A GOLDEN DAY IN L.A.

Joan’s place in the Coliseum Court of Honor (June 2017)

Happy and healthy New Year greetings!  It’s definitely a time for reflection, not just for the past year, plenty eventful enough, but also for looking at events over a lifetime.  Perhaps it was the recent fire evacuations that prompted me to pursue my ongoing project to digitize all my photos, but now I’m full speed on that project as we speak.  I live in a fire risk area and I have  evacuated just a few times, yet packed more than a few times, so I am always prepared with boxes in order of priority, ready to go just in case.  However, there is something different about this year’s fires.  They come fast, burn with more fury, are more lethal, and take a bigger toll.  I’m also not getting any younger, don’t move as quickly, and could never carry all those boxes even if time permitted.  Photos are most of the memorabilia I would like to save, given the option.  I have a few friends who weren’t so fortunate as I was to return to my house still standing intact.  I am grateful, and I am more cautious in all matters.

Here, I am sharing a bunch of photographs (homegrown and not the finest quality) which represent how that golden day in 1984 unfolded, when the world’s finest women marathoners gathered for the first Women’s Olympic Marathon in history.  Here is both the link to a photo album, and an excerpt from my book to describe the details.

Photo Album:  Women’s Olympic Marathon 1984

Excerpt from A Long Time Coming, Chapter 25,
“A Golden Day in L.A.”

Your living is determined not so much by what life
brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so
much by what happens to you as by the way your mind
looks at what happens.
Kahlil Gibran

Between the Marathon Trials and the Olympic Games, I
was honored by the ACLU at an awards ceremony
celebrating “Champions of Justice” at the ACLU’s 25th
Annual Garden Party, at the home of Betty and Stanley
Sheinbaum. Tributes were paid to “stars in their
respective athletic fields as well as individuals who
have furthered the cause of civil liberties,” said Ramona
Ripston, ACLU executive director. “Their experiences
on and off the playing field have led to advancing
equality through the examples they have set and the
challenges to fundamental rights they have faced.”
Athletes honored included Rafer Johnson, Harry
Edwards, John Carlos and Mac Robinson. Mayor Tom
Bradley was our “special guest speaker.”

I loved that my friend Sherrill Kushner, a lawyer,
placed an ad in the program for the event quoting Pierre
de Coubertin, who said in 1912, “We feel that the
Olympics must be reserved for men… and female
applause as reward.” Sherrill’s response: “Eat your
heart out, Pierre!”

Had the International Runners Committee/American
Civil Liberties Union lawsuit for the women’s 5000 and
10,000 been successful and led to inclusion of these
events in the 1984 Olympic Games, the makeup and
perhaps the outcome of not only the U.S. Olympic
Trials Marathon might have changed entirely, but also
perhaps the selection of women’s Olympic Marathon
teams would have been affected worldwide.

Many women, including myself, were deeply
disappointed by the absence of the 5000 and 10,000 in
the Olympic Games. Certainly the significance of the
marathon’s inclusion should not be overlooked. But it
was ironic that, in a year when there was a distance as
long as the marathon, there were no other options for
women distance runners.

Lorraine Moller won the 1984 Boston Marathon to
ensure a spot on the New Zealand Olympic Marathon
team. But her friend and countrywoman Allison Roe,
unable to finish Boston, would not be going to Los
Angeles. Several other world-class runners would not
find a spot on the New Zealand team, either.   As Moller
put it, “There are not enough races to go around.”

1984 Sherrill Kushner’s home
Sherrill Kushner at Joan’s dedication 2017

I was delighted to host Joan Benoit in Santa Monica
for the duration of her Los Angeles stay.  Sherrill
Kushner lived in my neighborhood and generously
offered up her guesthouse for Joan’s privacy and
solitude in preparation for her race.  At the time, Tom,
Michael and I were living in an apartment in Santa
Monica rather than Topanga.

