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.