Reflecting back on moments which made 2017 a memorable year with friends and family, including joyous occasions and bittersweet moments too. Here is a pictorial review of the year.
As I browse my photos from the year, here on Facebook, I saved this New Year’s greeting posted by Tom Fleming. Who could know it would be the last time? I added the quotation as a poignant reminder that none of us are promised tomorrow.
In February, the World Record Camp Coaches took off for Honolulu for another fun and exciting coaching clinic with track and field student-athletes, arranged by friends Jonathon Lyau and Jeaney Garcia. We even included a few reunions with colleagues like Kenny Moore, Tom Hintnaus, and Duncan MacDonald.
Best friend Julie McKinney and I enjoyed doing an LA84 Foundation interview for a video to celebrate women’s running history, specifically the first women’s Olympic Marathon, here in LA in 1984.
We also attended an event at the Grammy Museum, to hear the man who designed this iconic album cover.
On this trip, the World Record Camp traveled to Dallas for more Track & Field coaching.
Track Season included a few meets at UCLA and elsewhere, following CSUN and enjoying a surprise visit from Brian Holiday’s family, my “Wyoming Family.”
Speaking at a CSUN student-athlete honor society event, here I am with the extraordinary Monique Griffiths, and Athletic Director, Dr. Brandon Martin.
Also, there was the always superb Pre Meet in Eugene, thanks to Tom Jordan, and guaranteed joyful reunions!
If it’s June, it’s time for Culver Distance Camp (Indiana) and visiting family and friends near Chicago. I don’t know how it just keeps getting better every year, but it does.
The Annual Runners Reunited gathering, hosted by Ralph Serna, is an amazing reunion of –shall we say– vintage runners?
Another successful World Record Camp took place in Casper, Wyoming thanks to Heath Hayes and his staff.
July wrapped up with the exciting announcement that the 2020 Olympic Track & Field Trials were awarded to Los Angeles — more specifically, to the host committee — Mt. San Antonio College. Let the celebration begin!
Progressing towards the eventual winning bid for the 2028 Olympic Games, another event was hosted at the LA Coliseum and City Council meetings continued.
This was one of those bittersweet moments, marking the passing of a legendary UCLA coach, Jim Bush, and congratulating Devin Elizondo, newly appointed UCLA head distance coach at his alma mater.
LA84 Youth Sports Summit
It was a nice reunion on many levels. Best friend, Jeaney Garcia and I going to sports conferences together again, like the old days. Reuniting with a former student-athlete, Cristina Lucas and my friend Kathy Ash’s daughter Hilary. What a coincidence they’re working together at the LA28 Olympic Organizing Committee. Then, there are my former colleagues Wayne Wilson and Bettie Williams, who are always fun to be with. Sam the Eagle and LA84 President Renata Simril put on one extraordinary youth sports summit!
ElliptiGO Championships and Rally Rides
Ruth Wysocki and I in Encinitas with John and Anita Pilkington for one of the most fun weekends on our GOs!
My birthday month was spent, first at a David Benoit dinner concert, with Jim & Cindy Dunn and Julie McKinney, hosted by the Asia America Symphony. Then a birthday dinner on the beach was fun with Jeaney Garcia and Deborah Hafford.
Rounding out the year, December brought yet more welcome reunions and a few more good memories. I have much to be grateful for, not the least of which is getting through the “fire season” unscathed and the flu season in good health. As for the knees . . . . . well, that’s a separate story for another day. I certainly do wish all my friends and family a very healthy and happy new year ahead of us, and may it bring more love and peace in the world.
In deference to those who made the original reference to “women holding up half the sky,” I’m borrowing the phrase simply because I love the sound of it, as it aptly describes statistics showing women are usually more than half the participants in any given road race. Consider the most recent available statistics which report that in 2013, 2014 and 2015 women constituted 57% of running events each year, according to Running USA.
I recently traveled to participate in the Montana Women’s Run, as their keynote speaker at the pre-race dinner, and to participate in the 5-mile walk. I really enjoyed walking among 8000 runners and walkers! I was simply amazed at the level of participation. 8000 participants and probably 99% of them are women. After all, it is not a women-only race, keep in mind.
