Timeline of a Life in Running Come Full Circle
Joni Mitchell: The Circle Game……..it won’t be long now
Till you drag your feet to slow the circles down
And the seasons, they go ‘round and ‘round
And the painted ponies go up and down
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 and ‘round
In the circle game
And go ‘round and ‘round and ‘round in the circle game.
My running career had an inauspicious start in high school, but if not for that fortuitous occurrence, my life would have been quite different. Throughout high school, I struggled with PE classes, suffering humiliation at not being very good at sports, due in part to my short stature, and rejections from most team selections. In PE, I was usually the last picked for any game, the perennial bench-warmer. Therefore, I avoided regular PE by substituting a variety of elective classes. In one of those classes, I had the chance meeting with coach Dixie Griffin, who not only taught my tennis elective, but who was herself an athlete, a shot putter. Ms. Griffin observed and questioned why there was not a girls’ track team, such as the boys enjoyed. I joined her team in part to avoid yet another PE class, and in part because running was the one component of the Presidential Fitness Tests I actually enjoyed.
However, girls were limited as to the events they were allowed to compete and the maximum distance race allowed was 440 yards – only a quarter-mile! I may have loved running, but I was no sprinter; and Coach Griffin did not see fit to take me to the City Championship Meet. Coach Griffin was teased mercilessly for that oversight years later, only to retort that she “always knew Jacqueline was a distance runner.” Indeed, as a runner, my favorite activity was to see how far I could run around the track without stopping, something my best friend and I challenged each other with frequently (the result being 17 laps at the farthest).
One important lesson learned in this high school experience was to question authority – it was the 60s after all – time to ask for equality, to raise the question “why,” or more importantly, “why not?!”
This last semester of my last year in high school changed my life in ways I could not have imagined. The two teachers who influenced me most were my English teacher who taught and inspired a love of literature and a Shakespeare class I shall never forget; and my track coach, for all the obvious reasons. I graduated Granada Hills High School in June of 1966.
My memories seem inexplicably linked to sounds of music, so I’m including a few tunes that jog my memory.
Music notes (pun intended): Any- and everything by Beatles or Stones, Dylan’s Mr. Tambourine Man, The Byrd’s Eight Miles High, Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth.
History notes: In 1966, Roberta Gibb became the first woman, if unofficial, to finish the Boston Marathon (3:21:40). But I had never heard of the Boston Marathon at the time. Yet, I was aware of the Olympics, and had read the newspapers about Tokyo in 1964 and looked forward to Mexico in ’68.
The overlying backdrop throughout these years is of course the Vietnam War. I still have correspondence from a few friends and one cousin who were sent over, and other friends who were conscientious objectors and stayed behind. To view a concise and thorough timeline, visit this Public Broadcasting site.
I pursued running on the track team when I arrived at Pierce College, but without formal training. Our track and field teacher, Ms. Fiorello’s first sport was golf. We learned all the track and field events in an organized and methodical way, as if preparing for skills tests on a weekly basis. Now my best friend from high school and I truly relied on each other to see how far we could run on our own after class! I know we competed as a team, and I have memories of traveling to other community colleges throughout the Southland, but I do not remember our teacher-coach ever attending those meets with us. It was while traveling with the team that I acquired new R-E-S-P-E-C-T for Aretha Franklin’s music. At least the longest distance race available was increased to 880-yards. I was making progress. The men’s team was coached by Bob Chambers, I was usually their scorekeeper at all the meets, however did not train with them.
History notes: 1968, a violent and tumultuous year. The assassinations of both Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. had a profound affect – shock, disbelief, hopelessness, despair – as if an extended moment from 1963 when John F. Kennedy was killed. The Democratic National Convention in Chicago is remembered for the police and Illinois’ National Guard clashing with anti-war protesters from a youth movement. Even journalists reporting the event were not immune to violence resulting from what came to be known as the day of the “police riot.” The Mexico Olympics were remembered for the massacre of 43 students just prior to the opening of the Games; and the “Black Power Salute” by Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the awards stand for the 200-meter race. (In the future, I would become friends with Tommie.)
Music notes: Door’s Light My Fire, Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love, Jimi Hendrix’ Purple Haze & All Along the Watchtower, Led Zepplin’s Whole Lotta Love, and still anything by Beatles or Stones, plus everything by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. I also keenly admired Phil Ochs, Pete Seeger, Gordon Lightfoot, Buffy St. Marie, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez. (Joni Mitchell’s song “California” references ’68 violence in Chicago.)
