Larger than Life: Joanie

It was August 5, 1984.  The Los Angeles Coliseum. Her mother hugged her and whispered, “Now you can stop.”  Other friends and supporters echoed the theme:  You have made your mark on history, now you can move on.  You have won the first-ever women’s Olympic marathon.  Now you can settle down. Relax.  Rest on your laurels.  Get a life.

Joan Benoit saw it differently.  Not one to take solace from past victories, she looked forward to more competing.  She continued to reach for the next level of excellence.  Yes, she married Scott Samuelson.  She birthed a daughter Abby and son Anders.  She became active in her local community, working for environmental causes. But she also kept running, setting a string of world, American, and course records for the marathon distance.

When Joan turned 50, she focused her view on a new set of goals.  She celebrated winning the New York City and Chicago marathons by finishing sub-2:50 twenty-five years later.  She delivered a 2:52 Boston Marathon after winning the race in 1979 and 1983.  She became the first woman to run sub-3:00 marathons in each of five decades.  After winning the 1984 Olympic Trials, she wanted to qualify again, for the 2008 Olympic Trials, and missed by less than two minutes at the age of 51.

She has finished every race she ever started.  She has trained 85 miles a week in her 50s.  She has set a goal, then while the medal still dangles from her neck, looked forward the next one.  She is not content just to be out there, running easy and enjoying the admiration of fans.  She trains hard and puts forth her best effort.  Every time.

Known by friends and fans alike as “Joanie,” Samuelson plays a legendary role in women’s athletic progress.  At 5’2”, she is a giant in the world of running.  Her example not only inspires because of her pinnacle successes but also because of her persistence over the decades. She has not only pursued personal goals over the years, but is well known for mentoring and motivating younger women to change their lives through sport.

There is No Finish Line. What a perfect title for the documentary about Joanie’s contribution as an individual athlete and as an ambassador for women in sport. (See for the trailer.)  Check out her 1984 Olympic finish at and more about her life and work at  I draw motivation from her example to continue looking forward, with an eye to making the most of every day.

Run Wild Missoula sponsored a screening of There Is No Finish Line at Missoula Public Library on May 20.  I was sad that only four people attended that evening.  The library now owns the film.  Check it out.

By Pam Gardiner

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