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Ruth Wysocki — August, 2014
Ruth Wysocki was a member of the 1984 United States Olympic team which competed in Los Angeles in the 800 and 1,500 meters, finishing 6th and 8th, respectively. She was champion in the 1,500 meters at the 1984 U.S. Olympic Trials. Wysocki competed five times in the U.S. Olympic Trials. Ruth finished seventh at 1,500 meters at the 1995 World Track and Field Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden. She was the 1978 AAU 800 meter champion and 1968 national age group cross country champion. Her personal best times include: 800m – 1:58.47; 1,000m – 2:38.36; 1,500m – 4:00.18; mile – 4:21.378; 2,000m – 5:40.09 and 3,000m – 8:52.91. In 1997, Wysocki set several Masters Records at distances from 800 meters to 5,000 meters on the track, and 5k and 8k road races. Her Masters personal best times include: 800m – 2:03.95; 1,000m – 2:40.42 and 1,500m – 4:08.69 Ruth resides in Temecula California with her husband Tom, with whom she has two children.
GCR:Ruth, thank you so much for doing this interview. The timing is right as within the past week you were a part of the 30th anniversary celebration of 1984 Olympics Opening Ceremonies. How was that event and can you believe it has been 30 years?
RWI have a hard time believing it’s been thirty years. Although my eye opener occurred at the running store where I work as at our old location we had a poster of the 1984 Olympic Trials that Brooks made with the finish of the 1,500 meters. I would kind of tend to forget that it was there, but every once in a while I would see someone kind of look at the poster, look at me, look at the poster and look back at me again. One day a few years ago this happened and a guy said, ‘that’s you, isn’t it?!’ And at that moment it clicked that in the picture I was 27 years old and I was standing there at age 54, which was 27 years later. Suddenly it occurred to me that a whole lifetime had passed since that picture was taken.
GCR:How enjoyable was the get-together in Los Angeles with your fellow 1984 Olympians and which old friends was it great to see?
RWIt was very enjoyable. It was put on by the L.A. 84 Foundation which has been an active group for sports. They have an extensive sports library and conduct seminars. My friend, Jacqueline Hansen, worked for them for years. They commemorated the Opening Ceremonies and had Peter Ueberroth and Rafer Johnson there. Rafer walked in this time with the torch. It was great to see other athletes and to realize that the Olympics crosses many lines including lines between other sports. The friendships go beyond just the track. There were some people there I hadn’t seen in a long, long time – Edwin Moses, Danny Harris, Pam Spencer. There was Mary Lou Retton and Rowdy Gaines. It was a casual evening and a great reunion.
GCR:Was there even camaraderie with those who you weren’t close to because of the shared experience and did you find that you made some new friends?
RWAbsolutely. There were a few people that I barely knew or just recognized their names. There were some whom I had connected with on Facebook, but never had person-to-person contact. So it was instantly cool to be friends because of something we had in common. Some were solo back then and now there are husbands and wives along, so we were introduced to that world. I met several Olympians I hadn’t met before in person, so it was just good.
GCR:I’m sure that when you first became an Olympian it felt great for certain reasons, but now it means a lot for all of your lifetime to be an Olympian.
RWDefinitely. It’s funny because when you are competitor, no matter what you do, it seems you always are trying to be a little bit better than you are. Even if there is an Olympic experience, there is always something more to want. We all wished we had run a little faster, got that medal, run for a few more years or whatever. Now, the more time passes and the more I look back, I realize, ‘Holy Cow! I was one of them!’ At the time when you are living it and even now watching tapes and up close and personal clips of other athletes I think of how they work so hard and are so dedicated. And at the time I never saw myself that way, though I’m sure that’s how it was. It was the lifestyle I chose and I was doing what I wanted to do so I didn’t see it as a sacrifice at the time. Now I look back and think others are so phenomenal and I don’t see me that way.
GCR:Let’s go back to the 1984 Olympic Trials where you ran way beyond the form chart and exceeded what others expected in both the 800 and 1500m. What was going on in your training and life that had you so well prepared to excel and did you expect to do as well as you performed?
RWI had raced well as a youngster, and had some years where nothing happened, emerged again and disappeared. It was a roller coaster ride. Then in 1981 I went through a pretty disturbing divorce, hurt my knee pretty badly and Dr. Curlin told me that some people have more heart and courage and desire than their body can physically hold up to and you might be one of those people. At the same time I had a husband who said, ‘I don’t want to be married anymore. I want to be single.’ So wow - my world just flushed itself. I got back to running and I was determined never to push it so hard that it was taken away from me again. I kind of found my little comfort zone of running without pushing it. Without realizing it, I was building a tremendous back because I was probably running 45 to 50 miles per week, but I wasn’t doing intervals or racing. Then I met Tom and we got married.
GCR:Your husband, Tom Wysocki, was also a top distance runner. What was and is the influence of this man on your life in terms of understanding your athletic pursuits and supporting them?
RWI was kind of intent to run enough to tag along at a road race now and then. Tom was the one who challenged me to get on the track. I hadn’t raced on the track in several years. I was 27 years old and back then that was old for a runner. Twenty-seven year olds didn’t compete for the most part, but Joanie Benoit, Evelyn Ashford and I were all within a month of each other’s birthdays. The thought was that I was an 800 meter runner who had run okay in the 1,500 meters, but now that I was this old lady of 27 I had no chance in the 800, the 1,500 had probably bypassed me, but now they had a new 3,000 meter race that I should focus on.
GCR:How did you end up gravitating back to the shorter distance events?
RWSo I focused on the 3,000 meters and at the Mt. Sac Relays aiming for the Trials qualifier of 9:15.0, I ran 9:15.4 and I didn’t see any way on God’s green earth that I had four tenths of a second in me. It was brutal at the time. Some things though started to come together. I was back on the track working with Vince O’Boyle who had been my coach since high school doing familiar things, but not having a total breakthrough. Then Tom got hurt and we thought he had had a much better chance of making the team than I did at the time. While he was trying to recover the doctor put him on sort of a detox diet where he ate less dairy products and processed foods. He didn’t recover but I hit a breakthrough as the training started to click and with the same dietary changes as Tom I was cleansed. I recovered more quickly from workouts, was feeling better and everything started to snowball.
GCR:It’s interesting how you mention the distance you were running. I have seen with some high school runners I coach and top current athletes, such as Jenny Simpson, that 800 and 1500 runners who have natural speed like you do and get a strong distance base can harness that speed. Is that how it all came together for you?
RWYes, I think that there were some of my competitors who had more leg speed than I did, but I out-strengthed them. It almost sounds funny to me now because some high school kids nowadays run more than I did. It seems absurd. After I hurt my knee I determined I would never run more than 60 miles a week ever because it was excessive mileage that got me hurt in the first week. But I ran 50, 55 or 60 miles every week. I didn’t do 60, then 20 and then miss a day. For years it was at least 50 miles a week. It was mostly six mile runs, an hour run on the weekend and some two-a-days where in the morning I ran three miles. I didn’t do anything crazy. It was just the same thing over and over and over and over and then some more. That’s what worked for me as I was strong enough to hold up for heats, semifinals and finals. Some others had the ability to run a singular fast time, but not at the end of several days of competitions.
GCR:You have some family history of 800 meter runners, your own background and were racing strong at that distance leading up to the 1984 Olympic Trials. Could you talk a bit on each of these points?