In this time, I could be found most weekends at the Troubadour or other venues seeing and occasionally meeting the Byrds, Elton John, Donovan, John Sebastian, John Denver, Peter, Paul & Mary, Eric Clapton, Dylan, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the Who, Jimi Hendrix, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Cat Stevens, Simon & Garfunkel, Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman.
1970 – 1971
Transferring from Pierce, I entered San Fernando Valley State College and years later, exited Cal-State U. Northridge. Again, I pursued joining the track team, only this time I was the only woman. The teacher-coach assigned was a basketball coach, who informed me that I could earn my credits by reporting to her weekly, attending the one meet a year at UCLA, and she was satisfied with her observation that I was running regularly with some of the guys on the men’s team. The longest distance women were allowed to compete was increased to one mile.
At home, in one difficult year my family experienced more than a fair share of personal grief in family tragedies and then the Sylmar earthquake that seriously damaged our home capped things off. (Fortunately, I only experienced minor injuries.) About this time, I was introduced to the man who would become my coach and running soon played a major part of my life going forward.
So, while competing as a one-woman team at Valley State, attending classes as an English major, and working as much as possible to support myself, I began training under Laszlo Tabori at nearby LA Valley College. It was a period of my life where I learned discipline, dedication and commitment to a degree I never knew before. Laszlo’s background was intense and his coaching style was intense. He defected from Hungary via the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games and he was the third man in the world to break the four-minute mile. He was what you could describe as a disciplinarian style coach.
Given my job, classes and training, I also have a void of knowledge about all things on television throughout my college years. But I gleaned a great appreciation for all things musical.
Music notes: Led Zepplin’s Stairway to Heaven, John Lennon’s Imagine, Eric Clapton’s Layla, Stevie Winwood/Blind Faith/Traffic, Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Waters, Don McLean’s American Pie, Grateful Dead’s Truckin, CCR’s Who’ll Stop the Rain, and oh so many more I can’t even begin to finish.
History notes: Kent State shootings – memorialized in the lyrics of many songs — perhaps most notably, Neil Young’s “Ohio” . Valley State was no “Berkeley,” but we had our share of controversy and protest, as shown in this documentary on student political activism.
The last running event I witnessed in December of 1971 was the Western Hemisphere Marathon in Culver City. Laszlo was the distance coach of the then world class women’s team, the Los Angeles Track Club. My training partner Judy Graham and I had a teammate by the name of Cheryl Bridges who did not train with us, but competed for the club. We supported Cheryl in her marathon that December day, and witnessed her world record, becoming the first woman to run under 2:50 for the marathon. I was intrigued. (Cheryl “Bridges” became “Flanagan,” their daughter is Shalane Flanagan, and Cheryl is currently “Treworgy.”) So after an excellent season of cross country in the fall of 1972, I let my secret out that I wanted to try the marathon. Laszlo was neither encouraging or discouraging, but gave me his blessing. My only experience at running long distances consisted of a couple of long road runs during time away from regulated practice that summer, one ten-miler and one fourteen-mile run with some of “the guys” in the Valley. So I wasn’t exactly prepared. But Cheryl did not run the race that year, and although I probably could’ve walked my last six miles faster than I was running, I won my first marathon in December 1972, in a slow 3:15.
At the encouragement of a friend, I aimed for the Boston Marathon next, and this time, Laszlo and I took the training preparation seriously. I returned home victorious, with a 3:05:59 finish time and my marathon career was launched.
I received my first all-expense paid invitation to run, so traveled to Charleston, West Virginia on Labor Day 1973, to win a hot and hilly 15-mile race. (See previous blog, “LA to Charleston via Boston.”)
In between Boston and Charleston, I won the AIAW Women’s National Track Championsips in the mile; and ran Bay to Breakers with a lot of the guys from CSUN and Valley.
Significantly, this year, my coach switched our team from “LA Track Club” to the “Striders,” previously an all-male club. It is where I met my future husband.
Music notes: when I think of Boston, I can’t help hearing Robert Flack’s Killing Me Softly With His Song. In that year, I also think of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird, Allman Brothers’ Ramblin’ Man, Pink Floyd’s Money, and all Linda Ronstadt songs.