My place offered just two bedrooms in a small
space on a busy street, with a four-year-old child and a
night owl for a husband. Joanie was better off at
Sherrill’s more spacious home, several blocks away,
with accessibility to the favorable running routes on
San Vicente Boulevard and Santa Monica beaches.

In fact, Tom and I had lots of friends who willingly
offered their homes in Santa Monica to visiting
Olympians. Especially our marathoner friends were
grateful to be housed away from University of Southern
California athletes’ housing for far better training sites
near the beach. I remember Australian Rob De Castella
bringing an entire entourage along with him, including
his family and a massage therapist.

On the day I settled Joanie in Sherrill’s house, I
kept an appointment with my long-time friend and
everyone’s favorite foot doctor, John Pagliano. I was
nursing another stress fracture. U.S. Olympic
marathoner Julie Isphording went along with me, I
suppose for a second opinion about her own ailments.
This was not a good sign. (Sadly, the injury would not
allow Julie to finish the Olympic race.)

In the days surrounding the Games, I spent a lot of
time pool-running and participating in so many aqua
aerobics classes that Lynda Huey, creator of “Water
Power Workout,” made me her first instructor (which I
continued to teach for decades afterward).  As well, I
was still plagued with chronic sinusitis, and was
undergoing allergy tests and shots in an attempt to
return to normalcy now that we had returned to Los
Angeles for good, to my great relief.  Then there were
Olympic Committee meetings and trainings for
volunteers and employees.

Both Tom and I played roles in the L.A. Olympic
Organizing Committee. Tom was the co-director, with
John Brennand, of the men’s and women’s marathons.
I had only a minor part in the staging of the race – a
volunteer role that kept me close to the women runners
at all times, but out of the public eye and off any list of
names in print.

I was certainly blacklisted by the LAOOC for
bringing the lawsuit. One day, I got on an elevator in
the LAOOC building where Tom worked, and H.D. Thoreau, head of the Olympic track and field program
for 1984, spoke disparagingly of me to his colleague in
a whisper loud enough for me to hear.  Yes, I was
blacklisted and knew it.

In fact, once the president of the LAOOC, Peter
Ueberroth, discovered that Tom was my husband, he
fired Tom.  At least he tried. The marathon race
committee, under co-director John Brennand’s lead,
refused to move forward without Tom and they
prevailed (unbeknownst to Ueberroth).

As a volunteer, I was able to view nearly all of the
track and field events at the Coliseum. We chose to
attend the final dress rehearsal of the opening
ceremonies, for the highlights without all the crowds
and traffic.

The day before the women’s marathon, I delivered
Joan Benoit’s and Julie Brown’s water bottles for
placement along the course, obtained maps of the
course (for their friends and family) and picked up
tickets for the start at Santa Monica College. I recorded
in my running log, “Is this really the Olympic Women’s
Marathon?!” I was elated to be there, in any capacity.

Here is what I wrote afterward:
First Women’s Olympic Marathon. My day began
early as a volunteer on the “Start Committee.” It was
arranged that Sherrill would deliver Joanie and that
Glen (a friend) would deliver Michael at the start of the women’s
race.  We’d leave for the Coliseum after, or should I say
the rest of us would follow Joan?  Glen and Sherrill had
tickets, thanks to Joan, and Michael and I got ours
weeks ago.

Waiting for Joan at the Coliseum 1984

Once at the Coliseum, my usher was a woman
runner/friend, so we shared better seats available
trackside for the spectacular finish. Michael was frighterned at the hysteria that broke out in the crowd at Joan’s entrance – which I explained to Michael was
“happy crying.”

But ultimately he was proud of “his friend Joanie.”   What an inspiration she was that day!
From the finish line, through dinner at The Chronicle
restaurant in Santa Monica, she never stopped smiling.
Her/my dream come true had a joyous ending
shared by both of us.
As I watched this dream unfold
that day, it occurred to me that young girls all over the
world were watching Joan Benoit on television,
winning the Olympic Marathon, knowing they too
could grow up to be Olympic champions if they
wanted. They could dream of being presidential
candidates and astronauts, too. It was an exciting time
to be a woman!