RWI come from a family of 800 meter runners and my dad was fourth in the California State half mile in 1946. So, when I broke two minutes, I made the family four by 800 meters team. Another thing that is funny is that I didn’t even realize I did it at the time as it wasn’t a conscious thing. In 1978 when I beat Mary Decker at the AAU Championships I ran 2:01.99 and it was at that point that I believed a 2:00 time for 800 meters was possible. And in 1978 nobody had done it. So I kind of believed it was in me somewhere. Often on my three mile morning runs I visualized myself breaking two minutes. I did this so many times that I couldn’t put a count on it. I did it over and over and over with different scenarios and different strategies, but it was always sub-2:00. In May of 1984 I went to an all-comers meet in San Diego to do some speed work as by then I had already qualified form the Trials in the 1,500 meters. I figured I would run the 800 meters in this little all-comers meet and I PRed in 2:00.18. I was stunned. I didn’t think I could run that fast. That was a burst of confidence. That year there was a U.S. National Championships and the Olympic Trials. I ran the 800 meters at Nationals and got second to Kim. There were heats and finals there. I felt pretty comfortable.
GCR:In the 1984 Olympic Trials 800m semifinal you ran a 1:59.48 PR in second behind Kim Gallagher’s 1:59.28 PR. How strong were you and how was your confidence going into the final?
RWIn the 800 meters I just took it as me and the clock and I’d see if anyone came with me. Kim obviously had tremendous turnover when she decided to accelerate. There were also Delisa Walton-Floyd, Essie Washington and others with tremendous 400 meter speed. I could not afford to let things be tactical and go against their kicks. I had to grind it out of them. When we ran the semis and I happened to be in the same heat as Kim and dipped under 2:00 that was just a critical turning point for me. I was cooling down and running behind the Coliseum and I heard them say the results of my heat. All I heard was my name and a ‘one’ for the minutes and I must have looked like a fool out there in the dark all by myself jumping up and down. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I broke two minutes.’ My thought was I had a day off and then the final. If I broke two minutes again I was on the team. I had the confidence that I was a sub-two minute runner and all I had to do again, after a lifetime of trying, was to do what I had just done and break 2:00 again. Three other people wouldn’t beat me. All I had to do was break two – It was that kind of confidence.
GCR:In the 800 meter final, you took them out strong you led in 57.1. Were you out on plan?
RWI may have gone out a bit too strong. I started in lane two which had me a little nervous. With my log stride I was uncomfortable that I might get boxed in. When the gun went off I felt I had to get out of there to avoid getting boxed. I took off, had the lead and felt comfortable. So off we went.
GCR:Kim Gallagher took off at 600m and led by 10m at the straightaway. Then you closed a few meters as both Kim at 1:58.50 and you at 1:59.34 ran PRs. What was the feeling as you crossed the finish line and knew you were an Olympian? Was it joy, shock or both?
RWIt was a lot of things. The funny thing is that I had so much confidence in the 800 meters that I was going to make the team that when I came off the final turn I knew I was on the team. All I had to do was get to the finish line. I just knew it. The race wasn’t on television, but my high school coach was in the stands with his video camera. When I later saw the video and saw how many runners were in the pack with just over 100 meters to go my jaw dropped. I thought I was clear except for Kim. When I realized there were six ladies still there when we came off of that last turn I was shocked. The flip side was in the 1,500 meters where I was running for my life and as I ran up on Mary’s shoulder I thought the whole pack was right with me. I figured I had made this bold move and if I didn’t make the top three I was going to look like a fool. When I saw that replay I couldn’t believe how far ahead Mary and I were. I was stunned both times.
GCR:Since you mentioned the 1,500 meters, let’s turn to that race now. In your 1500m semifinal you were 3rd in a 4:12.85 PR. Were you feeling really confident for the final and was the pressure off since you weren’t one of the favorites and you were already on the team?
RWAbsolutely. By the time I ran the semifinals I was tired and my hamstring was sore. I had kind of hoped to make the team. I knew it could happen, but we had already lined up some low-key races in Europe. We figured I would run the Trials and then race in Europe. So when I made the team in the 800 meters part of me was thinking, ‘Cool! Let’s get out of here!’ But Tom and Vince reminded me that I was running the 1,500 meters. I was thinking, ‘Do I really have to do this? What’s the point?’
GCR:What race plan and strategy did you develop for the 1,500 meter final?
RWTom was the one who was encouraging. He said that I had a PR of 4:12.85, but was under two minutes in the 800 meters, so obviously I could run much faster for 1,500 meters. He said that no matter what I could take a chunk out of my PR. Kim Gallagher had been talking smack about how she was going after Mary and that she could take Mary down. Tom wasn’t racing and needed some type of outlet, so he figured that Mary and Kim would duke it out, Mary was going to win, Kim would get second, but third place was wide open. Tom thought some runners would go after them and die and so my plan was to run for third place.
GCR:That was Tom’s plan, but in the 1,500 meter final, with Mary Decker coming off winning Gold medals at the 1983 World Championships at both 1,500 and 3,000 meters, was there any thought in your mind you could win, were you aiming for top three and, if so, when did this change?
RWI was running for top three and it changed with 300 meters to go.
GCR:The first three laps Decker led in 65.2/66.3/64.7. What were your thoughts during these laps as Mary did her typical front-running?
RWIt wasn’t so much about winning, but I felt more secure about finishing in the top three. Kim had dropped off by that point and my place became a potential second with some breathing room. Quite honestly, much of my training was geared for those 300 meters. We did a lot of training where we worked toward the backstretch of the last lap. I knew I was strong. I knew I wanted to make a break early like in the 800 meters. That’s where the momentum carried me – when I pulled alongside Mary. There were three significant people in my life that coached and helped me – my dad being the first one when he coached me in age group races, Vince Reel when I was in high school and Vince O’Boyle. My dad gave me the tactics when I was thirteen years old to beat Mary in a mile by telling me to push the third lap. When I beat Mary in an 800 meters in 1975 in Bakersfield, Vince Reel gave me the strategy to move on the back stretch of the last lap. All three – Vince O’Boyle, Vince Reel and my dad said if I was with Mary with 200 meters to go I would beat her.
GCR:With 300 meters to go did you feel like the hunter and that you could win?
RWWhen we hit 300 meters to go I had heard no splits which was good as I might have thought I was going too fast. I was just running for place, came up on Mary and I heard those three men’s voices saying, ‘If you’re with her with 200 meters to go you can beat her.’ But the other thing playing in my head was how Mary ran at the World Championships the year before with two gutsy, gutsy stretch runs. I was thinking that I was with her and that winning was a nice pipe dream, but the reality was that when we came off of the turn she was going to have another gear which I didn’t have. But I gave it a go and it kind of went from there.
GCR:As you were running down the home stretch and were ahead by maybe three feet, then four feet and five feet while the finish line was getting closer, could you believe it was happening while you were doing it?
RWYes and no. I could believe it was happening, but there was a twinge in me thinking that she had another gear, I was guts out and didn’t have another gear. In the World Championships she had that gear. And I had no idea we were going that fast.
GCR:When did you see your time? When you crossed the finish line did your 4:00.18 and Mary’s 4:00.40 appear on the scoreboard soon?
RWI think it came up fairly quickly. My first thought crossing the finish line was, ‘my gosh – that was awesome.’ I was thinking it was a tactical race, slow time and everyone would know Mary just had a bad day. And in the split second when the times appeared my thoughts changed to realization that we had run faster than when she won the World Championships. I didn’t get lucky. It was fair and square. It was fast.
GCR:You mentioned that iconic poster earlier. The picture on Track and Field News with your mouth wide open and arms upraised has to be one of the most joyous moments captured on film. Is that one of those ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ moments which just can’t be topped?
RWYes. Yes. Yes. The combination of beating Mary after she was coming off of two World Championships a year earlier, realizing I had qualified in two Olympic events, I was in Los Angeles, my parents were in the stands, my high school coach was in the stands – everything just swept over me. What had I done? How did this happen? People were swarming me – whoa!
