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Porto: Still Chasing Her Dream

12/01/10 5:55PM By Brian Porto
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(HOST) Commentator Brian Porto appreciates athletic ability - especially when it's accompanied by a positive attitude.

(PORTO) The older I become, the more I admire people who pursue intellectual or physical challenges long past the age when most of us are content to put our feet up and stare at the ocean or the mountains.  High on my list of those whose perseverance I admire is Joan Benoit Samuelson, who won the inaugural women's marathon at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

Samuelson, who is now 53, was back in the news recently after finishing the Bank of America Chicago Marathon in 2 hours, 47 minutes, and 50 seconds, which was good for 43rd place and made her the fastest female marathoner over age 51 in history.  Her time also made her the first woman to run a marathon in less than three hours in five different decades.

Samuelson's original aim in running the Chicago Marathon was merely to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of her victory there in 1985, which set an American record - 2 hours, 21 minutes, and 21 seconds - that stood until 2003.  But Samuelson's quiet, low-key demeanor belies her fierce competitiveness, so she soon began to see the Chicago race as at least a chance to run under 2 hours, 50 minutes and perhaps even to break 2 hours, 46 minutes, which would enable her to qualify for the Olympic Trials for a record fifth time in 2012.  "With every finish line I cross," she says, "there seems to be a new opportunity to set a goal for myself.  I'm still passionate about the sport."  Chicago, she added, "seemed the next logical challenge."  But Samuelson's competitiveness was perhaps most evident when a reporter asked whether she would run the race alongside her 23-year-old daughter, Abby, who made her marathon debut in Chicago.  "Not unless she catches me," Samuelson replied.

Samuelson's competitiveness undoubtedly sustained her through 80 miles a week of training for the Chicago race, her runs of from six to twenty miles followed by a short recovery swim in the ocean near her home in Freeport, Maine.  That competitiveness just might enable her to run under 2 hours, 46 minutes and qualify for the Olympic Trials again; I certainly wouldn't bet against her.

Asked about when her racing career might end, Samuelson was philosophical.  "When it's no longer fun I'll get out.  Some days I say, ‘What am I doing here?'  But other days it feels like it did 25 years ago.  If I catch the right day, I feel amazing and strong and powerful and good.  You take the ups and downs."

Joan Benoit Samuelson's perseverance is an inspiration to us all.  She is living proof that as long as the flame burns within, age cannot suffocate our dreams.  May her flame continue to burn brightly, and may she chase her athletic dreams for many years to come.
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