So when I look into statistics kept by Running USA, I cannot really compare the Montana event to the largest all-women’s races. However if I did, it would fit right in to the top four, between the NY Mini-Marathon (10K) at 8846 and the More/Shape Women’s Half Marathon at 7046. As for coed races, it wouldn’t seem fair to compare it to the top contender Nike Women’s Half-Marathon either, which totals a whopping 25,100 participants.
What the Montana Women’s Run does perfectly is to support, encourage and inspire as many women as they possibly can to empower participation, be it walking or running, whether it’s two-miles or five-miles. Their mission is to promote health and fitness, particularly for women who might not otherwise exercise. Additionally, the organization offers clinics to help women get started in their workouts. Plus the proceeds benefit local service providers for women.
The Women’s Run Board members consist of all women, and of the ones I met, each seems to carry their own unique story of inspiration. All of them are highly accomplished women who motivate others by example.
I only regret not having the opportunity to meet their longtime leader, Pat Jaffray, who passed away just the month before, and who was honored throughout the entire event. To read more:
How I came to be introduced to the Women’s Run, is entirely thanks to Coach Jay Graves, who I met in the summer of 2016 in Casper, Wyoming while coaching a World Record Track & Field Camp with founder, director Willie Banks. Jay not only attended camp so his children could participate, and so he could grow as a coach, he also volunteered to be my assistant coach! I am forever grateful to him for introducing me to his sister Liana Susott, a Board member of the Montana Women’s Run, who in turn brought me to the attention of her fellow Board members. I am ever so appreciative they included me in their program. I had an awesome experience, not only during the events, but hiking and enjoying the beauty of big sky country . . . . . . . . . It turns out women are holding up half the big sky.
When I think of Tom Fleming, what comes to mind is a fierce competitor, a kind and generous soul, a man who lived a determined life, a purposeful life and an exemplary life.
When we lose a loved one we soothe the pain in our heart with fond memories. Memories can bring comfort and peace.
Tom and I shared some good memories.
He loved the Boston Marathon as much as I do.
In my mind, Boston and Tom are intertwined. I cannot tell you how many times he ran there, but there were a lot of trophies in his collection, including two second place Boston trophies.
Tom was a fierce competitor, often a front-runner who liked to take charge.
He was at the same time a kind and generous soul.
One time, at the Olympic Trials for the Marathon in Eugene in 1976, he came up short – by his own high standards – and missed making the Olympic Team.
I will always remember him sobbing on my shoulder. His dream and all the training he put into the 4 years between Olympic Games was not to be. It tugged at my heartstrings.
We competed together all over the map: Boston, Eugene, Charleston, Los Angeles, Puerto Rico, to name a few.
Puerto Rico makes me smile. I said he was generous. He even shared his room suite with the rest of the USA team, including Bill Rodgers and me too, because he had the only one with working air conditioning in that hot, humid, sweltering climate.
In Los Angeles, Tom ran straight into history, leading the charge over an arduous course, which ran the length of famous Sunset Boulevard from downtown to the Pacific Coast beaches. It was the first race in LA and among the first anywhere to offer prize money. This was a radical act of the times and Tom raised the bar.
I’ll close with a lasting memory I’ll carry in my heart forever.
At the Cleveland Marathon, we won together. But the mayor of Cleveland (Dennis Kucinich) was ill-informed and brought just one key to the city at the awards ceremony. Since Tom was traveling home the same day and I was staying one more day, I suggested he take the key, since I could receive mine the next day.
Nearly forty years later, I would still be waiting for my key, despite the good intentions of a reporter who put the story out into the news on one of Cleveland Marathon’s anniversaries.
Well, Tom learned of the story and resolved the situation in his own generous way.
He sent it to me recently, saying after all this time, it was my turn to keep it for the next 30+ years. The key to my heart.
What a gentleman.
What a competitor.
What a team player.
What a friend.
I will miss him, but I have a cherished key and a treasure trove of memories.
Today I’m feeling blessed, fortunate and nostalgic all at once while reaching for words to describe the synchronicity and synergy that I’m feeling simultaneously today.
