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Runners Share Stories About the Women Who Inspire Them Most

Closing out Women’s History Month with gratitude for the women that have led the way in the sport we love.

gail devers 1992 olympics
Getty Images

Whenever a runner clocks an impressive performance, we’re quick to ask questions about her training schedule, workout routine, race tactics, recovery practices, nutritional philosophy, and mental preparation.

Less often do we get to hear about the individuals who inspired the pursuit in the first place, or who encouraged her to persevere at critical moments. Women’s History Month is the perfect time to pay tribute to the women who, in all sorts of ways, have done exactly that.

So, we asked runners of all ages, places, and disciplines to share who inspires them—in life and in sport. Here, their notes of gratitude for those that show the way.


From, me, the writer: Becky Wade, 32 years old, Olympic marathon trials competitor and author of Run the World

To: Maureen Shinnick, my high school cross-country coach

maureen shinnick and becky wade
Becky Wade, left, with Maureen Shinnick
Courtesy Becky Wade

Dear Maureen,

Thank you for laying the foundation for what is shaping up to be a lifetime of miles run for fun and for my profession. Your belief in my potential gave me the courage to pursue running in college and beyond, and your support at every stage has meant the world. You taught me that running fast and having fun are not mutually exclusive, and that the relationships forged through the sport are the greatest reward of all. Now that I’ve become a mom and stepped into your old coaching role, I’m even more grateful for you and in awe of all those miles that you coached and paced my teammates and I while you were pregnant, pushing a baby jogger, or both. Thank you for 17 years and counting of mentoring, encouraging, and inspiring me.


From: Jessica Beard, 33 years old, four-time 4x400 meters relay World Champion

To: Mary Cole Watson, one of Beard’s summer track coaches, who is 68 years old and still rises before the sun to run 5 miles every morning, which she has been doing for decades

mary cole watson
Courtesy Mary Cole Watson

Coach Watson,

Thank you for your example of discipline, dedication, and self-love. I remember the days you would run with the athletes to keep them on pace and mentally in their workouts. You always found a way to get the best out of athletes on and off the track and you continue to inspire through your fitness and your book, Wisdom Warriors. Thank you for sharing your wisdom of running and life with me and showing me how age is what you make of it, with youth belonging to those who remain moving.


From: Keira D’Amato, 37 years old, American record holder in the marathon

To: Samia Akbar, teammate, former pro runner, and current marketing manager at New Balance

samia akbar wins the 2009 army ten miler
Samia Akbar wins the 2009 Army Ten-Miler with a women’s event record of 55:25.
Courtesy U.S. Army

Samia,

I have the world’s worst memory, but I can vividly remember the first day I saw you: running perimeters around Oakton High School. At first glance, you were the most beautiful runner I had ever seen, your stride so smooth and effortless. You were a senior, I was a freshman, yet you took me under your wing and introduced me to the sport of running. Turns out, you were even more beautiful on the inside.

You were kind, humble, hardworking... and one heck of a fierce competitor. You became my idol. We’ve shared many runs together at Oakton High School, American University, and then on DC Elite [running group]… If you see a trend here, I pretty much just took the trail you paved. On those runs, you listened to my rambling stories, we laughed about everything and anything, and most of all, we had so much FUN.

I learned from you that running is a gift. A fun gift. It was from our relationship I was taught we can take running seriously AND work really hard at the same time. You were supportive and inclusive, and you always made me feel special.

To this day, whenever someone asks me someone I’d admire, I answer with your name. I love you, Samia, and I’m a better person from having you in my life.

Thank you, Samia! XO, Keira Deara


From: Annie Frisbie, 24 years old, 2:26 debut marathoner

To: Kelly Naumann, friend and college teammate

kelly naumann
Annie Frisbie, left, with Kelly Naumann at Iowa State University in 2019.
Courtesy Annie Frisbie

I want to shoutout and say a huge thank you to my friend and college teammate Kelly Naumann. You not only inspired me as a runner, but taught me so much about finding balance and enjoying the moment. I strive to model your love of the process, adaptability, and overall brightness.

Looking back to the first time we met, it was in line at Target during freshmen move-in weekend at Iowa State University. I assumed the person calling my name was for a different Annie, because I didn’t know anyone in Ames yet, but thankfully it was you and you knew me and everyone on our team even before the first day of practice. Your smile was infectious and I knew I wanted to be your friend.

In several ways we are opposites, but I think that’s what helps strengthen each other’s weaknesses. You are extroverted, bold, and always speak your mind, whereas I’m a bit more reserved. You taught me to celebrate the little things in life and to “treat” myself on the good days and especially on the bad days.

The most valuable thing you taught me, though, was finding balance in life and running. I don’t think I fully understood it until after graduating from college, but the seeds you planted were what allowed me to better live in the present and enjoy the spontaneity of life. Your passion behind what you believe in is inspiring and I try to carry this over into my own life. You have such a talent for bringing people together and I’m so glad our paths crossed. Thank you for being such an amazing friend, teammate, and woman to look up to!


From: Camile Herron, 40 years old, 50K, 100K, and 24-Hour World Champion

To: Keira D’Amato, current American marathon record holder

keira d amato breaks american marathon record at houston marathon
Keira D’Amato
Johnny Zhang

Dear Keira,

Thank you for inspiring me for my last few miles of my 100-mile world record! I imagined you going beast mode for the American [marathon] record and telling yourself, “Drive your arms! Lift your knees!” Thinking about you doing it gave me the confidence that I could do it too. These are the moments we live for. Thank you for the runspiration!

