Marathon Women

Little Laura Heald at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

Last Sunday Shalane Flanagan broke the tape at the New York City Marathon finish line two hours and twenty six minutes after the race began, becoming the first American woman to win the coveted race in forty years.

I’ve always cheered for Shalane. I’ve never met her, but her mother - Cheryl Treworgy - is one of my favorite people.

I first met Cheryl at the 2008 United States Track and Field Olympic Trials in Eugene, OR.

She was one of the roughly two dozen sports photographers covering the event.

The Olympic Trials in Eugene, OR, was one of the first major sporting events I covered, and my only real-world practice running cameras and transmitting images before the Beijing Olympics later that summer.

I met Cheryl on the first day of the event as Bill introduced me to everyone we would be working along side for the 10 day event. Cheryl was immediately kind and helpful. Maybe it was because I was clearly the youngest person there. Maybe it was because she and I were two of the only women photographers. Maybe she could tell I was nervous and a little overwhelmed by all the events at a track and field meet. Regardless, she helped me decipher all the events - where they were starting and ending, what angles were available and who the best athletes were.

She seemed to know not just a lot about the sport, but a lot about individual athletes.

“You know that song, ‘Hey There Delilah,’” she asked me as we were photographing the women's 3000m steeplechase?

I nodded, it was a very popular song in 2008.

“It was written about her,” she said pointing to runner Delilah DiCrescenzo.

She had other tidbits about training schedules, personalities and competitiveness.

I didn't know just how connected Cheryl was until the first final of the event - the women's 10,000m.

The women's 10,000m is always the first final and always on the first night.

That night in Eugene was a lovely summer evening, cook enough for a fleece and perfectly clear.

It had been a busy day of heats on the track and finals in the field, so I was scrambling to finish transmitting before the opening gun. When I got back to the track I saw Bill and Cheryl laughing together before Cheryl walked across the track to the infield to a “good luck” from Bill.

“Good luck,” I asked back to Bill, confused?

“Her daughter is Shalane Flanagan,” he told me. “She’s the favorite to win tonight.”

Shalane Flanagan leads the pack of 10,000m runners. Kara Goucher and Amy Begley finished second and third at the Trials.

Turns out Cheryl isn’t just the mother of a runner who happens to follow the sport. Cheryl was herself a runner. In 1966, she became the first female athlete in the U.S. to receive an athletic scholarship to a public university — Indiana State University. Then in 1971 she ran her first marathon, won it and set a world record with a time of 2:49:40.

That night in Eugene, Shalane followed in the family footsteps and won the 10,000m race, earning her spot on the US Olympic Team.

Fast forward to Beijing a month and a half later. It’s opening night in the Bird’s Nest. The morning had been full of heats on the track and events on the field. The women’s 10,000 meter - as always - was the last event from the first day of track and field. It was a cool night in Beijing, the lights from the Olympic Village bounced off the haze that constantly covers the city.

I came out of the photo room just before the first gun to watch the runner introductions.

I went back in as the runners circled the track, watching the progress from the media room as I made sure images kept sending. With a couple laps left I went back outside.

The media area and the athlete’s area were right next to each other in Beijing. I watched as runners from Ethiopia and Turkey crossed the finish line first. After gold and silver finished a couple runners who were a lap behind followed. Then Shalane crossed and looked up to the athletic area and found a man standing directly in front of me. He held up three fingers, signifying her third place finish. She burst into tears and a wide smile as an American flag was handed to her.

Shalane Flanagan runs around the track at the Bird's Nest after winning the bronze medal. That bronze is now a silver after a disqualification was handed to Turkey's Elvan Abeylegesse (who originally finished second) for doping.

The big screen cut to Cheryl who was bouncing, crying and hugging friends and family from the stands. It was and is one of my favorite moments from the 2008 Olympic Games.

As I watched Shalane cross the finish line in New York last week, I could imagine Cheryl, laughing, crying and celebrating. Like mother, like daughter. Two of the fastest women to ever run in America.