|Rick, Doris Brown Heritage, and me|
Doris Brown Heritage was a two time Olympian in the '68 and '72 Olympics, a 5-time international cross country champion, a teacher and coach at Seattle Pacific University for 40+ years, and the first woman elected to the IAAF Cross Country Road Race Committee in 1988 (information from the HTC Meeting Notice). She was a tiny little thing, and she told the most interesting stories about how things were for her back in the '60s and '70s.
She told many stories, but here are two that I particularly enjoyed:
Doris set the one-mile world record in 1966. I loved this story, as did the high school girl sitting at my table. Her eyes just lit up as Doris talked about that race. We also got to watch the actual video footage. A girl from Canada was supposed to have a good chance at breaking the world record, and she started out in first place. They had to do 11 laps around an indoor track. This girl had terrible form and basically dragged one arm as it hung down in front of her. Then here comes Doris, and she passes that girl! Doris ended up winning the race and getting a sub-5 minute mile. The announcers were just stunned! Doris won a silver tea set for a prize. What I liked about this experience was that Doris believed in herself and didn't let what others thought about her get in her way.
Another story was about how Doris had run two times a day for forty years. What an impressive feat! Then in 2008, she had to have hip replacement surgery and would not be able to run again afterwards. Instead of being sad or bitter, Doris just enjoyed her last run and spent some time reminiscing about how much joy running had brought her. We watched a video of a news story about this, and the room of all of us runners was just so silent. I think it made us all appreciate what we have a little bit more.
This is what Jim Oaks shared with us:
Although not associated with the marathon, she ran two in 1976. Her first, run on a whim in May of 1976, was actually her fastest. Several athletes from her college team at Seattle Pacific University had decided to go to the Vancouver International Marathon the day after graduation, and Brown Heritage went along. She not only won the race with ease but her 2:47.35 was the fastest-ever female debut and only nine minutes above the world record.
Later that year she also ran the New York Marathon, finishing second in 2:53.
Relative to the New York race she said, "I learned you don’t go to a marathon after coaching intramurals and getting on a plane in the evening to fly to New York, losing three hours, and then getting on the bus at 5:00 in the morning."
I loved the chance to get to meet someone with such an impressive record--from the one mile to the marathon! She inspired me to appreciate each run and to believe in myself. If you want to learn more, there is a book about her called The Fragile Champion: Doris Brown Who Always Ran the Extra Mile written by Ken Forman.