MARATHON RUNNER, MOTIVATIONAL
Joan Benoit Samuelson is a long-distance runner. The highlight of her competitive marathon running career came at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics, when she captured the gold medal at the inaugural women's Olympic marathon. Her victory was all the more impressive as it came very soon following arthroscopic surgery on one of her knees.
Samuelson's running career began in the 1970s in Maine, the state where she was born and where she has lived all her life. Initially a pursuit to help her rehabilitation from a broken leg sustained in a cross-country skiing accident, running became her passion while in high school. She was the sole female on her high school cross-country squad.
In 1979, while a senior in college, she entered the Boston Marathon as an unheralded and unknown athlete. Yet, she prevailed. Her winning time of 2 hours, 35 minutes was 10 minutes faster than the existing women's record time. She won the Boston Marathon again in 1983, after recuperation from Achilles tendon surgery, in a world-record performance five minutes quicker than the previous women's world-best.
Samuelson's victory time of 2 hours, 24 minutes, 52 seconds at the 1984 Olympic marathon was over one minute ahead of the next competitor. Surging to the front of the pack only three miles into the race, she never relinquished the lead, and prevailed over a field that included dominant women's marathoners, including Norway's Grete Waitz and Ingrid Kristiansen, and Rosa Mota of Portugal.
This performance was remarkable, coming so soon after knee surgery. Even more impressively, Samuelson's arthroscopic surgery to repair a meniscus injury came just 17 days before the marathon trials to select the members of the United States Olympic team.
Despite a victory in the 1985 Chicago Marathon, Samuelson's post-Olympic career was filled with injuries. She did, however, qualify for the 1996 Olympic trials, finishing thirteenth in a time of 2 hours, 36 minutes, 54 seconds.
Early in her running career, Samuelson was a relentless trainer, typically running up to 200 mi (322 km) each week (an average of over 28 mi [45 km] per day). Later, with the additional commitments of marriage and motherhood, she became an example of how a balance between family and athletic excellence was possible.
Retirement from competition did not end Samuelson's involvement with the sport. She is the author of two books based on running (Running Tide and Running for Women) and has coached the women's cross-country team at Bowdoin College, her alma mater. She is also a motivational speaker and provides sports commentary.
In 1998, as a means of generating financial support for several children's charities in Maine, Samuel-son organized a 10,000-m (6.2 mi) road race held in her hometown. The annual Beach to Beacon Road Race, held during the first weekend in August, has since become very popular, and attracts over 5,000 runners, including a stellar field of elite athletes. The race has become a tune-up for the world famous Falmouth Road Race, held the following weekend in Cape Cod (and which Samuelson won twice).
Samuelson's victory in the 1984 Olympics provided a tremendous boost for the public acceptance of arthroscopic surgery. At that time, conventional surgery was the norm for the repair of knee injuries. Recovery from such invasive surgery could take months and was painful. Her victories at the Olympic trials and the Los Angeles Olympics were turning points in convincing people of the benefits of arthroscopic surgery.
As of 2006, Samuelson lives with her family in Freeport, Maine.
SEE ALSO Arthroscopy.