GCR:It had to be a shock to Mary as she hadn’t lost to an American runner in four years. Despite her obvious disappointment, was she congratulatory toward you?
RWNot at all. Not at all. It’s funny as there are people who have pointed that out then and later. After the Trials Donna DeVarona was doing an interview with the two of us and she was in the middle between Mary and me. People told me that they noticed Mary wouldn’t even look at me. But, as I went through age group running that is how I knew Mary to be. But it wasn’t the bad part of it – she was just that intense. When you look at someone like Mary - who went through the 1980 Olympic boycott, the injuries, the comebacks, the World Championships – and now the Olympic Gold medal was within her grasp. The tough Russians from the World Championships weren’t going to be at the Games and the Gold Medal was hers, two of them perhaps. It was very realistic that she was thinking beyond that when all of a sudden there was the shock of not winning. It’s quite an emotional blow and she had to be wondering, ‘Am I vulnerable?’ and ‘Should I do both events in the Games?’ There are a lot of people who have opinions of Mary and her personality and what they think of her. Now as an older person it is easier to look back and realize that she was very, very intense and she was reaching for something that was very high and within her grasp when all of a sudden there was a chink in the armor. And that would be hard to react to.
GCR:After the high of making the U.S. Olympic team and winning the Trials 1,500 meters we fast-forward to the Olympics where you did well and made both finals. In the Olympic 800 meters you finished 6th. Then after a fast 1,500 meter semifinal of 4:06.65 where you were 3rd behind eventual Gold medalist, Dorio, and Bronze medalist, Puica, in the final you were out of contention with a lap to go and finished eighth. Were you mentally and physically depleted after the trials, was it difficult to peak twice and how do you sum up your Olympic racing experience?
RWTalk about something where I wish I had the chance to do it over. I think I tried too hard. Also, my coach and I have talked about my training between the Trials and the Games and I think I trained too hard. I reaped the benefit of that training after the Games when we went to Europe and I was on a tear because I was finally more rested. So, training too hard and feeling the pressure in the Olympics did me in. At the Trials I was relaxed as I had nothing to lose, while at the Olympics I was a contender and I think I kind of choked. It hurt at the time, but looking back there aren’t too many American women who made the finals in two distance events. I did something no one else had ever done to that point but I was still horribly disappointed. So my perspective has changed somewhat. The sixth place in the 800 meters didn’t bother me as badly, but the 1,500 does as it was my kind of race with tactics that suited me. The race played to my strengths, so if I had anything left for that last 300 meters I could have finished a lot higher than I did. It just wasn’t my day.
GCR:I’d like to go back to your early days of running before we review some of your other Olympic Trials experiences. First, for anyone under the age of 40 or 45, it is difficult to fathom the lack of opportunities that girls and women had to compete in sports until sometime in the mid-1970s. What it was like for you as a teenager when women’s running was in its infancy?
RWIt’s kind of mind boggling to look back. I heard it from many people in recent years that I was a pioneer in the sport, but at the time I was just doing what I wanted to do; doing what I enjoyed, trying to do it well and the opportunities were what the opportunities were. It was just so different that it’s hard to put someone’s mind in that frame. When I was in high school in California there was no CIF or State meet for girls. When I got out of high school there was no NCAA in college for women. So I ran in a club system where some decent opportunities came up along the way that allowed me to pursue running. Not that many people ran and the ones who did were pretty intense and very serious.
GCR:How did your dad’s running as an adult influence you and your brothers to take up running as a sport?
RWMy dad had run well in high school and in college did the hurdles, decathlon and played basketball for a small college in Kansas. Then, like men of his era, he got married, had kids, got a job and didn’t exercise. He started back running in his late thirties. The story I have heard is that my mom was a stay-at-home mom with four kids and dad was the breadwinner. He was playing pickup basketball at the local recreation department and she was afraid he was going to have a heart attack and she would be on her own with four kids. Apparently she gave him a pretty strong ultimatum to get in better shape or he wasn’t playing basketball anymore. The timing was at the onset of the jogging craze in 1967 or 1968. He started running and my two older brothers were running. I ended up running at a couple of all-comers meets and off we went. I was pretty naïve and pretty blind, but kept taking the next step and the next step without realizing what was out there or how far I could go.
GCR:What did your dad’s coaching and example do to contribute to your running development?
RWBeing a daddy’s girl, my daddy contributed a lot just for being daddy. I was pretty impressed at the time, but I am absolutely awe-inspired by him now as I realize here was a guy with a wife and four kids who worked full-time and decided he was going to take up running and there wasn’t the internet or workout groups and somehow through reading, the computerized running tables and keeping a running log book he somehow put it together to go on runs, go to the track a couple of times a week and go on long runs. I never actually asked him how he determined what we would do. I realize now that without all of the modern sources he was the Athlete of the Meet at the first ever Masters National Championship and ran around a 2:01 for 800 meters when he was 42 or 43. He almost broke three hours in the marathon and ran many indoor masters mile races. That was my example – you go out, you run, you find a race and you see what you can do.
GCR:How did the local running club scene in the Los Angeles area fuel your running development?
RWI started at some local meets when I was eleven years old. My dad saw there were some meets and asked me if I wanted to run and then signed me up. I ran for the Cobina Valley Vikings. Back then the Realto Roadrunners and Long Beach Comets were the two big southern California teams. My first races were sprints for ribbons at all-comers meets. I joined this club because the family event was the 880. We practiced three days a week. We never went for distance runs. We did intervals on the track. We would do a warmup lap around a field that was probably between a half and three-quarters of a mile. We would do some intervals and finish with a cool down lap. Then we went to meets and would race. I remember running a 3:03 for 800 meters in a time trial. We were going to an AAU meet and the day before the race we had another time trial. Not everything we did made sense. At that I ran 2:52 and I remember thinking in my head that being under three minutes seemed like a big deal. We went to the first meet the next day at Palace Free High School in Rolling Hills, I ran the 880 and finished third and got a medal. Back then the AAU had those little shield-shaped medals. I couldn’t wait to come to another meet and to try to win another medal.
GCR:You were starting to get quite fast for an eleven year old. Did you realize this and how did you end up taking part in important competitions so quickly?
RWNext I ran 2:44 which seemed good as I had no concept of what was a good time or a bad time. Then the next meet we ran was up in Ventura, which from our house is about a two hour drive. Most of the kids on our team weren’t going to go that far to run a track meet, but my parents drove me. When we arrived we found out that the girl who had won my previous race wasn’t there. We took off running and there was a well-known announcer named Calvin Brown. He was calling me ‘the little lost sheep’ as there were big teams and here I was the only one from my team who was there. I was in my t-shirt while the other big team kids had their nice uniforms. I won the race and I was happy and then Calvin announced, ‘We have a new national record.’ I was wondering what on earth that meant. Did somebody actually keep track of our top times? I ran 2:33 and thought, ‘I guess that’s good.’
GCR:Isn’t there an amusing story about your breaking the national record multiple times?
RWYes - after that 2:33 I kept breaking the record by a little bit and a little bit again. A guy named Bill Peck, who to this day still is a statistician for the California high school ranks, was the statistician who had to keep filling out record forms every time I would break the record. At the end of the season I got down to 2:30.2 and I remember Bill telling me, ‘I wish you would just break the record once and for all so I don’t have to keep filling out this paperwork.’ For years I felt really terrific about being a national record holder. Literally, three or four years ago I ran into Bill Peck and we were talking about those days when I was starting out running. I had no idea that season was the first time that girls were allowed to run the 880. So I got all of these national records that year, but no one had ever run that distance before. I was still the best one I guess, but I find that so humorous. I ran the mile in about 5:33. I didn’t win the mile very often.
