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It’s not every day someone has the opportunity to run alongside an Olympic champion—especially not Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first woman to win an Olympic marathon.
Tuesday evening we had the opportunity, along with 100 other runners, in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Joanie’s historic Olympic win. Nike opened a 3-mile run to the public at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where Joanie crossed the finish line on Aug. 5, 1984.
Before the 3-miler, runners—women and men, old and young, fast and slow—gathered around the entrance to the coliseum, waiting for Joanie’s arrival. Almost everyone in the crowd wore white caps given to them by Nike in honor of the hat Joanie wore during her marathon win. Across the stadium, a giant screen displaying the iconic image of Joanie’s triumphant finish illuminated the coliseum as the setting sun contributed its distinctive glow. It was an awe-inspiring view—transporting us back 30 years to Joanie’s victory (minus the track that has now been sodded).
It wasn’t long before Joanie appeared, did her Q&A with Alyssa Roegnik of ESPN and suddenly the crowd was behind this tiny yet powerful woman underneath the arches of the coliseum’s entrance. Ready. Set. Go! And off we went! A pack of lead runners surrounded Joanie, making it impossible to spot her among a sea of bobbing white caps.
Emily knew it was not only impossible to keep pace with Joanie, but also a hazard to penetrate the moving wall of runners around her. Instead, she remembered Joanie’s advice given before the run: “Run your own race.” She took the 3 miles in stride, enjoying the USC campus scenery, including the puzzled looks of a few students that stepped aside for the horde of runners charging their way.
Nicki, too, kept her distance from the front of the pack, but was pleasantly surprised when the group was stopped at a crosswalk. It was heartwarming to see the appreciation that runners had for Joanie as she posed for photos, one of the best ambassadors for our sport. Though Nicki expected the run to be well attended by women like her, who can remember the marathon win and point to Joanie as a personal inspiration, this run had just as many young men and people from all backgrounds.
Eventually, Joanie slowed to remove her jacket and fell in step with a woman in her mid-50s. Trailing behind the two, Emily caught snippets of their conversation. Joanie had asked the woman how long she had been running. The woman explained that she had been a collegiate track athlete at UCLA and had grown up watching Joanie. Her voice thickened with emotion as she told Joanie what an inspiration she had been. The two women ran in silence together for some time before Joanie picked up the pace to lead the group again. A brief exchange, but one that speaks volumes to the thousands of women who run now because of Joanie.
After the run, back at the coliseum, under the glow of the Olympic flame, Joanie posed for photos with everyone who wanted to forever capture this moment, this evening with a U.S. Olympian, a gold medalist, an inspiring woman, a true hero.