Sunday, June 9, 2013

Who is Sylvia Ruegger and why we should care?

I know what I did to get that time. Don’t take it away. Don’t take it away.
Sylvia Ruegger

Sylvia Ruegger, Los Angeles Olympic Games 1984, Marathon Event

In other countries Sylvia Ruegger would be an iconic figure, but here in Canada she's virtually an unknown.  That's a pity.  We really should care more for our iconic figures. Who is Sylvia Ruegger and why should we care?  

Ruegger is a retired Olympic runner who holds the Canadian women's fastest marathon record with a time of 2:28:36 set in 1985 in Houston, Texas. Twenty-eight years later her record is still intact although Lannie Marchant and Krista DuChene are nipping at her heals. In 1984 Ruegger at age 23 (the second youngest runner) placed 8th out of a field of 50 women in the first ever Women's Olympic Marathon held in Los Angeles with a time of 2:29:09 (which coincidently is still faster than Lannie and Krista by about 2 minutes).  Her record is our record and this should make us proud. 

Are we proud? Do we care?

We should care because there is a good chance that Ruegger will be stripped of this record because some believe it was testosterone enhanced. Testosterone enhanced? What the heck.... is there a pee test for that? What does that even mean?

The International Track and Field committee say she had an advantage by running on a course with men. Incredibly (I can't make this stuff up) the International Track and Field Committee believe that by running with men she benefited by having male pacers. This new ruling also applies to Paula Radcliffe (at 2:15:25 Paula is the fastest women's marathoner on the planet) and all other women that have competed on a course with men. The current practice is to have women start 45 minutes before men.

In Sylvia's words:
Go after the dopers. There’s assisted, right. We did it clean. We did it on hard work and sacrifice. If one of those guys wants to come and look at all my journals of what I did, the price I paid to run that time, it was not because there was a guy running in the race, it was because I ran 200 kilometres a week and gave up everything else 
I ran 26.2 miles in 2:28 and I hurt doing it. And I didn’t do it because I was ‘helped’ by anyone. Like c’mon. There was no guy around me. Take a look at the footage. Even if there are guys around you, you still have to take every step on your own. You have to pull on that personal resolve, that mental strength, that fortitude, all of those hours you put in training.”

Ted's Run for Literacy race committee received an email from Sylvia the other day in which she explained how her mother helped her train early mornings before the sun rose. Sylvia grew up in the country where there were no street lights.  Her mother believed in her daughter and recognized the deep passion she had for running. She patiently drove the family car behind Sylvia, lighting the way for her daughter, lovingly pointing her in the right direction, as she trained those lonely 200 kilometres a week for a record that's on the brink of becoming obsolete.  

Sylvia is currently the National Director for Start 2 Finish, Running & Reading Clubs. Here at Start 2 Finish she works as hard -perhaps harder- as she did in 1985 on that 'testosterone enhanced' course, helping to break the cycle of childhood poverty through nurturing the minds, bodies, and social health of countless Canadian children. Ted's Run For Literacy is a proud supporter of Sylvia and Start 2 Finish.  Come run Ted's Run for Literacy on October 20.  Run for Ted.  Run for Sylvia. Run to break the cycle of childhood poverty. You can register here.

So friends, that's Sylvia's story in a nutshell.  I hope you care. I hope she makes you proud. I hope you will share her story with your family this evening over dinner, or on your next run with a friend.  Tell the story, honour the person. 

It's a good day to be alive.


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