right thing to do. She did it because she is the most positive person on the planet and I am enriched because of our deep friendship and unconditional love.
She did it because she believed dreams do come true in Boston.
While we waited for Jeaney at the finish line again, I witnessed the most gratifying finish by the first American in over 30 years to win Boston. Meb. That’s all I need to say. Just one name. Meb. A huge sigh of relief came over the city of Boston when Meb crossed the finish line. I even got a big hug at the finish from Meb. I cried and for the first time, I was absolutely speechless, muttering my words and shedding tears of joy. All was right with the world again. Boston Strong. Take back the roads. Take back our race. Everyone was saying these words. And I do believe the runners outnumbered the record number I mentioned that ran at the 100th Boston. Everyone wanted to participate and support. Boston Strong.
For me, for my entourage, we didn’t quite find closure until Jeaney crossed her finish line. And then she did. And allow me to read the conclusion she wrote to a heart-warming article that was published in Marathon & Beyond magazine.
“I followed the advice of the champions at the breakfast I went to before the race. I made the Boston Marathon the best experience possible, making friends and memories that I’ll never forget. I used to run to get the fastest time, but as Amby Burfoot refreshingly reminded me: been there, done that. My coach and best friend, Jacqueline Hansen, has been with me over many years and many hurdles, including the 1996 Olympic Trials Marathon where I came up short on time and injured but somehow finished. I suffered more than I had in childbirth and felt almost as proud. Jacqueline always said I was in sub 2:50-shape for a good portion of my fastest years, but unfortunately, I did not prove it in races often enough.
“At 52-years-old, I now know that I can prove that every race is a great race, no matter your time. Jacqueline continues to remind me to just run what I can, where and when I can. I will always run for the survivors, the fighters, the taken. I deserve to finish, as Jacqueline the champion said. We all deserve to finish.”
“I run to refresh my body and soul. I run because it brings me life. I run to be the best version of myself. I remember those who can’t run and what they would give to have this gift. There is no such thing as a bad run because every day is a blessing, and I am proud of every run I do. And as it proclaims on the back of my TNT singlet, I run for those who cannot run for themselves.”
Boston 2016, a story in pictures
Day One: Welcome Reception
Day Two: TNT Inspiration Luncheon & Evening of Marathon Milestones
Day Three: Champions’ Breakfast, First Ladies Seminar & AMAA Banquet
Day Four: Patriots Day is Marathon Day