In the last 24 hours I have been reunited, albeit electronically, with my dear friend and colleague Henley Gabeau after countless years. Next, out-of-the-blue, my phone rang announcing caller Doris Heritage. It always makes my day whenever I see her name. Our near-hour-long conversation made my year! At least to date it has — I’ll allow it’s early in the year and who knows if and how it could get any better.
Talk about synchronicity!
Doris and Henley in the same couple of hours! It’s a good day.
What’s the connection, you ask?
Henley published an article yesterday in which she defined the impetus to her feminist activism being the year in which we met at the 1977 International Women’s Conference in Houston. Following this event, we shared our experience as International Runners Committee members, with the common goal to include women’s distance events in the Olympic Games. Doris called me, specifically with questions about the IRC. She was being interviewed by a journalist and she needed some information. Details aside, we spent the rest of the time reminiscing.
Henley’s excellent article came to my attention several times, thanks to RRCA Executive Director Jean Knaack, and former RRCA President Jeff Darman for posting Henley’s article yesterday, and also to running podiatrist Ed Lopez for tagging me on a separate posting of the same article. (Moments like this make FB worthwhile.) So I quickly sent off an email to Henley and she immediately wrote back that she was hoping this would find me. Henley, you should know, started the Women’s Distance Festival in the RRCA under the leadership of Jeff Darman. Here is her article.
If you have read my blog before and/or read my book chapter 15, “Years of the Women,” you see that I wrote my version of the encounter Henley and I had in 1977. Besides the two of us that day, I was with Leal-Ann Reinhart and Henley was with Peggy Kokernot and Mary Cullen. Peggy was the star of the conference event torch relay that day and Mary was/is a Houston runner and benefactor of running and the arts. I’m happy to say that best friend Leal and I never lost touch, and that Peggy and I had our long awaited reunion last June at the Olympic Track & Field Trials. As well, I do keep track of Mary Cullen from afar through mutual friends.
As for all the other IRC members, I’ve happily remained in touch all this time with Joe Henderson ( lucky me – who better to edit my book), Janet Heinonen, Joan Ullyot, and Nina Kuscsik. I re-connected with Lyn Billington on FB and with Eleonora Mendonca at Boston, both in 2016. Ken Young and I were in touch during the book writing, when he provided accuracy in race results for my book. Of course, all of us mourn the loss of three members, my late husband Tom Sturak, teammate Miki Gorman and renowned coach Arthur Lydiard. The only member I cannot account for is Sarolta Monspart of Hungary.
Margaret Mead wrote (and I favor this quotation), “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does.” Synergy comes to mind.
Today, Henley is on her way to the women’s march in D.C. and I’m sure we all wish her Godspeed. In her words, she hopes transformative groups will evolve and bring change for the betterment of others: “My belief, based on experience, is that women can do it — and will — and the march will sow those seeds.” I believe Peggy is joining a march too, closer to her home. Godspeed. It seems feminists of the 70s are unstoppable, they just find another cause. Wherever you may find yourself today, whatever you are doing, Godspeed.
This month (October 2016), I enjoyed a rare treat, going to the Grammy Museum with my good friends Julie and Brooks McKinney to see none other than Donovan, an icon in the music world of the sixties era. We listened and gleaned insight to his life and lyrics through an interview for the first part of the show. With our new found insider information, we enjoyed his performance even more, and joined in for a certain amount of singing along. What a grand evening. Beyond expectations, I loved the finale, getting to meet Donovan in person after the show. He greeted me with “you must be the lady in red!” And I replied, “we’ve met before” and proceeded to share a memory for which he thanked me profusely.
Indeed, we had met before, after a show in another small intimate setting not unlike this evening. It was my 21st birthday and I wrote an account in my memoir. Although my very wise editor did well to keep me “on track” (if you’ll pardon the pun), I could not resist mentioning significant moments experienced in the sixties and seventies, during my formative years. Besides, the man responsible for my first meeting, Gary and I recently agreed that this, of all the concerts and events we attended, the evening with Donavan and John Sebastian was one of the most significant and memorable moments of the era.