GCR:You transitioned to cross country that fall with great success. Could you relate the highlights of your first cross country races?
RWCross country which was three-quarters of a mile for our age group. I got as far as the District Championships at Griffith Park. I came in first and the Realto Roadrunners won the team championship. Dave Jabs, who was the Roadrunners coach, came up to my dad, made positive comments about my race and said, ‘You’re going to the State meet, right?’ We didn’t even know that a State meet existed. It was in Sacramento and somehow my dad came up with the money for two plane tickets. We didn’t even have enough money for a hotel to spend the night. We flew up that morning, I ran the race and we got back on a plane to head home. Again, I got first and Realto was the first team. Now again Dave Jabs came up to my dad and said, ‘Great job – you need for your daughter to go and run Nationals.’ It was scheduled for Thanksgiving in Fredericksburg, Maryland and this was 1968 so they might as well have been on the moon. There was no chance that I would get to go. But Dave told my dad they had hotel rooms and that if he could come up with a plane ticket that I could travel with his team as one more person was no big deal. So my dad went to the local Kiwanis and other places and fund-raised for a ticket and put his 11 year old daughter on a plane for Fredericksburg, Maryland.
GCR:You had amazingly only been running competitively for about six months and you were on your way to nationals. How was your first experience on the national level?
RWI won the individual race and the Realto Roadrunners won the team title. Doris Brown won the women’s race and I knew enough to know that she had just won a medal in the Olympics. I was just in awe that I was competing at an event where she was there.
GCR:Was this the time period when you switched teams and your dad actually became your coach?
RWYes, after that I joined the Roadrunners, but they were about an hour away from us, so that was when my dad started coaching me. There were three other girls from the Vikings team that my dad coached and that became the point where I ran almost every day. We would go for runs and then go to the track. He coached me the next couple of years and I wasn’t quite as phenomenal as a 12 and 13 year old as I was at eleven. There were other runners who could beat me, but I still enjoyed it.
GCR:Your rivalry with Mary Decker has its roots during this time period. What are highlights of your first time racing Mary?
RWWhen I was 13 and about to turn 14, Mary Decker was 12 and there was a track meet at Golden West College which was going to be my last as a 12-13 year old. My dad told me before we raced the mile, ‘I think you can beat Mary. No matter what she does, stay with her. But on the third lap the pace always dies – don’t let the pace die. Then on the last lap give it whatever you’ve got.’ And I beat her with his strategy. He coached me the next four years. I turned 14 and ran the mile in 5:00.1 and didn’t break five minutes until I was 18.
GCR:When did Vince Reel with the L.A. Track Club start working with you and what did he do to contribute to your running development?
RWWhen I was just about 16 we were contacted by Chuck Debis about running for the L.A. Track Club. Vince Reel was the coach then at the Claremont College and it was his last year there as he was retiring. So they suggested that I run with Vince’s coaching since I only lived about twenty minutes from there and then I could wear the L.A. Track Club uniform in meets. Vince was coaching his wife, Chi Cheng and also Marilyn Newville who held the world Record in the 440 and others. So we would go out the track where he would coach the collegiate guys and us. He just got me faster, but we did way too many intervals. I still wasn’t regularly going for distance runs or running in the off-season. He got me to know how to push myself in intervals and do proper pacing. I was very much someone who was over striding, so his wife would get in the center of the field and clap her hands at a fast tempo to get me to speed up my stride. That was my junior year in high school and I ran a 2:10 and won the Arcadia Invitational.
GCR:Weren’t you racing both the 440 and 880?
RWYes, I was doing mostly 880s, but that year we were going to have a CIF Championship for girls for the first time. It wouldn’t be a State meet, but it would be the meet that now qualifies California girls for the State meet. Then you were not allowed to run two distance races which was comical because, if you ran the mile you had about an hour before the 880, and if you ran the 440 you only had the 100 yard dash before the 880. I wish I could have run the mile and actually got some rest. It was ridiculous. It was a little informal because there weren’t really girls leagues, but I won the 440 and I won the 880. Then Vince Reel retired.
GCR:You were involved in a controversy your senior year and didn’t get to run the inaugural girls California State meet. What are the details of that unfortunate situation?
RWThey announced there would be a girls California State meet for the first time in 1974 which was my senior year. I wanted that. My dad went to the high school coach and asked him if he would coach me. He agreed and just put me on the boys’ team. They made me one of the guys which was a pretty terrific thing to happen. That was exactly what I needed as we didn’t have a girls team. We weren’t a real powerhouse team, but I did make the top seven for cross country, which was only two miles back then. I ran varsity every race, was never higher than number five man and was usually number six or seven on the team. I got my varsity letter and then went out for track. Someone complained and I got a letter from the CIF that I was not eligible to run the girls CIF or State meet in track because I trained and raced with the boys. I basically got excommunicated. Then they relented a bit and said that if I immediately quit the boys’ team they would show me grace and let me continue in girls meets. But it wasn’t an option as I wouldn’t have had a coach and we didn’t have a girls’ team. I decided I would be a better runner if I ran with the boys than on my own. They told me to decide if I was on the boys’ or girls’ team and if I was on the boys’ team I would have to qualify as a boy. So I didn’t get to run CIF or the State meet though it seems to have all worked out.
GCR:You started running collegiately at University of Redlands. How and why did you make that choice?
RWI actually planned out of high school to go to Westmont College. I hadn’t thought about whether I would run or not run because there wasn’t really any opportunity. It was time to move on. Just before I was getting ready to go to school I got a call from Vince Reel. He told me he had decided to come out of retirement, he was going to coach at the University of Redlands, they would have a women’s team and he asked, ‘Will you come and run for me?’ And I said, ‘Sure.’ I was two weeks away from leaving for Westmont and the next thing you know I’m in Redlands. In many ways it was a bad move for me. It wasn’t the right school for me for sure. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do or study. I knew by Christmastime that there wasn’t going to be a second year, but I wanted to run track. From when we came back after Christmas until school was out we literally ran intervals on the track every day. That was it.
GCR:What were some of you favorite workouts or key workouts which helped you improve?
RWI remember running a lot of 400s. There was a gal from Taiwan who was running and we were pretty equal time wise, so every workout was like a race between the two of us. I can’t speak for her, but it sure burnt me out by the end of the year. At the end of the season there was a meet in Bakersfield and Mary Decker was making a comeback. Vince said basically the same thing as my dad - to not let her get too far away from me and that if I was with her with 200 meters to go I could beat her – and I did. I got my PR of 2:07.61. In the last meet of the year I ran the mile in something like 4:59.6, so I dipped under five minutes.
GCR:Since you were leaving Redlands, what were your thoughts about your future running and how did you end up at Citrus Junior College?
RWAt that point I didn’t care if I ever saw a track again as long as I lived. I was so tired of it. Vince Reel and some of the runners were going to Europe for some meets so he gave me some workouts that I was supposed to do. I was supposed to go to the Nationals and I got home and thought, ‘Screw that! I don’t want to run track.’ So I didn’t go and dropped out of school. Unbeknownst to me my dad went down to the local Junior College where Vince O’Boyle was coaching. One of my brothers had run for him and my dad was pretty impressed with Vince as a coach and as a person. He went to Vince and told him I was floundering, had dropped out of school, was coming home and didn’t know what to do. He told Vince he would like to see something stay constant in my life, I like to run and asked Vince if he would coach me. He agreed, but as soon as my dad left, he told me later that he put his head on his desk and thought, ‘What have I done? I’ve never coached a female. What will I do with her? Why did I say that?’