Please feel free to comment about where you were if you watched the golden moment of the women’s Olympic Marathon in 1984. 

More than a Coach

MORE THAN A COACH

When I reflect on life, I think of Joni Mitchell.  She is my favorite female artist and poet.  She wrote “We’re captive on the carousel of time.  We can’t return, we can only look behind from where we came.  And go ‘round and ‘round in the circle game.”

On July 6, 1931 Laszlo was born in Kosice. . . the Slovakia part of Czechoslovakia.  Coincidentally, one week earlier, on June 29, 1931 a certain Tom Sturak was born in San Diego of Slovak parents whose family resided in Kosice.

Fast forward to the late 50s, early 60s, Laszlo and Coach Igloi were training in Southern California.  You’ve all heard or read of their journey to California, so I’ll leave that to you and others to research.  But I will add that a certain Tom Sturak was also running with Coach Igloi in that time-period, and then with Joe Douglas for many years after for Santa Monica Track Club.  More about Tom later.

In the late 60s, 1969 to be exact, I was out running one day around my school, San Fernando  Valley State College.  I had discovered Track and Field thanks to a forward -thinking woman coach at Granada Hills High School who started the first girls’ track team at my school.  I’d already bombed at every other sport and was happy to join a team that didn’t choose you, but you chose your event.  I went from high school to Pierce where I had a team, but not a coach, and although we competed on a women’s team, we also went to the men’s meets where I was the scorekeeper.  At San Fernando Valley State, which became Cal-State University, Northridge by my graduation,  I had no team and no coach, but I kept running.  It was a random act of fate that I met Judy Graham running, and we became friends.  She gave me a lifetime gift when she said I have a club and I have a coach.  You can join.

Laszlo was more than a coach.  I learned all life lessons through this man, all the life lessons sports can teach you.  I learned “work ethic” the very first workout.  Judy can attest to the fact that just the warm-up was more than I’d ever run at one time.  I was in over my head.  But Laszlo’s commanding presence made it impossible to leave and when he said he would see you next time, you knew you better be there next time.

I learned dedication, commitment and sacrifice.

I learned you never quit, you always finish what you start.  I learned that in the first race.  He took Judy and I to a cross country race in Ventura.  I collapsed from fatigue and tripped over my own tired feet.  I lay in the dirt wishing an ambulance would come take me away on a stretcher, but that didn’t happen.  I might have heard, from the sidelines, barking orders to get up and finish because that’s what I did.  You always finished what you start.

Judy Graham, JQ, Becky Dennis, Sue Kinsey – LATC 1972

We ran for LA Track Club (an all women’s club with all track events . . . . this was a later version of the LATC that Igloi’s runners ran some years before).  When LATC disbanded for us, Laszlo took his distance runners and went to the Southern California Striders for about just one year.  I mention this because it was in that year that I met a certain Tom Sturak — my future husband.   Eventually, Laszlo formed our own San Fernando Valley Track Club.   So you see, I ran for several clubs and colleges, but always with one coach, Laszlo, who was more than a coach.

It was after LATC but before Striders, when I was a woman without a team, that Laszlo, Judy and I witnessed a teammate of ours named Cheryl Bridges become the first woman to break the 2:50 mark in the marathon when she won Western Hemisphere Marathon in Culver City in December 1971.  For me, this was the hook.  I was intrigued and inspired.  I wanted to try that.

Laszlo trained me as a miler, but let’s face it.  I was a mediocre miler.  I wasn’t even the best miler on my own team.  Judy was.  Ruth Wysocki joined us later.  She can tell you I wasn’t a great miler.  I’m still a miler at heart, I like it best, but I was a mediocre miler.

Speaking about our training . . . and we were all milers, by the way. . . .