(Book excerpt from “A Long Time Coming: Running through the women’s marathon revolution”)
“At that time I could be found most weekends at the Troubadour or other venues seeing and occasionally meeting bands and individuals such as The Byrds, Elton John, Donovan, John Sebastian, John Denver, Peter, Paul & Mary, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Buffy St. Marie, Cat Stevens, Simon and Garfunkel, Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman. [Expand that list to include Phil Ochs and Gordon Lightfoot, also usually seen at the Troubadour and of the same genre.]
A journal entry describes one such occasion:
My “birthday happening,” when Gary and Jeff took me to the Troubadour where we saw John Sebastian. While the show before ours was SRO [standing room only], we got a front row table for the 11 P.M. show and were treated to an added bonus when he brought Donovan up on stage. The audience begged for more, they locked the doors, served more wine and went on for a couple more hours! We even spent time talking with them both after the show. I got home at 4:30 A.M. and had a rough time getting to work the next morning at 7:00. (Note: Gary recently reminded me that they had “let” me purchase wine at a liquor store, telling the clerk it was my 21st birthday after all. True. But neither of them were 21!)
Given that my job, classes and training took over all my waking hours every day, I have a void of knowledge about all television throughout my college years. But I gleaned a great appreciation for all things musical. Much of the music of the times reflected the social and political events in history, like the Kent State shootings memorialized in lyrics, most notably Neil Young’s “Ohio.”
By the late 1960s, I had transferred from Pierce to San Fernando Valley State College. Valley State was no “Berkeley,” but we had our share of controversy and protest. In May 1970 my school was closed down during a strike protesting the Vietnam war.
The overlying backdrop throughout these years was, of course, the war. I still have correspondence from the few friends and one cousin who were sent to Vietnam, and from other friends who were conscientious objectors and stayed behind. The issue of Vietnam permeated every aspect of life in the 1960s and affected everyone directly or indirectly.”
How fortunate I am to hear Donovan again all these many years later! If only I could remember everything he spoke about in his interview. I did come away with an enlightened view of the year 1966 (my high school graduation year). In answer to an interview question about the significance of this time period, Donovan pointed out some of the top albums on the charts in that single year included the Beatles’ “Revolver,” Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds,” Bob Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde,” and of course Donovan’s hit single, “Catch the Wind” followed soon after by “Colours.”
He elaborated on the “why” stating something to the effect there was the invasion of pop culture with folk music with its meaningful lyrics, whether it was about protest or civil rights or exploration of levels of consciousness. For another, he said pop music didn’t expect the bohemian invasion. And lastly, we were just “really good!”
He told us about his rise to fame, those who influenced him along the way, as well as those he influenced along the way. Repeatedly he made mention of his mission to introduce us (baby-boomers) to the bohemian manifesto. He spoke of artists of the time period and not exclusively musicians. Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Alan Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, Joan Baez and of course Bob Dylan. We heard something, (but I did read more later), about the contrast and comparison of Donovan and Dylan over the years. There were many stories, too, about his relationships with the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.
In his autobiography he states “I’d begun in earnest to introduce the Bohemian Manifesto into my work and practice of compassion two years before the bloom of Flower Power and All You Need is Love. This denim-clad beatnik from Scotland with a limp and an attitude was becoming shaman.” In his epilogue he said “I accomplished my aim of introducing my generation the Bohemian Manifesto of Change. . . . ”
And Donovan, ever the Hurdy Gurdy man, “brings us songs of love,” as he would have us “wear your love like heaven.” He spoke frequently of his beloved Linda who was clearly his muse. When you listen to Sunshine Superman, the sunset they shared was also California’s Sunset Boulevard.
Listening to “What Goes On” now takes on a much deeper meaning “if you know what I mean.” (Note, he’s referring to Dylan and Joan Baez aka: Joanie as opposed to Joni.)
“What goes on? Chick-a-chick. What goes on? I really wanna know. What goes on all around me, What goes on? I really wanna know. When in should come-a my dream woman, She got sequins in her hair, Like she stepped out off of a Fellini film, She sat in a white straw chair . . . . .