GCR:So you were off and running for a new coach and team again. How did Vince O’Boyle and you work together as a team?
RWSort of like my high school coach, Vince O’Boyle didn’t know what to do except to make me one of the guys. So the deal was I would run with them, we’d modify as needed and try to figure it out. We set a goal in the fall of 1975 of trying to qualify for the Olympic Trials. Back then to get your way paid to the Trials you had to make the A standard. So I need to run 2:03.9. The significant thing was that for the first time in my life I ran every day. I started out in the summer, he connected me with some of the guys and for the first time in my life I had someone to run with. Instead of thinking, ‘Maybe I’ll run tomorrow,’ they would tell me they were meeting and to ‘Come on.’ I thought that if I didn’t get going in the summer I wouldn’t be able to keep up. For the first time I ran in the off-season and on the weekends. Whatever he said to do I did. After the first of the year there was going to be a practice meet at Golden West and the coaches agreed to let me run. I wasn’t actually going to Citrus as I had a part-time job. They had me run the mile with the guys and I ran 4:45 in February. So I immediately saw the benefit of running every day. The only difference was that I had a base which I hadn’t had before.
GCR:You were still a teenager and you made it to the Olympic Trials. Tell us about qualifying and your first Olympic Trials experience.
RWIn May at West Coast Relays I ran 2:03.87 and got under the time I needed to get to the Trials. I did manage to also qualify in the 1,500 meters. By qualifying in both events I was able to stay for the whole Olympic Trials, expenses paid for me and my coach. We went up to Eugene, Oregon and in the first round there were 16 people and all 16 made the semifinals. I was automatically in the semis, but we had to run to determine heats and lanes. I ran the semis and made the finals. In the finals I got deader that dead last – DFL! I think I ran 2:12. By the time we got to the finals I had nothing left. I also had hay fever, so being in Eugene didn’t help. I was in a strange situation I had never been in before with the stress. I was absolutely humiliated - running that last straightaway was painful in an emotional way. It was so humiliating to stagger to the finish line so far behind. I think the significant thing was that by the time I ate dinner that night I went from humiliation and finishing dead freaking last to thinking that I did finish in the top eight. I decided that I could sit and mope around but only eight people got to be in that race and I was one of them. That was a huge turnaround there. Then I thought that this idea of making an Olympic team was not something far-fetched.
GCR:Historically, we are still eight years before the 1984 Olympic Trials and you had a lot of ups and downs in those years that time doesn’t permit discussing at length, but in 1978, you scored a huge win at the AAU Championships for 800 meters beating your rival, Mary Decker. How did that race play out and what were the crunch points that led to your victory?
RWSome of my ups and downs came about because I tended to be an all or nothing runner. I was either going to be up in front or jog it in – there wasn’t a whole lot of in between. When it was good, it was good and when it wasn’t, it wasn’t. Again, in that race there was nothing to lose. Mary so often controlled races, ran away and hid. Usually she had a fast start, coasted through the middle of a race and then she was so far ahead that nothing else mattered. Somehow having the guts to stay close enough and sprint was key. I knew that if I was there with 200 meters to go that I could win and I did. It was one of those times when things came together. I was strong, healthy and things were going well. 1977 wasn’t a good year for my running as I think I believed my own press too much. It was a little embarrassing. When 1978 rolled around I felt I had a little more to prove.
GCR:Let’s jump forward in time to 1988 where you finished fourth in the Trials 1,500 meters. How disappointing was it to just miss making the team?
RWVery. By then I was running the 1,500 and 3,000 meters. I actually was in a car wreck a couple of months beforehand. My car was totaled and I hurt my hip and missed a little bit of training which really hurt. I think that if the Trials had been a few weeks later it would have turned out better. Kim Gallagher had made the team in both the 800 and 1,500 meters and the Olympic coaches tried talking her into giving up the 1,500 meters and letting me have the slot because they could see a few weeks later that I was probably going to be the better person for that race. Also, she was going to be in the 800 meters which she ran phenomenally. There were some pins and needles that I might get called up along the way. But ultimately Kim didn’t want to give up that spot which was totally her right. It was disappointing but that’s how it goes.
GCR:You joined a bandit tour of athletes who journeyed to South Africa to compete in violation of international sanctions and received a four-year ban from the sport. How unfair was that compared to lesser ban that Ben Johnson received for PEDs?
RWThe organizers of the tour were approaching me while I was in Europe with what they were trying to accomplish which is a very long story in and of itself. It was definitely not racist and I didn’t make nearly as much money as some people claim I did. For me it was an opportunity to do something, go somewhere and to see something for myself. I strongly felt that the athletes there had no more chance of changing politics than I had of walking into the White House and telling our President what to do. It seemed that racing was the thing that could transcend differences and bring people together. There were people who were racing in South Africa week after week, month after month and year after year. All they got to do was race each other. They never saw anybody else or had a door opened for them. So we were very well received. I still thought it was a good decision and I never thought there would be a ban like that. I thought there could be some slapping of the hands and maaaaybe a one year suspension at the worst. At that point I was an ancient runner at age 31 and how much longer was I going to do this anyway. We went, came back, they had a hearing that was ridiculous. I prepared a statement, but it was obvious that the decision was made and it was just a formality of having us there. They weren’t going to listen to anything we had to say.
GCR:How adversarial was the relationship between athletes and the AAU at that time?
RWI remember a couple of people threatened to get attorneys and the AAU laughed at us. They said, ‘Go ahead and sue. We’ll break you. We have attorneys on staff who work for us. They’ll chew you up, spit you out and we’ll litigate so long that you go bankrupt. You’ll have nothing, but by our guests and go ahead and try.’ I was so shocked that I got a four year suspension and Ben Johnson only got two years. What the heck! I sat back for a while, tried to appeal and do it the right way, but I ran into road block after road block. They wouldn’t listen or hear what I had to say. Finally in 1990 when I was pregnant with my son on Good Friday we finally had a hearing. I knew a couple people on the panel, not that it was going to sway anything, but I was more comfortable that there were people who would listen. I drove to L.A., six months pregnant and for the first time I felt that somebody actually listened. At least it was going to be decided fairly because they listened to what I had to say.
GCR:Despite your optimism it seems that the AAU still was up to their similar tactics.
RWI was told the committee members had to submit their opinion within a week as there had to be an opinion within ten days. I thought this was good and I would finally be able to clear my name. I was done running. Weeks went by and I heard nothing so I got up the nerve to call someone on the panel to find out what was going on. I told him I was supposed to get an answer within ten days. He told me he was kind of ticked himself as he was told he only had a certain number of days to get in his written opinion and he hadn’t heard anything either. He told me he would check it out and get back to me. A couple days went by and he called me back. He said, ‘I’m embarrassed but I’m going to be honest with you. I talked to them and explained it and what the parameters were.’ Their response was,’ she’s pregnant. Why do we need to hurry? She’s not going to be running for a while.’ We brought up language relating to the law of the land. They said they were a private organization and the law of the land didn’t apply to them. It was pretty disconcerting.
GCR:In 1992, with the readmission of South Africa into the international sporting community, the ban on you was lifted early and you decided to train for the Olympic Trials. How did you make this decision?
RWFirst, it was exactly what happened with the ban. They lifted it because it would look stupid to keep it in effect. I had absolutely no intention at that point of running competitively. Then they let us know that we would be reinstated in January, 1992 instead of October, 1992. I thought, ‘Dang it! I had to work this hard for this outcome – I’m going to run.’
GCR:You were older and you had kids, but you competed in the 1,500 meters at the 1992 Trials, finishing 11th. How was it getting ready for the Trials and trying to regain your form?
