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Runner alum a 'pioneer for women's rights'

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Posted: Monday, April 22, 2013 1:00 am

After waking up in a hospital bed with a temperature below 93 degrees, the first thing out of female marathon winner and world record holder Jacqueline Hansen’s mouth was, “Did I finish?”

Hansen, an LMU alumna and business and operations coordinator for LMU’s School of Education, started running in her senior year of high school, and it has been a passion of hers ever since. The hailstorm and her blacking out in the last mile of the 1984 Boston Marathon did not stop her from qualifying in the first Olympic marathon trials, something she was personally connected to bringing to the summer games.

Hansen was a world record holder in the 1976 Montreal Olympics, but was keenly aware that she had nowhere to go with it. Women were only allowed to run the 1,500-meter event and 1972 was the first year women were allowed to run even that far.

“The injustice of that was intolerable,” said Hansen. Her passion for running, fueled by her desire to incorporate equal rights for women in the Olympics, caused her to begin a long journey with the Olympics.

Her husband had a job with Nike and when the couple asked what it would take to get women’s events in the games, Nike promised to back them to make that happen. Hansen, her husband and 13 other people formed the International Runners Committee (IRC) and lobbied the Olympic committee to add the 5,000-meter, 10,000-meter and the marathon to the Olympics for women. They sued all entities that brought the Olympics to Los Angeles in 1984, and they were able to get the marathon in the games in 1984.

But, according to Hansen, “The president of International [Sports] Federation said to my face, ‘You got the marathon, but you’re never getting the five and 10, ever. They’re boring and they won’t sell tickets, and we don’t care.’”

Hansen was also blacklisted at the Los Angeles games, even though her husband was the race director of the Olympic marathon. But, according to Hansen, “We lost the battle, but won the war.”

The 10,000-meter was put into the next Olympic Games in ’88, and the 5,000 was put into the games in ’96.

She has not gone back to the Olympics because her “bubble was burst” when she discovered how unfair and discriminatory the committee was; however, she has learned commitment and discipline throughout it all and has continued to support running and coaches runners.

Michael Cersosimo, an LMU alumnus and administrative assistant for the School of Education, said of Hansen, “I started to recently run marathons and Jacqueline has given me a lot of great advice, encouragement and even race strategy. It definitely has made me a better runner.”

“I really look up to her and respect her because she’s a pioneer for women’s rights,” said Kathleen Ash, the associate dean of business services in the School of Education and Hansen’s supervisor.

Ash added, “She’s an unsung hero and it’s important for people to know what people did to give people the advantages they have today and probably what we all take for granted. But that makes sense because you never think about what went into it if it’s easy for you.”

Running has been Hansen’s ticket around the world, especially because she won 12 out of her first 15 marathons and held two world records between the years of 1974-1977, with one record being the first woman to break 2:40.00 in the marathon. Her first marathon win was in Culver City and then she went on to win her second marathon in 1973, which was the Boston Marathon. She ran the Boston Marathon four times and this year, she was the official starter for the women’s bracket.

According to Hansen, it started off as a glorious and sunny day. Before the women started running, she gave a small speech, saying, “I’ve run a mile in your shoes. I wish I were standing beside you now, but just remember a lot of women before you worked really hard for your right to run, so give it all you got. “

She had three runners whom she was coaching at this year’s Boston Marathon, so right after starting the race, she went to the finish line to wait for them. Hansen went between her hotel, the stands and the finish chutes while waiting for her third and final runner, who was falling off pace. “Those 10 minutes saved our lives, maybe, because in those 10 minutes I stood outside on the sidewalk waiting for Charlie [one of my three runners] and he arrived the moment the blast went off. We felt it like an earthquake and heard it like a sonic boom. ”

According to Hansen, she had to step back from all the screaming sirens and dozens of emergency vehicles flying in front of them. Her last runner was in her last mile. Two hours later, she found out she was OK.

“It was just so harrowing. The bombs were designed to maim. … Who does that to other human beings? I do not even comprehend it,” said Hansen.

Once she returned to Los Angeles, Hansen kept tearing up, but she heard of a local memorial run and decided to walk to be with people.

Hansen’s life motto is: “It’s not what happens to you that matters. It’s how you react.”

Hansen plans on walking the marathon next year with Ash and some former champion runners. “It’s the most known race in the world,” said Hansen. “And I don’t want people to stay away. The [bombers] are not going to beat us.”

“I know Jacqueline will be back in Boston again,” said Cersosimo. “I’m glad she is OK. I’m glad my family and friends in Boston are OK. It’s been a difficult week for the city Boston and the running community, but both will be stronger than ever.”

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