This was the question on everyone’s mind as spectators watched the top elite women finish arguably one of the most grueling Boston Marathons in the race’s long history. Even internet message board sleuths—famous for uncovering elaborate marathon cheating scandals—struggled to find info in the initial hours after Sellers crossed that rainy, windy line in Copley Square in second place.
The truth is that the sponsorless, 26-year-old, full-time nurse anesthetist from Tucson, Ariz. is one of this year’s greatest running underdog stories—nearly eclipsing Desiree Linden’s fairytale win. Meet Sarah Sellers.
Sarah Sellers (née Callister) graduated from Weber State in Ogden, Utah, where she won nine conference titles during the course of her collegiate running career. Despite holding a slew of top 10 school performances at Weber State, her career was cut short when she fractured her foot in a race during her junior year, her coach Paul Pilkington told the Salt Lake Tribune. (Pilkington is the head cross-country coach at Weber State but still coaches Sellers remotely.)
In 2017, Sellers raced her first marathon—setting a course record at the Huntsville Marathon in Utah and grabbing herself a Boston qualifying spot. Despite her win and qualification, Sellers didn’t earn herself any sponsors and continued to train each morning at 4 a.m. before a long day of work at the Banner Health Center in the Tucson area.
In fact, Sellers only raced Boston this year because her brother Ryan had signed up. (It’s obviously in the genes: he finished the marathon only a few minutes slower than Sellers in 2:48.) According to a BBC Online story, without an agent or sponsors, she actually paid the $185 race entry fee herself.
So with only one marathon under her belt and no professional support, Sellers braved the wet and windy conditions to pass some of the greatest marathon runners in the sport over the final miles—including 2008 Olympic 10K silver medalist Shalane Flanagan, who she passed between miles 21 and 24.
“I didn’t even know it was a possibility,” Sellers told the Boston Globe, post-race, of her surprise second-place finish. “I was trying to ask officials what place I was in. I had no idea when I crossed the finish line.”
“This is a game changer for Sarah, in just her second marathon,” Pilkington said in a press release from Weber State. “This was one of the best fields they have ever had and was really tough conditions. I knew she was in good shape because her workouts were going so well. She has persevered through injuries, graduate school and has a full-time job, and still able to train in world class conditions.”