RWI was 35 years old and it was absolutely unheard of to race at that age. I would say that I gave it about ninety-eight percent. You can’t squeak by on 98% when everyone else is giving 110 percent. I think I got all caught up in the emotion of hearing everywhere, ‘It’s so awesome seeing you back out here,’ ‘Oh my gosh – you’re so amazing’ and ‘You’re thirty-five.’ I started thinking like them that it was cool. I made the finals for the Trials and didn’t make the team. My husband came to me and said, ‘You’re poking it with a stick. You know what? You’ve got a husband. You’ve got a kid. If you want to run and go all in, then fine. But while I’m doing daddy duty and working you can play around with it, but that isn’t going to cut it.’ I said, ‘You know what. You’re right. I’m wasting your time. I’m wasting Vince’s time. I can be with my son. Forget it. I quit.’ I was done, until 1994.
GCR:How did your drive get rekindled as now you were in your late thirties?
RWAt the end of 1994 a friend suggested I visit the health club and asked what it would take for me to try and make the Olympic team again in 1996. I thought my friend was nuts and I wouldn’t even think about it. But the seed was planted and there we went again.
GCR:1995 had to be both a surprising year and ‘icing on the cake.’ At age 38 at the World Championships you ran an impressive 4:07.08 to finish 7th against the world's best. In the following weeks you brought your 1500 time down to 4:05.03 and raced 1:59.78 in the 800 meters and 8:56.55 in the 3,000 meters. What led to this great return to prominence on the world scene and how rewarding was it?
RWIt couldn’t happen in 1992 because I wasn’t giving 100 percent. In 1995 it was one of those moments when I figured if I was going to do this I couldn’t waste my time. I was either all in or not and secondly, this was it. I was pushing forty and there wasn’t going to be another go around. The thought went through my head that when I was old and sitting in a rocking chair with my grandkids did I want to be thinking, ‘I wonder if I could have… I wish I would have… I should have…’ And I wanted to have the confidence of knowing, just like sitting on the couch right now when I’m taking to you, to be able to say that some things went the way I liked and some didn’t, but you know what – I took it as far as I could take it and I feel good about it. It was just a matter of my not leaving it on the table and wondering if something was still there.
GCR:It’s funny you should say that as, the next thing you know, as you got older you continued with some high level masters racing. How much fun was it to stay on the track and how much more difficult when compared to your younger years?
RWFirst, 1996 ended up being disappointing because I got in terrific shape and then I got injured with an IT band issue and my hip. I ran like a two flat point two for 800 meters and my hip started hurting. We nursed it along, but when I got to the Trials I had lost enough of an edge that it wasn’t quite there. It was very clear to me that this was my last year on the track, but after the finals of the 1,500 meters Vince O’Boyle looked at me and said, ‘You can’t let it end like that.’ Tom was saying, ‘Oh yes she can!’ Vince pleaded for one more year and Tom reluctantly said, ‘One more. That’s it.’
GCR:In 1997, you set several Masters Records at distances from 800 m - 5000 m on the track, and 5k and 8k road races. Why do you think you could compete physically and more importantly, mentally, when so many of your peers had lost interest, become injured or slowed immensely?
RWI ran well and actually did some rabbiting for Paula Radcliffe and Gabriela Szabo. It was really cool because I was very fit and at the point of the race where it was really going to hurt I would just step off of the track. It was sort of my farewell tour for Europe. I was a very good pacemaker, so races would request me and be very, very happy. From there it was a matter of there being races I always wanted to run and I couldn’t because I was racing on the track. I always wanted to run Freihoppers for women, the Carlsbad 5,000 meters and Crescent City. I never got to do them because it was track season. There was also some decent Masters prize money. Stating running as a master was almost like starting in a new sport because it was road racing. People were much less intense. They were all very friendly as we went from race to race. We would start with a cup of coffee in the morning and end with a glass of wine at night. I made some really good friends as I raced in a much less intense atmosphere and loved it. When I got to be about 42 or 43 it became a matter of my being able to train just as hard as I ever trained so that I could run slower than I ever ran before. It wasn’t fun anymore. By then my son was playing little league and he was running. And to run at a high level it takes a village so to speak. Tom would have still gone along with it but, in all fairness, my son deserved his mom to be there and to focus on his day instead of tagging along for my day. So it was time to move on.
GCR:Who were some of your favorite competitors and adversaries?
RWObviously you have to put Mary Decker on the list because when we were on the starting line next to Mary we knew what was going to happen. We knew we were going to be dragged to a good time. We knew it was going to be an honest pace. And we knew there wasn’t going to be any game playing. I think somewhat because of my upbringing and I was one of the guys, the people I looked up to and admired tended to be the men more than the women. Steve Scott became a very good friend and I loved watching him run. Craig Virgin was another. What I enjoyed with Tom being part of the men’s running world was their camaraderie because the women’s running world was a little catty and pretty intense. You didn’t dare let anyone know what you were thinking, feeling or let your guard down. I ended up becoming friends with a lot of the women, but it was definitely a different game than with the men. On the men’s side it was more enjoyable in terms of friendship.
GCR:Today top level runners have many more opportunities to run post-collegiately due to professionalism and sponsors. Do you think this would have been helpful for you back when you were in your early twenties?
RWI think it is interesting and I kind of chuckle now how some people talk – ‘I wish somebody would give me an opportunity, I need a sponsor, and I need to make money so I can have this chance.’ They need to ‘gimme, gimme, gimme this so I can see if I can do it.’ In 1978 I was married and I had taken a full time job because we wanted to buy a house. So I was working in the Purchasing Department for a school District. The way I got to meets was by using my vacation days. I ran at 5:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Vince would run with me. He wasn’t in great shape but didn’t want me running by myself I the dark. So he would be waiting by the track. He would go for the afternoon runs with me and he got Citrus College to turn on a bank of lights on the track for when I needed to do intervals. By then not only was I working full time, but there were four girls who came from Arcadia High School to Citrus who wanted to run cross country and they needed a fifth girl for a cross country team. Vince asked me if he could get me twelve classroom units if I would run. I told him I had a job but he said they would be twelve units I could handle. So I was working 8:00 to 5:00 at the school district, taking twelve class units, running twice a day and using up my vacation time to go to meets. Somehow it just clicked and it all came together.
GCR:Do you have any advice for high school female runners who may be reading this that could help them to be consistent and successful?
RWMy two main points are – number one, there is no magic answer. It’s not that you have to run more miles or run harder every day or outwork everyone else. It’s the consistency. You’ve got to have a plan and stick with the plan. In high school it’s pretty well set. You’re pretty much going to have to do what the coach says, so get used to it. And then if you are good enough you can choose the next level and who the coach is and where you are going to be. Consistency is more key as opposed to, ‘I have to run more miles, harder miles, faster miles, and faster intervals.’ One of the biggest things I see in high school runners is that they think for elite runners that nothing ever goes wrong and everything is always perfect. They think we run fast because we run in perfect races under perfect circumstances. So they build up in their heads that the wind can’t be blowing, my shoelaces have to be tied just right, my mom better make me the right breakfast and that everything has to be just so. I remember going to running camps and living with the kids so they could see we were normal people who did normal things and we even do some stupid things. I tell them that many of my best times came under less than ideal circumstances and there were times when everything was perfect and I flopped. So, consistency and taking advantage of every opportunity – don’t just wait for the perfect ones. One of the imperfect ones could be one of the best ones.
GCR:What is your current health and fitness regimen?