We spoke of a common kaleidoscope And the pros and the cons of Zen And he spoke and-a said for a piece of cake He really did have a yen. Bobby Dylan he sat “the Mad Hatter,” A broken hour glass in his hand, And-a Joannie sat in a white lace Looking cool with a black lace fan. What goes on? Chick-a-chick.
What goes on? I really wanna know . . . . .”
A troubadour tells stories of his time, and “Sunny South Kensington” is a good example of that.
“Come take a walk in sunny South Kensington Any day of the week. See the girl with the silk Chinese blouse on, You know she ain’t no freak. Come loon soon down Cromwell Road, man, You got to spread your wings. A-flip out, skip out, trip-out, and a-make your stand, folks, To dig me as I sing.
Jean-Paul Belmondo and-a Mary Quant got Stoned to say the least Ginsberg, he ended up-a dry and so He a-took a trip out East. If I’m a-late waitin’ down the gate, it’s such a ‘raz’ scene, A groovy place to live. In the Portobella I met a fella with a cane umbrella, Who must’ve used a sieve.
So come loon soon down Cromwell Road, man, You got to spread your wings. A-flip out, skip out, trip-out and a-make your stand, folks, To dig me as I sing. Hmm, hmm, hmm…..”
Donovan is a poet, an artist, and a real blend of all he loves, songs of social change, folk, jazz, and blues. The same could be said of Joni Mitchell for that matter. I enjoyed all the troubadours of the day and frequently went to hear Buffy St. Marie, Joan Baez and others such as Gordon Lightfoot and Phil Ochs. Although I heard Pete Seeger on multiple occasions, I can’t say I ever saw Woody Guthrie, although I certainly saw Arlo. In fact I saw him with Pete Seeger on stage here in Topanga later in life, around 1990 I believe. This was at Theatricum Botanicum, Will Geer’s place, where a cabin for Wood Guthrie was kept. But I digress.
Isn’t life just like the Circle Game?
“We’re captive on the carousel of time We can’t return, we can only look behind From where we’ve come And go ’round and ’round and ’round In the circle game.”
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:
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
One of the many things I love about my good friend, Deborah Hafford, is how she has her finger on the pulse of women’s — je ne sais quoi — multi-faceted women’s issues, be it sports, business, social or other issues.
Deborah shared a NY Times article with me in which runner Lauren Fleshman makes this observation: “Women have never been more marketable in sports than they are now, from U.S. soccer to Serena. Forty-plus years since Title IX means we have our first generation of supportive parents and coaches who grew up with the idea of female athletes not being horrifying. People are training girls harder than ever.” This interesting observation brought to mind a related statement I heard recently from soccer star, Abby Wombach.
In anNPR article about Abby Wombach‘s retirement, she is portrayed as: “the youngest of seven, who says when she (Abby) was a little girl, she knew she had to be loud and tough to stand out. Her mom put her on a boys’ soccer team at 9 to challenge her.”
In this interview, her mother, Judy Wombach, said “And come to find out, many of the young women that were on the U.S. national team played boys during their early years. I did something right and didn’t know I did it.”
From an insightful English blog, “Run Young 50” , writer Katie Holmes states that “American women love to run marathons. In 2014, 43% of marathon finishers in US races were women, the highest percentage of any country in the world. In the UK the figure is 34%. And American women love half marathons even more than marathons. They outnumber male competitors at the distance, making up 61% of finishers in 2014.”
A cursory look into statistics of USA running indicates this trend to be true. For example, in the Running USA 2015 State of the Sport, one particular statistic shows “Females account for 10.7 million finishers nationwide and continue to represent 57% from event fields. Males in 2014 represented over 8 million finishers in U.S. races.”
Writer Katie Holmes further points out that “fifty years ago there was virtually no opportunity for women to take part in endurance running, let alone run a marathon. Women were prohibited from running further than 200 metres at the Olympics from 1928 until 1960 when the 800 metres was reintroduced to the Olympics. It took another 12 years before the 1500 metres featured in the programme and the women’s marathon was not added until 1984 . . .” She kindly gave my book a very positive review, and pointed to the work of all the early women running pioneers with credit for laying the groundwork leading to this tremendous growth of women’s athletics.