Cheers from a fellow unicorn, Camille


From: Erika Kemp, 27 years old, 15K and 20K national champion

To: Laurie Henes, women’s track and field head coach, N.C. State Athletics

laurie henes and erika kemp
Erika Kemp, left, with Laurie Henes
Courtesy Erika Kemp

To Laurie,

Thank you for always seeing the whole picture and reminding me to do the same. Like that time I bombed ACC XC championships my senior year (at home) and we sat down, laughed about it, and you told me I was still capable of being All-American in a few short weeks. At the time, it sounded crazy to me because I couldn’t even make All-Conference, but you had seen my whole season, my whole career, and knew better. Thank you for never letting a bad race, injury, or general slump define me or shake your confidence in me.


From: Brenda Martinez, 34 years old, 800 meters Olympian and world championship silver medalist

To: Deena Kastor, Olympic bronze medalist in the marathon and former American marathon record holder

deena kastor
Deena Kastor in 2015
John LamparskiGetty Images

When I was in high school, I remember watching the Summer Olympics and seeing Deena Kastor cross the marathon finish line in the bronze position. Watching the wave of emotions that came over her overwhelmed me and made me cry tears of joy. I felt so proud. Little did I know that I would be working with the same coach, Dr. Joe Vigil, that got her to the top. I got to feel that same moment she had when I brought home a silver medal from the World Championships.

Thank you, Deena, for inspiring me and paving the way. We love you!


From: Grayson Murphy, 26 years old, world mountain running champion

To: Alice Wright, teammate and Hoka Northern Arizona Elite runner

2019 european 10,000m cup
Alice Wright in 2019
Bryn LennonGetty Images

Back at the 2017 NCAA Indoor Championships, I was tripped only a few laps into the race and I fell off the track. When I got back up, basically in last place, you passed by me and said “Don’t worry, you’re okay. We can do this.” We had not formally met yet then, but as luck would have it, two years later we became teammates and then instantly BFFs.

Thank you, Alice Wright, for your friendship all these years and thank you for showing me that we can, indeed, do hard things.


From: Jenna Prandini, 29 years old, 4x100 meters relay Olympic silver medalist

To: Gail Devers, three-time Olympic gold medalist

7th iaaf world athletics championships
Gail Devers after winning the 100-meter hurdles Final at the 7th IAAF World Athletics Championships in 1999.
Getty Images

When I was a little girl, my parents took me to go watch the Olympic Trials in Sacramento. I can remember standing outside the fence near the finish line, waiting to try and get autographs from the athletes competing. I thought it was so cool. One of the athletes that I got an autograph and picture with was Gail Devers.

About 10 years later when I was a senior in high school my coach handed me the phone at track practice to talk to someone…It was Gail Devers. Her kind words of encouragement were so amazing.

Thank you, Gail, for being someone that I could look up to and showing me that anything is possible.


From: Katie Rainsberger, 23 years old, 12-Time NCAA All-American and rookie pro

To: Lisa Rainsberger, her mom, coach, and 1985 Boston Marathon winner

athlete, recreation, team, fun, grass, textile, smile, electric blue, physical fitness, half marathon,
Katie, left, and Lisa Rainberger
Lisa Rainsberger

Mom,

You have been a source of immense inspiration and, at times, immense frustration. However, I want to thank you now for making sure I had access to opportunities without the attached hardship you endured, while also holding me accountable. The only way to express my thanks is through sharing. Sharing is an attempt to put into words all the gratitude I have for the joyful memories we created together. That joy does not come from any one running success or result, but rather, it comes from being able to share with you that, combined, our efforts led to something bigger than either of us could have achieved alone. While our relationship has evolved over the years, my gratitude for you has remained the same.


From: Jen Rhines, 47 years old, three-time Olympian (5,000 meters, 10,000 meters, marathon)

To: Gina Procaccio, head coach, women’s track and field and cross-country at Villanova University

head coach gina procaccio of villanova hugs the championship trophy as the team celebrates with following the division i womens cross country championship in 2009
Gina Procaccio hugs the championship trophy as Villanova celebrates winning the DI Women’s Cross Country Championship in 2009.
NCAA PhotosGetty Images

In 1995, I won the Indoor and Outdoor NCAA Championships in the 5,000 meters, and my coach at Villanova University, Gina Procaccio, won the USA 5,000 meters Championship that year. I competed in that USA Championship race, but being a young athlete, I was about 200 meters behind Gina and the other top competitors by the last lap. I’ll always remember watching her win that national title from across the track!

Gina, thank you for showing me what was possible at the top level of the sport, and the amount of hard work and dedication that is required to get there. It was a huge help in my development as an athlete to see you, my coach, put your hard work and race plan into action and win that U.S. title!


From: Nell Rojas, 34 years old, top American at the 2021 Boston Marathon

To: Monique Guidry, her high school track coach

monique guidry
Monique Guidry
Courtesy Nell Rojas

Dear Mo,

Thank you for always reminding me to remember to find the joy in running, believing in me, and most of all teaching me to believe in myself. Our talks of body image and your encouragement of me being a stronger runner let me accept myself for who I am and will always be. You set me up at a young age to be a successful runner years later.


From: Aliphine Tuliamuk, 32 years old, U.S. Olympic Marathon Champion

To: Tegla Loroupe, the first African woman to win the New York City Marathon and former world marathon record holder

leichtathletik, marathon
Tegla Loroupe after winning the 1999 Berlin Marathon.
Getty Images

Tegla, you are an amazing athlete and an even better human. Thank you for gifting me my first-ever pair of running shoes (racing flats) back in 2000, as you prepared for the Sydney Summer Games. That day and your encouragement inspired me to be the woman that I am today. Again, when we saw each other in Kampala 2017 and Tokyo 2020 you continued to give me words of wisdom. I am forever grateful for you, and hope to pay it forward to the next generation of women in sports, especially girls in West Pokot [in Kenya].

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