RWI am currently dealing with a bit of a knee issue which I need to get addressed. I can’t stand to not workout and to not do something. Up until a year ago I pretty much ran every day or at least six days a week if not seven. No two-a-days. Just run, stretch, core work and that sort of thing. I have had some issues that are probably due to balance. Those who know me know that I tend to fall down more than most people. I trip on nothing and have scars on my knees and elbows. As I get older those falls become more serious. A few years ago I was very, very fit and I hadn’t race in years. I ran a road mile at age 53 in 5:18. I was going to run a 5k the next week, but the next day on my run I fell and broke my collarbone. I got a little fearful. The last fall I took was on the fourth of July a year ago and Tom told me he couldn’t take it anymore, he couldn’t stand it and that he was in terror every time I went out the door as he wondered what was going to happen to me. I thought I could use a little break and I was willing to do other things I had wanted to do like Pilates. I was going take it as an opportunity to explore other fitness areas. I did a lot of walking. I never got around to a spin class, which is one I want to do. Now I walk more than I run, but I can’t stand to just walk. So I have periods of running in my walks. I tend to bike one day and walk with a little running the next day. I’m exploring the possibility of getting on an Elipti-Go which I’m excited about. I’m content to be fit.
GCR:Now that your competitive running days are in the past, how enjoyable is it to watch others compete and to be part of the running scene?
RWSince I work for a group of three running stores I get to be around people who run every day and want to feel good. I love watching high school running and being part of the high school scene as we have some amazing high school athletes in our area. The Southwest League of Temecula and Marietta could be a state championship league almost anywhere else. Courtesy of being part of the running center I am able to go to many of the meets and interact with these kids. We bring them into the store and have some running events. My son ran at UC-Santa Barbara and we watched that level for a few years. I also had a nephew who ran at Occidental. I definitely enjoy the sport and watching the sport. People keep telling me I should run the Ragnar Relay or Masters Track and that I should make a comeback. And I say, ‘Why?’ Not only would I run slower than ever before, but for the first time in my life I’d have to pay for it. I know I’m spoiled in that regard. But when others run I am glad to watch and cheer for them.
GCR:There is an area where I would really like to get your opinion since you have been such an activist for equal opportunities for women. When you were first running, Title IX did so many wonderful things for women’s sports, but what I’ve noticed in recent years as the percentage of women attending colleges has increased and schools have added every possible woman’s sport, they are cutting men’s sports to keep the percentages in line. Over 200 hundred colleges have cut men’s sports such as wrestling, golf, track, swimming and cross country. What are your thoughts on these unintended consequences of implementing Title IX?
RWI can get on another soapbox here, so shut me up when you want to. I truly, truly believe that the purpose of Title IX is to give opportunities to women, not to take them away from men. I am not anti-Title IX, but it has gone too far the other way. For example, UC-Irvine tried to cancel the men’s running program, but thanks to Vince O’Boyle they fought and got it reinstated. My husband is from Nevada and the two big schools are UNLV and Nevada-Reno, which is where he went. UNLV discontinued men’s track and cross country years ago. Many years later they cancelled the program at Nevada-Reno which means that if you are a young man running in the state of Nevada you have to leave the state to pursue it in college and that is very wrong. I got invited to speak at the track banquet at Nevada-Reno and was actually on the plane there when it was announced they were discontinuing the program and I didn’t know until I arrived. They had Brandon Rock win an NCAA title and a decathlete win and they cut the program. They gave me a microphone. Sorry guys. With what I said they must have thought, ‘Who invited her?’ There have been benefits of Title IX but it makes me angry that opportunities are being taken away from men for women to have an opportunity. The ultimate question is why does football play any part in this equation? There are many times I have been one of the guys, and I am one of the guys on this fight as I think it is inexcusable what they are doing. Women should have opportunities, but they shouldn’t make those opportunities possible by taking them away from men.
GCR:As a wrap up question, when you look at the major lessons you have learned during your life from growing up when athletic opportunities were limited for women, the discipline of running and adversity you have encountered, what would like to share with my readers that is your philosophy that will resonate with people?
RWObviously you’ve got to have a dream, you’ve got to have a goal, and you’ve got to have something you want. I once heard at a real estate conference someone say, ‘How bad do you want it and what price are you willing to pay?’ It’s really easy for a high school kid to say, ‘I want to win a State championship.’ But what price are they willing to pay? Not that they have to turn into a running zombie, but it might mean not going to the prom; it might mean when everyone goes out after a football game that you go home and get some sleep because you have a long run in the morning. On Christmas morning you go for a run even though everyone is in the midst of the festivities. That’s a philosophy of mine – how bad do you want it and what price are you willing to pay? You also need consistency – choose a path and stay true to your path. I cringe when I see someone with a talent that goes to another coach, or another town or another running group. One example is that I am very, very proud right now of Brenda Martinez. Here is someone who ran well in college, had some struggles, and stuck true to Brenda. She lives in the mountains and does what Brenda needs to do. She does feel that she needs to be a part of another running group or work with another group or get paid more so she has it easier. Choose your path and stick with it. I was very fortunate to connect with Vince O’Boyle in 1975. He never asked for anything in return, but he was always there. I might not race for a few years, but I’d say, ‘Hey Vince, I’m ready to get back on the track,’ and he’d say, ‘See you Monday.’ We had a path; we followed it and didn’t vary it much. Whether it went good or went badly, we came back and did it again.
 Inside Stuff
Hobbies/InterestsI definitely follow the sport of running. Where I live wine tasting is very high on the list as is spending time with my family. We did a lot of camping for years until Michael got into college and I’m hoping we can get back to that sometime. My husband, Tom, is my best friend and thirty-some odd years later still is so we enjoy doing things together, with our boys and with our extended family. I like walking my dog. I like being around people, doing low-key things and enjoying life
NicknamesI don’t remember nicknames as a child, but I was ‘legs’ all through high school. I became ‘Ruthers.’ I did a stint of teaching and became ‘Kawysocki.’ When Arnold Schwarzenegger was the governor and they called him the ‘Governator,’ my students called me the ‘Wysockinator.’ The Wysocki name plays into the nicknames for sure
Favorite moviesI like comedies, action, chick flicks – a little bit of everything. I’m in a household full of men so we see a lot of adventure movies. I’m not a huge horror fan. I like chick flicks like ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and ‘Pretty Woman’
Favorite TV showsWhen I was a kid my brothers and I watched ‘Superman,’ ‘Batman’ and the ‘Highway Patrol.’ I love ‘I Love Lucy.’ When Tom and I were first together it was kind of funny as Tom’s reputation was that of a renegade party animal, but he liked sitting home with a barbeque and watching TV. We absolutely loved watching ‘The Muppets,’ ‘Gilligan’s Island’ and ‘Scooby-Doo.’ Now we watch ‘Big Bang Theory.’ The TV gets commandeered away from me as Tom and one son watch ‘Walking Dead,’ ‘The Strain’ and ‘The Last Ship.’ I love inspirational shows like ‘The Biggest Loser’ and ‘Extreme Makeover – Weight Loss Edition.’ I am amazed watching people turn their lives around
Favorite musicWhen I got to college I had to make the decision between pursuing music or running because I realized that I couldn’t do both. I was brought up with and still have a tremendous appreciation for the emotion of classical music. I play the piano and violin and sing. My favorite singer of all time is Andrea Bocelli. I am practically moved to tears even if I don’t understand a word he is singing. At the same time one of my favorite all time groups is Credence Clearwater Revival. One of my current favorites is George Thorogood. I like a lot of rock ‘n roll