Before there was a term “sports psychology,” our coach was already practicing his version of therapy.  He knew the difference between “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” rewards.  He knew the intrinsic rewards came from within, and were longer lasting.  “We” actually felt rewarded if “we” advanced to being assigned “double workouts.”  And remember “special shakeups?”  They were just disguised intervals, more hard 200s mixed into our alleged cooldown.  And “we” had to ask permission to race.  Honestly, to race was like a holiday . . . . you only had to run hard once that day.  (I’m so glad that Mark Covert mentioned this too, in his tribute!)

Laszlo knew that Judy responded to negative feedback, such as telling her “I know you cannot keep up with the boys, but hang on as long as you can.”  Of course, she tried her hardest to beat them.  I responded to positive feedback, which he figured out after telling me once “You call that running?  I call it baloney.”  I left and ran all the way home.  “Baloney running indeed.”

So imagine my surprise when I asked permission to be like Cheryl and run my first marathon.  I expected a rejection.  I got words of wisdom.

He said “There are some things you have to find out for yourself. There are things I wanted to try but never did, and I’ll always wonder.”  So I ran my first marathon, at WHM in Culver City.  It wasn’t as easy as Cheryl made it look, but I learned more life lessons.  Coach and I learned together how to train for my new-found event.  My dear friend and teammate Patrick Miller suggested I go try Boston next, since they had just started a women’s division.  I truly discovered my true event.  My lifelong thanks belong to Patrick for accompanying me, and we’re still best of friends today.

More life lessons continued to come.  Following Boston, I learned a big lesson about sacrifice.  I had received my first-ever all expenses paid invitation to a road race in Charleston, West Virginia.  On Labor Day.  I had planned to spend my summer doing my favorite backpacking with friends.  But, no, I had to stay home and prepare for the next big race because Laszlo said “You can hike when you are 84, but no one will pay to watch you run.”  “You’ll stay home, young lady.”

Laszlo had other words of wisdom during our time together.  He said I’d have lots of friends when I am #1 on top, but that he would there for me when I’m not.

Like a great mentor, Laszlo led by example.

He gave us all a chance.  He considered himself once an underdog.  All he expected of us was hard work.  He was always “there for us.”  Remember all those stopwatches he wore around his neck?  And his little black book?  He knew what we were each capable of.  He had that magic eye.  He knew when to give us more work, and when to scale back.  He always brought out our best.

He was more than a Coach.  Tom was more than my partner.  These two men shaped my life.  Laszlo made all things possible.  He made a significant contribution to advancing women’s running.

I believe Laszlo fought the good fight.  He finished the race.  He never quit.

He was so much more than my Coach.

Mark Covert and Laurie Tabori
Tamas Igloi
Rod Dixon, JQ, Tamas Igloi, Claudette Groenendaal
Dave Babaracki
Ruth Wysocki, Judy Graham, Becky Dennis (photo courtesy of Wysockis) 
Becky Dennis, Richard Nance, Judy Graham
Laszlo’s poster with Grace Padilla

A Long Time Coming: Chapter six, “Marathon Start”

Western Hemisphere Marathon 1972, photo by Doug Schwab

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost

The last running event I witnessed in December 1971, the Western Hemisphere Marathon in Culver City, was momentous – both at the time and for what it would mean to me later. Laszlo Tabori actually lived right on the Culver City course, so he was always present for the race. My training partner Judy Graham and I joined him there that day because we had a teammate, Cheryl Bridges, who was running the marathon. She did not train with us but competed for the club.

We supported Cheryl in her marathon as she set a world record of 2:49:40, becoming the first woman to run under 2:50. I was intrigued. Watching Cheryl click off those miles over the marathon course looked like fun to me.  She was strong but relaxed,  a  beautiful runner with great running form and a stride that just flowed.

