Cincy Chic: You were a member of the first ever Women’s Olympic Marathon Team. How did that come about?
Former Olympian Julie Isphording: I started running when I was 17. I wanted to become a better tennis player and thought jogging would make a difference. My goal everyday was to run 2 miles—one mile to Busken Bakery for a donut, and jog one mile back home. I entered a small race after a week of “bakery training” and won it. I got a free T-shirt, and I met my male trophy! I still have “my man” today!
When I was a sophomore at Xavier University and well-entrenched in international running competitions, the Olympic Committee announced that the Women’s Marathon would become an official Olympic event at the 1984 Games. I pulled out my diary and added “the Olympics” to my dreams. I graduated in three years, got a job at Procter & Gamble, ran 100 miles a week and actually got worse.
I quit my job and moved to Florida to train with Coach Tom Grogan. He was my mentor, friend and confidante. Tom demanded a little bit of my heart and soul every day. I was surrounded by people who truly believed in me, and everything started to click. I made the Olympic Trials.
When I reached the 10-mile marker during the trials, I was in 23rd place. Only the top three in this race are Olympic-bound. I kept my pace, passed a few more women and finally came to the final mile not knowing my place, but wondering why everyone was cheering so wildly. One hundred yards from the finish line, I heard my father yell,“You’re in third place. You are my Olympian!”
The 1984 Olympic Games were in Los Angeles. I lived in the Olympic Village with Mary Lou Retton, Joan Benoit, and Mary Decker Slaney. It goes without saying that there was something very special about being on the United States Olympic Team.
Cincy Chic: Throughout your running career, you overcame debilitating injuries. Most people would have given up. What kept you going?
Isphording: Running has given me a lot more than blisters, sore muscles, trophies, Olympic Teams, breathless wins, agonizing losses, fun-loving friends, vicious dogs, Presidential meetings, back surgeries and proud parents. The real gift is that running has taught me how to get where I’m going with intensity and passion.
People say that I’m competitive. All I know is that I’ve always wanted to strive to be better. Not better than the guy over there, just better than I was last week. Every time I go out for a run, every time I take another healthy “step” in the right direction, I am grateful. I am enjoying the road that I’m on today.
Cincy Chic: Among everything else that you do, you’re also the Executive Director of Cincinnati’s Thanksgiving Day 10k Walk & Run. What do you tell someone who has never participated in a race, or has ever run at all, but would like to start?
Isphording: Little things make the big difference: Grab a good friend, plan to walk together 5 days a week and watch the magic happen. You might even break into a jog. Then, replace a soft drink with water at just one meal, say, lunch. With this small change, voila, you will drink 30 more gallons of water per year, while NOT drinking 50,000 calories of carbonated sugar.
The truth is that it takes work, and often a lot of work and sacrifice to make a healthy change. Sometimes the truth hurts. But with the work comes a happiness that is really earned. You cross the finish line of the Thanksgiving Day 10k and feel like your heart is going to explode because you’re so darn proud of yourself. You step on the scale and you reach your goal weight. You slip on that pair of pants you wore in high school (maybe college) and they fit you again. Big smile.
Cincy Chic: You still run every day. What are your other strategies for living a healthy lifestyle?
Isphording: A healthy lifestyle starts with the right gear. I’ve owned 100 pairs of running shoes, aerobic shoes, cross-training shoes, several sports bras, countless t-shirts, tights, water bottles and socks. Have something made of Polar fleece, something made of lycra/spandex, something made of Gore-Tex. Have a pair of hiking boots, sports sunglasses and a sports watch, tennis racquets (one wood, one wide). Have a helmet, knee pads and wrist guards. Own a road bike, a mountain bike (and air pump), a real swimsuit, swim cap and goggles. Have a sturdy backpack, an iPod packed with motivational songs, and at least one thing you saw on an infomercial. I do Pilates and TRX and all that fun stuff!
And I love my work and feel that it matters. I’m surrounded by people who make me feel special and I hope that they feel the same way!
Cincy Chic: It’s quite obvious from the feedback that people come away from your speeches feeling renewed and motivated, but what do YOU get from being a motivational speaker?
Isphording: I am one grateful girl. I get to talk to thousands of people each year and watch small miracles happen every day. I have watched people’s eyes light up and smiles reflect off the spotlights. I have seen the weary become strong, the stiff become flexible, the fat become fit, and those suffering from pain become pain-free. There is only one reason this happens, and it is because they have come to believe that they can. I’m just there to tell them that there are no boundaries when we put our minds to it and that… “Yes, you will succeed. Yes indeed. 99.9% guaranteed. Kid, you will move mountains.” (I borrowed that from Dr. Seuss.)
Photographer: Neysa Ruhl Photography