Favorite booksI read a lot of mindless novels. I read the entire Janet Evanovich ‘Stephanie Plum’ series, ‘One for the Money,’ ‘Two for the Show’ and so on. I am on book number twenty now. I like Debbie Macomber books. They are the kind of books that could be made into chick flicks – sort of mindless, romance books. I just want to be entertained when I pick up a book
First carsMy first car was dad’s Volkswagen that I would borrow. The first car that I actually owned was a little Dodge Colt that I paid $5,000 for. The car I traded it for was a Mazda RX-7 which I love, love, love, love, love! But it was repossessed after my ex-husband quit making payments on it. He had promised to buy it for me, but I went to go to work one day and my car was gone. Then I ended up with a Mazda RX-7 limited edition. Going into 1984 I had a full-time job again and I worked for an electronics company that even allowed smoking in the office. I liked what I was doing but didn’t like the person I answered to. I’d come home miserable and Tom told me to quit. He figured it out that most of my income was feeding the car payment, insurance, work clothes, and lunches, so that if I sold the car and quit my job we would be okay. He told me that he’d rather have me happy with less money. I quit my job in April of 1984, sold the car and that was significant in my running. We got by on one car for a while and after the Games in 1984 I bought a Volvo Turbo. That was a treat that we drove for a while
Current carMy most recent vehicle that I reluctantly gave up because of the cost was two vehicles in a row that were Nissan Titan full size trucks. We would take them camping with a trailer. I loved my truck, but with the cost of gas I’m driving a Camry. I’ll get back to a dream car sometime and it will be fast
First JobsOther than babysitting, after my first year of college I was a summer recreation leader. Following that I was a part-time teaching aide after I dropped out of college
FamilyTom and I will be married thirty-two years in December. My son Michael is 24 this month. My son Alexey is a Russian orphan. We always wanted to have another kid and waited too long. The opportunity came up to adopt and we did the international route. Alexey is going to be twenty and he has been with us for ten years. He just graduated from high school. I lost my dad in June. My dad was my hero as when I was going by the wayside my dad kept me going. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s about 13 years ago and he put up quite a fight. I was daddy’s little girl until the day he was gone. My mom is just an incredible, amazing woman who went through it with my dad and did everything she could to support him, feed him, take care of him and keep him at home. When we lost my dad in June I had the amazing privilege of being by his side. It was merciful. I hated, hated, hated to let go of him, but it wasn’t a good life any more. My mom is the youngest eighty-something year old woman. She is incredible. My parents set an amazing example and obviously I wouldn’t be who I am or what I am without them. Over the years if you asked any of their ten grandchildren who was their favorite, each would say, ‘Me, me!’ They have always been real givers. Also, when people ask about my running ability I tell them it helps that I chose my parents well
PetsI have the best dog in the whole wide world. I rescued a Cocker Spaniel who is black and white. His name is Linus and he is adorable. When Tom and I got together he got me a dog that was a jet black Cocker Spaniel named Woodstock. He was my shadow and when I was running the Olympic Trials in 1984, rather than put him in a kennel because it would be for a long time, he stayed at my parents’ house. After the semifinals of the 800 meters, when I broke two minutes for the first time, it was Father’s Day and my dad and brother were so excited as they took their dog and my dog for a walk. My dog got away from my dad, got hit by a car and killed. That was horrible, horrible, horrible for my dad. After that we had beagles a couple of times and then in 2001 I found a jet black Cocker Spaniel on the side of the road. We named him Oreo. He was about six years old when we found him and we had him for ten years. So I lost a black Cocker Spaniel on the side of the road and gained one. We had a couple of years dog-less with Tom saying, ‘No more dogs. No more dogs.’ We wore him down and got Linus, our rescue dog
Favorite breakfastEggs Benedict, but I don’t eat it too often. I usually have Go-Lean Crunch cereal with some added almonds. One of my other standard favorites is a whole wheat wrap with chunky natural peanut butter and Craisins rolled up
Favorite mealsThat would be tough because I like a lot of foods, but nothing beats a good filet and a nice bottle of red wine. I do like spicy food. I like Kung-Pao chicken and spicy Mexican food
Favorite beveragesI never drank coffee until my thirties, but I really enjoy a good, strong cup of coffee. I also like coffee drinks like mochas. I like my wine and I love champagne. I’ve become quite a red wine lover – the heavier, the better. I like cabernets and zinfandels. In summertime I lean toward a Gewurztraminer – something cold. In Temecula we have a number of good microbreweries so I’m definitely crossing the road there. I like IPAs and Hefeweisens – something ice cold and refreshing
First running memoryWhen I was growing up the recreation department opened up the Citrus College Stadium five days a week and you could get out there with recreation leaders who would sort of show you how to high jump, long jump and use the starting blocks. It’s not like it was a workout. We would kind of go and play there. They would have all-comer meets every Friday so I competed in the 50, 100 and maybe the 200 yard dashes for ribbons. One memory is struggling to make it all of the way around the track without stopping to walk. The first time I ran all of the way around the track without stopping I was so excited that I took off and did it again
Running heroesDoris Brown, Francie Larrieu and Madeline Manning. They were my heroes and as time passed they became my friends
Greatest running momentsI would have to say my greatest personal running moment was the first time I broke two minutes in the 800 meters. It was so significant and something I wanted so bad. It was in a semifinal race and I didn’t even win and it didn’t matter. I can still remember the first time I heard the announcer say my time and it started with a ‘one’ instead of a ‘two.’ Obviously, beating Mary in the 1,500 was just that huge breakthrough of realizing, ‘Wow, I can run with the best.’ In 1985 I beat Maricica Puica in the 3,000 meters at the Meadowlands. Winning the 1996 Race for the Cure National 5k down in Florida when I was 39 years old and just about to turn forty was big
Worst running momentsThere are plenty of those – probably more of those. The Olympic Trials in 1996 is one. I knew it was my last shot and the injuries didn’t make it possible to do what I wanted to do
Biggest disappointmentProbably my biggest disappointment was in 1995 when I ended up going to the World Championships and afterward I knew I was really fit and had a four flat or close to it 1,500 meters in me. But it was not a Grand Prix event that year and there were no 1,500s to run. There was that knowing I had something really good in me and I didn’t have the chance to let it out. In one workout I ran two repeat 800s with a ten minute rest and some cut down 200s per a workout Vince had sent me. I was in England and it was before the US-England dual meet. I ran 2:02.5 and 2:02 flat. I was ready – all dressed up and nowhere to go
Childhood dreamsWhen I was an elementary kid my dream was to go through school and to become a teacher
Embarrassing momentLike I said earlier, I have been known to fall down. I literally trip over cracks in the sidewalk when there isn’t even a reason for it. One of the most embarrassing was in 1978 when I was running down the sidewalk. I fell and skidded and it kind of burned. I jumped up, brushed myself off, looked around and hoped nobody saw me. I finished the run. About four days later I was getting ready to leave for the USA-USSR meet and went by the local store to get some magazines to read and some snacks. This guy came up to me that I knew in high school that I hadn’t seen in a long time and he was saying, ‘It’s so good to see you!’ He told me he had followed my running and knew I had been running well. When I said it was good to see him too, he said, ‘actually I saw you a few days ago when you were running and I was going to stop and talk to you but you fell down. So, I decided you would be embarrassed.’ I thought, ‘Almost as embarrassed as I am now.’ Nothing else really stands out as its like, ‘Whoops, I did it again’
Favorite places to travelI really enjoy the Lake Tahoe-Reno area. It’s where my folks ended up and also where Tom went to school. It’s somewhere I enjoy being. I have friends and relatives in Colorado and have been there a couple of times and absolutely love it there. Internationally, I like the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Sweden and Finland. They are just phenomenal and I got to be there in the summer when it was daylight almost all night. People are outdoors and friendly. I really enjoy London, the history and how much you can see and do. I always had an awesome time in Japan and absolutely loved going there
Funny thought about this lengthy interviewMy husband says it takes me thirty minutes to say hello – so watch out once I get started!