History notes: The Summer Olympics were held in Munich, overshadowed by the massacre of Israeli athletes.
In brief, these could be called my peak years of running. In track season, I won a six-mile race on the track, in an American record time. I ran my next marathon in the first women’s international marathon, in Waldniel, West Germany where I finished in a new PR of 2:56, in fifth place overall, as first American. One week later, while traveling in Italy, I ran a world best time of 52:15 for 15K. The European experiences gave me the confidence I needed, and I closed out the year with another marathon win, back at my “home course” in Culver City, the Western Hemisphere, running 2:43:55 for a new world record. I was keenly aware that my new distance events did not afford me the opportunity to try out for the Olympic team, as was possible in the 800-meter or newly added 1500-meter races. I came to realize the injustice of having no place to advance my event. Naively, I imagined that a few letter-writing campaigns, circulating petitions and speaking out in the media would “get the job done.” Little did I know that it would be a ten-year ordeal before seeing the marathon in the Olympics.
In 1975, I passed on the women’s national marathon championships, in part due to a scheduling conflict, and in part because I did not believe my mileage and training were adequate for a marathon. Instead, I focused on a little known, but promising new marathon in Eugene, Oregon, the “Nike-Oregon Track Club Marathon,” in the fall season. My mileage did not reach the 100-plus weekly miles I thought were necessary to marathon training. The results were outstanding, I regained the world record I’d lost previously during the year, and became the first woman to run under 2:40 in a time of 2:38.19. I took the training issue as a lesson and never ran over 100-miles a week again. (See previous blog, “Mindset for a Marathon.”)
Music notes: Jackson Browne’s Late for the Sky, Linda Ronstadt’s When Will I Be Loved, David Bowie’s Rebel, Rebel, Eric Clapton’s I Shot the Sherriff, plus Fleetwood Mac, Paul Simon and still Linda Ronstadt.
History note: Steve Prefontaine was killed in a car accident, May of 1975, just five months before I went to Eugene for the Nike-OTC Marathon.
If I was influenced in the turbulent sixties to question authority, I was further influenced in the seventies by the feminist movement. 1977 was the International Year of the Woman, and my best friend/teammate, Leal-Ann Reinhart and I traveled to the conference in Houston to seek support for our cause on behalf of women distance runners, with the goal to obtain international and Olympic recognition for women’s distance events. We met and were inspired by the likes of such historical figures as Rosalyn Carter, Lady Bird Johnson, Betty Ford, Coretta Scott King, Bella Abzug, Barbara Jordan, Gloria Steinhem and Billy Jean King. We met and befriended fellow runners Peggy Kokernot (torch relay runner for the conference), Henley Gibble (RRCA representative) and Mary Cullen (Houston runner, community benefactor of the arts and athletics). Little did we know at the time, but each would take her historical place in the advancement of the sport for all women runners.
Leal-Ann became the women’s national marathon champion in ’77.
There were a growing number of all-women races: Alaska Women’s Run, Susan B. Anthony Freedom Run, Avon Marathon, New York Roadrunner’s Mini-Marathon (in 1977, as the Bonne Bell Mini), in Boston the Tuft’s 10K (with over 2000 women when they expected 200).
It is also the year I married Tom Sturak, quite fittingly at the conclusion of a “140-mile Permiter Relay” around Oahu, Hawaii, where Leal-Ann and I joined the Chun family team in Honolulu. They were better known as Hawaii’s number one running family, “the Hunky Bunch.”
Music notes: Heart’s Crazy on You, Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way, Thin Lizzy’s The Boys are Back in Town, Eagles’ Hotel California.
History notes: The Montreal Olympics came and went with no events to run longer than 1500-meters for women.
In these years opportunities abounded in women’s running. I involved myself as both a runner and race director, in races sponsored by Bonne Bell, Avon and L’Eggs, to name a few. I directed the Beverly Hills Bonne Bell 10K Race in 1978 which also served as the US National Road Championship. Ruth Wysocki, already an 800-meter track national champion, won the national 10K title. I continued running marathons, winning the ’78 Revco Cleveland Marathon. I extended my distance racing to the 50-mile for the first time, winning the US National 50-mile Championship, garnering 11 world records at intermediate distances. It took place on the track at Santa Monica College, directed by my husband, Tom. (See previous blog, “Mindset for an Ultra.”)
