Joan Benoit Samuelson’s name is synonymous with women’s running. She began running track in high school in the town of Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Samuelson continued on to Bowdoin College, where her career soared. She received All-American honors in cross-country and track, and won the Boston Marathon in 1979, setting an American and course record, all before she graduated. Samuelson won the Boston Marathon again in 1983, this time breaking the world record. One year later, at the age of 27, she won the gold medal in the first women’s marathon at the Los Angeles Olympics. In 1985, Samuelson won the Chicago Marathon with an American record time of 2:21:21.
Currently, she is a consultant to Nike, Inc. and a clinician, conducting numerous running, health, and fitness clinics throughout the United States and the world. Samuelson is also an experienced motivational speaker, giving regular addresses to corporations, civic groups, schools, and athletes. She has authored two books, her autobiography Running Tide (Knopf, 1987), and Joan Samuelson’s Running for Women (Rodale Press, 1995).
In 1998 Samuelson founded the TD Bank 10K as a way to give back to the sport which has given her so much. The race motto started as “Shine the Light on Kids,” and benefits a different children’s charity each year. More than a decade later the race annually attracts over 6,000 runners, including some of the world’s most elite as well as first time competitors. Over 10,000 spectators attend every year making it one of hottest summer tickets in New England.
In April of 2008, Samuelson participated in the Olympic Marathon Trials in Boston and met her goal of running a sub 2:50 at age 50! In 2009 she ran in the 40th NYC Marathon which coincided with the 25th anniversary of her Olympic win, where she ran another sub 2:50. She set the goal as a way to support her belief in life-long fitness. Later that same year, Joanie was inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame. Joan Benoit Samuelson (or ”Joanie” as she’s known to many) is married with two children, Abby and Anders. She is a devoted wife and mother who has always been able to maintain her commitment to the sport.
The Early Years
After breaking a leg skiing as a teenager, Benoit began running to get back into shape and discovered that she liked it. While a senior at Bowdoin College in Maine, she entered the 1979 Boston Marathon as a virtual unknown and set an American women’s record of 2:35:15. Benoit underwent surgery on both Achilles tendons in 1981 but returned to top form in 1983, when she again won the Boston Marathon, setting a world record of 2:22:43. She also set American records that year in the 10-kilometer, half-marathon, 10-mile and 25-kilometer runs. Grete Waitz of Norway, who had won all seven marathons she’d entered and had beaten Benoit in 10 of 11 races, was favored to win the gold medal in the first Olympic women’s marathon in 1984. However, Benoit took the lead just 3 miles into the race and never gave it up. She led Waitz by nearly a minute at the 15-kilometer mark and by nearly two minutes at the 25-kilometer mark. She recalled, “As I neared the stadium, I heard the unexpected crowd rise to its feet, cheering the approaching runners. I told myself, ‘Just focus on trying to stay upright and keep one foot in front of the other.” While in the tunnel, she vowed to give back to a sport and a state that had given her so much before running into the light of the L.A. Coliseum and the electrifying welcome of the many thousands that were there to greet the inaugural winner of the Women’s Olympic Marathon. Benoit won the Jesse Ownens Award that same year and went on to win the Sullivan Award as the outstanding U. S. amateur athlete of 1985, when she set an American record of 2:21:21 in the Chicago Marathon. She also won major 12-kilometer and 7-mile races that year.