I am not a statistician, but I’ve seen enough anecdotal evidence in my observations to verify this growing trend of women gaining ground in sports overall. Of course, we had a lot of ground to catch up in the first place. Looking back over time, it seems so antiquated that, for instance, one early advocate, Nina Kuscsik, had to stage a sit-in at the start of the 1971 New York City Marathon to protest the separate start times of the men’s and women’s races. It seems so odd now that certain running magazine columnists ever gave argument as to why women did not deserve equal awards at races. (Believe it or not, he was serious.) It doesn’t seem reasonable that we had to go to court to gain the right to even run as far or ski jump as far as the men. . . . but that’s another entire blog story (elsewhere on this site).
And as far as Lauren Fleshman’s statement about supportive versus non-supportive parents of potentially athletic young girls . . . . I will assume she was speaking in generalities. I for one took up running and immersed myself in training in spite of my disapproving parent-guardians, and the rebelliousness of it all probably played a role in my decision. So that argument about the parents could go either way. In fact, in my job as a Coaching Education Director and as an Athletic Director, I’ve witnessed plenty of cases with negative experiences in sports for children of all-too-supportive parents (aka: helicopter parents hovering). But I digress. Let’s close optimistically with the increased and growing trend of women represented in sports. Perhaps women do hold up half-the-sky or as Sheryl Sandberg recommends, they are “Leaning In.” Simply put, as Deborah states, something is happening here.
Thank you to USATF Women’s Track and Field Committee, Sue Humphrey and LaTanya Shefield, for selecting me for this honored award. I am beyond disappointed that I could not personally be in Houston for the presentation, but I was there in spirit, and thankfully represented by Julie McKinney, former Women’s Long Distance Running Chair. I appreciate the vote of confidence in Peter Thompson’s nomination.
Here are my thoughts from home, from my heart:
I looked into the history of Joseph Robichaux and to prior recipients of the award to find an impressive line of men and women I am proud to keep in company.
I wondered if my work towards including more women’s events in the Olympic program was the reason I was chosen. If so, this award goes to a small committee, the IRC, (International Runners Committee) and not just me. You have my fellow member Nina Kuscsik with you as testament to our good work. Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
The International Runners Committee, for whom I served as president, fought for the women’s 3000, 5000, 10,000-meter events on the track plus the marathon, until women gained equal opportunity in the Olympic Games.
Then, I soon realized it was the unique combination of also working in youth sports that put me in contention. I would have never expected to be given a reward for doing so. This caught me off guard completely.
Youth sports has been the pleasure and joy in my life, which I do not consider work, but the constant source of joy in my daily life — It always has been and continues to today . . . and for many tomorrows to come. I have coached K-12 children since my own child started school over 30 years ago, and I still coach today. I had the good fortune to work for LA84 Foundation, directing all sorts of youth sports programs in running and other sports too. I directed coaching education for LA84 in eight different sports.
Today I coach at running camps, I write curriculum for PE and Health Education courses at Loyola Marymount University to prepare teachers. I coach at World Record track and field camps with Willie Banks and Mike Powell. I coach at the Culver Academies Distance Camp annually for high school kids. I write online course curriculum for the RRCA coaching education program and I participate on their grants committee helping youth clubs. So, you see, there are a lot of folks doing good for youth sports in this world, and I am fortunate to still be actively involved, thanks to organizations like yours creating the opportunities for young people. Once in my young life, one single high school coach gave me a chance, and I am glad to give back. Indeed I am compelled to give back.
Let me remind you — thanks to finely organized women and girls track & field clubs in this country in the 60s and 70s, I had a place to compete when there were no opportunities in school, no interscholastic sports for girls. We were pre-Title IX and before NCAA. If not for one forward thinking woman, my high school PE teacher who started a girls track team, my life would be different. If not for one remarkable coach, Laszlo Tabori, an Olympian and record breaker, who gave me a direction in which to train after I finished school. . . if not for him, my life would not be so enriched. He made all things possible.
Thank you for the recognition, thank you for giving young people an opportunity and making a difference in their lives. It is my pleasure and honor to receive this award.
May good health be with all of us.