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5 Super Inspirational Runners Stories

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Running makes for inspirational stories of perseverance against the odds.

The beauty of running is its lack of discrimination.  Anyone can participate.  Young, old, fast, slow: everyone lines up and runs on the same streets at the same time.

Runners who have overcome hardship are perhaps some of the most inspirational role models we have because we get to push ourselves just as hard as them.  We can strive to beat ourselves as they do.  When we hear of men and women rise to the running challenge, our own mental and physical roadblocks seem that much more beatable.

Here are five inspirational runner’s stories.

Randy Thomas

Bill Rogers leads Randy Thomas in the Pepsi National 10k Championships in Purchase, New York in 1980.

Randy Thomas would let nothing stop him and his vision of himself.

After running for and graduating from the University of Massachusetts, he decided to go all in and see how good he could be running professionally.  He went four years without a shoe sponsor or income except for the $2.61 /per hour wage he made working at the Bill Rogers Running Center in Boston.  During this time he slept on the floor of an apartment with four other Greater Boston Track Club athletes.

In 1978 Thomas was offered a spot in the prestigious Penn Relays 10,000m in Philadelphia.  When his ’72 Dodge Dart broke down on the way from Boston to Philly, Thomas hitchhiked the last 50 miles to the track, arriving moments before the start of his race.  He ran an incredible 28:22 for 10k, qualifying him for entry into the White City Stadium meet in London in July.

Thomas hitchhiked back to his broken down car in New Jersey and spent the night sleeping at a rest stop.  Marathon great and friend Bill Rogers sent him the money for car repairs the next day.

He later sold his Dart for $750, the cost of a ticket to London.

“I never thought about what I would do when I returned with no car. That, to me, was rational planning based thinking. I had an opportunity, a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I took it. The other sh _ _ I could figure out when I got home. I know this seems foreign to today’s athletes who generally need guarantee and safety and a fallback. I had none other than running well.” [1]

The story about Randy Thomas is one of the most inspirational runner’s stories.

Kathy Switzer

The infamous photo of race director Jock Semple attempting to remove Kathy Switzer from the 1967 Boston Marathon physically

Kathy Switzer was a fearless and inspirational pioneer of women’s running.

Although her coach claimed a marathon was too far for a “fragile woman”, Switzer entered the 1967 Boston Marathon in an era when women still weren’t allowed to compete in the race.  She registered under the gender-neutral “K.V. Switzer”.

When race officials discovered her running, they treated her as an interloper.  Race director Jock Semple tried to physically remove her from the race, yelling “get the hell out of my race and give me those (bib) numbers!”  Switzer avoided him and finished, becoming the first woman to complete the Boston Marathon as a numbered entry.

The Boston Marathon finally accepted female entries five years later in 1972.

Kathy Switzer went on to win the New York City Marathon in 1974.  She was named Female Runner of the Decade by Runner’s World.  She later works as a television commentator won her an Emmy Award.

Switzer created waves in the running world and helped empower women around the world through running.  She believed in equality within the sport acted on her belief, changing running for the better.

The story about Kathy Switzer is one of the most inspirational runner’s stories.

Team Hoyt


Doctors said Rick Hoyt would never live a “normal life”, having been born with cerebral palsy.  His life did end up being far from ordinary, but not in the way the doctors predicted.

In 1977, Rick told his dad Dick that he wanted to participate in a 5-mile race benefiting a local lacrosse player who had been paralyzed in an accident.  Dick Hoyt agreed to push his son in a wheelchair.  They finished the race in next to last.  That night, Rick told Dick, “dad, when I’m running, it feels like I’m not handicapped.”  That day started it all for Team Hoyt.

Rick and Dick went on to finish over 1,000 races.  They completed everything from 5k’s to marathons, duathlons, and triathlons, including six Ironmans. [2]

The original realization that competing made Rick feel less handicapped has allowed Team Hoyt to spread nationally and internationally.  Today team members with diverse abilities compete at races across the country and world, proving that running, and runners, can find inspiration and transcend seemingly insurmountable barriers.

The story about Team Hoyt is one of the most inspirational runner’s stories.

Joan Benoit Samuelson

Joan Benoit Samuelson is winning the 1984 Olympic Marathon in Los Angeles.

1984 Olympic marathon champion Joan “Joanie” Benoit Samuelson’s name is synonymous with women’s distance running. [3]

When Samuelson began using running to recover from a skiing accident in her native Maine, she’d pretend to be picking flowers on the roadside when cars passed her.  It was frowned upon for girls to be out running.   Her success at the top levels of the sport changed that notion forever.

In 1979, she entered the Boston marathon as an unknown and won in a time of 2:35:15, beating the course record by over eight minutes.

In 1984 Joanie was a favorite to win the US Olympic Marathon Trials, but she injured her knee severely on a long training run.  She was forced to undergo arthroscopic knee surgery only 17 days before the race.  Recovering from the surgery faster than expected and running through pain, she started and won the trials race by 30 seconds.

Three months later in Los Angeles, she won the first ever women’s Olympic Marathon in 2:24:52, cementing her status as a legend.

Samuelson held her American record of 2:21:21 from her 1985 Chicago Marathon win for 18 years.

Despite years of battling injury, she continues to display impressive longevity, having run under 2:50 for the marathon twice since age 50, breaking 50+ age group records.

The story about Joan Benoit Samuelson is one of the most inspirational runner’s stories.

Dick Beardsley

Dick Beardsley on the heels of Alberto Salazar in the 1982 Boston Marathon.

Best known for his epic duel with Alberto Salazar in the 1982 Boston Marathon, Dick Beardsley’s path through running wasn’t always perfectly smooth.

Beardsley had an incredibly successful early career.  Starting from a 2:47:14 first marathon, he is still the only man ever to have lowered his personal best a consecutive 13 times, and is in the Guinness Book of world records for the feat.

But then Dick ran into a string of terrible luck.  In 1989, he nearly died in a farm accident and took five months to recover. Between 1992 and 1993, he was involved in three terrible car accidents and hospitalized for back and neck injuries.  He underwent back surgery three times, and knee surgery once.

Beardsley became addicted to the pain medications prescribed after each of the operations.  He was arrested in 1996 for forging medications and sentenced to five year’s probation and 460 hours of community service.

Through the same kind of hard work that made him a great runner, he became sober in February 1997.  He began the Dick Beardsley foundation in 2007 to help people suffering from chemical dependency.

Dick continues to speak about both his running success and the dark times he had while addicted to pain killers.  Through it all, running was a rock, and he continues to inspire and provide hope for runners and those who suffer from addiction.

The story about Dick Beardsley is one of the most inspirational runner’s stories.

Everyone has a great story behind why they run or what they’ve accomplished.  Who is inspirational to you?
1. New England Runner, 1999
2. About Team Hoyt, http://www.teamhoyt.com/About-Team-Hoyt.html
3. Biography, http://www.joanbenoitsamuelson.com/biography/

Check out our other inspirational runners like Danielle Hartman, Angela Ortiz, Catra Corbett, and others.

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