The monument at the finish line of the Western Hemisphere Marathon lists the 1971 winner as “Patricia Bridges.” Her first name changed only once, while her last name changed with every marriage: from Pedlow to Bridges to Flanagan to the current Treworgy. Her daughter is the Olympian Shalane Flanagan. (At the time we married, my husband made a good case for women not to change last names, pointing out how it confuses track statisticians. I didn’t change mine, nor did Shalane.)

Cheryl was an inspiration to me. I could not help but think that I could do what she did. I could run with her on the track and in cross-country, and perhaps I could do a marathon like her too. I vowed right then and there that I would try the Culver City race the next year.

However, returning to the track with Laszlo the following week, I was caught up in our routine schedule of indoor track in the winter, outdoor track in the spring and cross-country in the fall, with a little vacation time during summer before laying our base for the fall season. It was in that brief summer vacation that I was lured away from my usual loops around a park to venture out on the roads for a workout.

When I wasn’t running on the track, my easy days were for running at Balboa Park in the San Fernando Valley. Judy and I were under strict orders to run only on dirt or grass surfaces, and I mean always. One day we met at Balboa at the same time a group of male runners met for a road workout. Some of them also trained with us at the track, so we chatted.

They were led by a male runner in his 60s, Monty Montgomery. I’d seen this group regularly and noted that they seemed to have a lot of fun, as they told stories and ran off on the roads headed for the beach and other interesting loops, while Judy and I ran in circles around the park. Twice I went with them, for a 10-miler and a 14-miler.

So when cross-country season ended in November with my best performance to date, eighth place in nationals, my thoughts turned back to that Western Hemisphere Marathon I wanted to do in December. I really wasn’t prepared with any long runs in my repertoire except those two workouts I snuck in many months earlier.

I didn’t let that stop me, and I asked Laszlo if I could enter (asking permission was requisite). I half- expected to be yelled at. After all, his attitude was that the marathon was something you ran if you were too slow to compete at the middle distances.  However, what I received was almost philosophical. He said that there are some things I had to find out for myself and that there were things he didn’t try and would never know.

Besides, he added, I was the most stubborn runner he knew, and he thought I would go far. I still do not know if he meant “far” as in I had a future in marathoning, or “far” as in I’d go about 18 miles and drop out. No matter. I had his blessing, and that’s what mattered.

I credited a college teammate, Mike Maggart, with getting me through the first 15 miles at seven-minute pace,  and  Doug Schwab for parking his bike and running the last mile in with me. (I ought to have been disqualified, I suspect.) In reality, I don’t think my friends could ride their bikes near the end because my pace had slowed so much. As I wrote in my journal:

Those last four miles are almost unbearable, particularly the last two.  Up to 22, it seemed almost a relaxed seven-minute pace. Then the race began for four miles. And worth every sore muscle – a thousand times over.

Cheryl Bridges did not run in the Culver City race that year, and I won my first marathon in a slow 3:15.  I probably could have walked my final miles faster than I was running.

I recall that upon crossing that finish line I uttered the   words   “never   again!”    Later at the awards ceremony, however, I received my medal and thought how I would prepare differently for next time.  I was hooked.

Interestingly enough, this race was a turning point for my family, who up to that point did not deem running to be worth my time. In fact, I fibbed about going out for a run with Judy that morning to cover up running in the marathon. I left a note on the table at home early that morning to say we went for a run and made up some other excuse about shopping or a movie to buy more time for the day.

The only reason I had to make excuses was because it was the day for a family reunion at our house to celebrate Thanksgiving, my birthday and birthdays for several other relatives.  I knew I’d be late, thus needing the excuse.

By winning the race, I was delayed by the awards ceremony and thought I would be in big trouble.  However, when I snuck in the door and tried to slip into my seat at the dinner table, my family broke into applause.  My aunt resided near the site of the marathon and had reported the whole thing, and then my winning photo had appeared on the local TV news.

(Continued in chapter six, “Boston.”)

Western Hemisphere Marathon 1972, photo by Doug Schwab