Despite increased opportunities for women distance runners on the homefront, our international governing bodies were not picking up on the trend. The turning point was happening at Nike in Beaverton, Oregon. First an ad campaign drove attention to the injustices served women distance runners at the hands of the International Olympic Committee and International Amateur Athletic Federation. A hugely successful effort received thousands of supportive correspondence. Consequently, the International Runners Committee was co-founded by my husband, myself and famous running author, Joe Henderson, with full support by Nike. A number of “movers and shakers” in the running community in the US and abroad formed the committee with the intention of lobbying our international governing bodies for recognition of women’s distance events and inclusion in all international competition including the Olympic Games.
Music notes: Pat Benatar’s Heartbreaker, Blondie’s Heart of Glass, Rolling Stones’ Beast of Burden, Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock n’ Roll, Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall, Pretenders, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Neil Young & Crazy Horse.
History notes: The Iran hostage crisis, and subsequently an energy (oil) crisis.
I gave birth to my only son and we moved to Portland, Oregon, where Tom went from part-time in the field, to a temporary in-house position for NIKE. Lobbying efforts by the International Runners Committee (IRC) began in earnest, targeted toward all our governing bodies, in the US (TAC and USOC) and internationally (IAAF and IOC). Even the LAOOC (LA organizing committee) initially protested the addition of the women’s marathon, but in the end, the marathon was successfully added to the 1984 Olympic program.
Unfortunately, despite well placed protests, President Carter was perhaps advised badly and the US team was forced to boycott the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. For a lot of athletes, this missed opportunity ended their Olympic dreams forever.
During Tom’s tenure at NIKE as director of running promotions, he fully supported the movement towards “above the table” professional prize money for road races. Don Kardong founded the organization ARRA with this mission in mind. The “showdown” with our federation came at the Cascade Runoff in Portland, as described (and debated) in Running Times magazine.
Music notes: John Lennon’s Starting Over plus Imagine, Bob Seeger’s Against the Wind, Pretenders’ Talk of the Town, Portland’s own Quarterflash with Harden My Heart.
History notes: The Olympic Boycott.
With the women’s marathon situated in the Olympic program, the 5,000 and 10,000-meter races were orphaned events. The IRC focus turned to these, but without the support of the IAAF, there was no chance to advance the events. In brief, the president and secretary of the federation told me personally that despite having satisfied all the prerequisites, they would not add these “boring” events that would not “sell tickets at the gate,” they just did not care. The ACLU completed a study they commissioned to assess women’s participation in the Olympic Games, and reported that women had access to only one-third the number of events the men had available to them. I contacted the ACLU in Los Angeles. We met, and I was sent to see if I could prove that women runners satisfied the rules for adding new events. I did not know if they were passing me along, or if they were testing my resolve, but I took up the challenge and with Nike’s assistance and vast resources, we -the IRC- were able to obtain signatures on right-to-sue letters from nearly 70 women in about 30 countries, representing the top world ranked 5,000 and 10,000m women runners in the world. The letters went out in ten different languages to these women on every continent. The lawsuit was announced at the first Track & Field World Championships in 1983 in Helsinki, simultaneously with the ACLU lawyers on television in Los Angeles. In Helsinki, I was joined by Mary Decker and Grete Waitz, fresh off the medal stand for the 1500m & 3000m wins (Decker) and the marathon win (Waitz), who served as spokespersons at our press conference before worldwide media.
Music notes: Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Want to Have Fun plus Time After Time, Pat Benatar’s Love is a Battlefield, David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, ZZ Top’s Legs, Eurythmics’ Here Comes the Rain Again,
History notes: 1982, the Equal Rights Amendment dies.
1984 became the most dramatic year of my entire running career. The year began in an attempt to rebound from surgery, get back in running shape, and obtain a qualifying time to go to the women’s first marathon Olympic Trials. This goal was my top priority. I’d been trying to qualify for months, but was stymied by mysterious symptoms, the origin of an unknown injury. I only suffered symptoms after a run lasting more than 45 minutes, approximately a 10-kilometer distance. Fortunately for me, I had a brilliant orthopedic doctor who figured out that I had compartment syndrome of the hamstring muscle – unusual, but not so difficult to fix. The best part was that the recovery was not lengthy and did not require therapy. I had some catching up to do to prepare for a marathon, and not to go into too many details, it took me a few attempts before finishing a marathon successfully. It happened in April at the Boston Marathon (details provided in a previous blog “If It’s April, It Must Be Boston”).
