Josh about to pass his grandpa

Josh about to pass his grandpa
Here, at age three, Josh regularly runs a mile or two with me--and I have to work hard to keep up!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Overcoming Adversity, and the Amazing Story of Anne Audain

     In my last post, I ruminated about competitiveness, and how conflicted I can be about whether competitiveness is the magical trait we Americans have been taught from the time we were old enough to run to first base in Little League.  Yesterday, I got an email from a woman who ranks among the top competitive runners of all time, and her story puts a whole different light on my question.  If you are old enough to recall the golden age of road running, in the 1980s (before a lot of us gravitated to the trails), you know the name Anne Audain.  Anne was born with deformed feet, and couldn't walk correctly until she had reconstructive surgery at age 13.  Three years later, she qualified as a middle-distance runner for the New Zealand Olympic team!  She then came to the United States to run in our major road races.  In the 1980s, Anne Audain won more races than any other runner in the world.  For Anne, competitiveness was a path to leaving adversity in the dust.  And she reminds me that that's been true for many others.  Here's the email she sent me yesterday:

     30 years ago this month, I arrived in the United States at age 25 from my native New Zealand, in hopes of reviving a running career laid to rest by the 1980 Olympic boycott and a tough time with my first coach.  At the end of 1980, I joined my second coach, John Davies, and he suggested I try going to the USA, where women were being given the chance to run the longer distances.  You'll recall that at that time, the longest distance in the Olympic Games for women was 1500 meters.  John thought I would be better at the longer distances.
     I came with my savings, and my first race was the Crescent City CLassic 10K in New Orleans.  Having come from an island nation, I questioned the city being below sea level, and asked what would happen if the levees broke!  But I digress!  I raced my first-ever 10K, finishing third behind Patti Catalano, who broke the American record, and Joan Benoit Samuelson -- I think you know her!  I actually fell down at the start, and after recovering ran well enough to finish in 33 minutes, 12 seconds.
     People were very encouraing and supportive, and I caught a train with Jeff Galloway and his wife Barbara to their home in Atlanta, where I stayed for two weeks  Jeff introduced me to all the new changes in the sport.  I then moved on to Eugene, Oregon, to join the Athletics West team. 
     Then it was on to Denver, Colorado, where I was introduced to altitude for the first time in my life.  I thought I would die!  There, Creigh Kelley found a running couple for me to live with, and became my first "agent"--at a time when the sport was still officially amateur.  Fast-forward to June, 1981, when Phil Knight (co-founder of Nike) put up $50,000 in prize money for a race in Portland, Oregon, and encouraged us road-racers to attend and pledge to take a stand and turn the sport professional.  The consequences of accepting any money as a runner at that time was a lifetime ban!  I was running out of money, though, so I was happy to enter--and I won!  I received a $10,000 prize and a lifetime ban as promised (later rescinded, as all the big races began offering prize money and giving runners a chance to earn a living at what they loved).  I was also threatened with deportation, as I was here on a visitor's visa. My parents weren't too happy.  But that race began a memorable decade for me, as I won 75 races in that span.  Upon retirement in 1992, I founded what is now the largest 5K for women and children in the USA--the St. Luke's Women's Fitness Celebration in Boise, Idaho--a way to give back to a country that gave me so much!
    No longer running in competition, but still happily running every day!

Anne Audain

Ed's note:  Anne's website is, and the St. Luke's website is

1 comment:

Kovas said...

Ed, thanks for sharing her story, always great to learn more running history.