It also happened to be the very day our lawsuit first appeared in court, in Los Angeles. My lawyers took care of business in LA and I took care of business in Boston. The drama of the day included two sets of news crews following my every move, the pressure of rebounding from injury, the stress of reaching a qualifying time, and the unexpected hail storm that struck Boston that day. It concluded with me passing out on the finish line with hypothermia, appearing on Nightline and ABC News, and learning the fate of our court decision back in LA. The truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. Yes, I qualified, if only I could remember the last mile. No, we did not win in court, yet we may have lost the battle, but we won the war.
A few weeks later, I was sick (eventually developed pneumonia later) but able to run the Olympic Trials Marathon where Joan Benoit worked her way through knee surgery to win the Trials. We all know that she went on to win the Olympic Marathon, and go down in history as the first women’s Olympic Marathon Champion. I was fortunate to house her in Santa Monica for the duration of her LA stay. Her/my dream come true had a joyous ending shared by both of us. Tom was the marathon co-director, and I had a minor role in the staging of the race, one that kept me close to the women runners at all times, but not in the public eye since I was “blacklisted” by the LAOOC for bringing the lawsuit. Such was 1984. There were multiple court appearances including an appeal, but we ran out of time by the opening of the Olympics. We eventually prevailed. The 5,000m and 10,000m races were added over the next two Olympiads, outside of court.
Music notes: Phil Collins’ Against All Odds, Huey Lewis & the News’ The Heart of Rock ‘n Roll plus Eurhytmics, Fleetwood Mac, Tina Turner, Elton John.
History notes: Geraldine Ferraro was chosen as the Vice Presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket. 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. They could dream of being presidential candidates, and astronauts too. It was an exciting year to be a woman.
Approaching 40 years of age, I began running Master’s competitions, returning to the middle distances, 1500m and 5,000m as if coming full circle. I so loved the middle distances – the mile (or metric mile) is what I was first trained to run, it was my favorite event, and becoming a master athlete meant I had a new ballpark to play in. In 1987, I won the World Masters Track Championships in both the 1500m and 5,000m, in Melbourne, Australia.
1987 was also the year my coaching career began. Well, I was already named the US Women’s International Head Coach on trips to Monaco, Taiwan and Japan, but while honored, the position was more of a figurehead than their actual coach. However, I became a hands-on, daily track coach/PE teacher of all the kids in my son’s elementary school and if you can convince kindergartners to run, jump and throw, or even just pay attention, you’ve acquired the basic skills to coach just about everyone else. The next year, in 1988, the 10,000m women’s race was added to the Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea. I went on to work at the LA84 Foundation (formerly AAF), from 1988 to 1991, to design and direct a distance running program for middle school children throughout LA County, while also coaching the program at my son’s middle school. From there, I coached at two high schools, became an athletic director, PE and Health Ed. teacher. I made one more attempt at a Masters World title, but fell short with a knee injury in 1991, had surgery, but never quite recovered, so retired from running and took up swimming. As a family, we thoroughly enjoyed attending the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 which included the women’s 5000m. In fact, we enjoyed a lot of meets on the international track circuit as Tom worked as an agent for many track and field athletes overseas. In 1996, I came out of running retirement to participate in the 100th Boston Marathon, after which I combined pool running and land running to extend my recreational running life a few more years. I also coached Team Diabetes from approximately 1994 through 2002, but after the tragic events of 9/11 there was a marked decline in traveling and fund-raising efforts in the charity world and beyond, therefore the team dissolved. I did however, assist with coaching a local women’s team, and I continued coaching high school track and cross country teams, as I do still today. While earning my Masters degree in Education and teaching credential in Health Education, at Loyola Marymount University in 2000, I moved from high school coaching back to LA84 to become Director of Coaching Education. In 2004, I received a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Southern California USA Track & Field Association. In the years that followed, unexpectedly my surgery count reached fourteen, with only thirteen comebacks. I now spend my daily workout time mostly walking or pool-running at Loyola Marymount University where I am currently working and teaching in the School of Education.