By Bob Vazquez, Assistant Athletic Director (Media Relations)
Utica, NY – Several weeks ago, Jacqueline Hansen was casually opening her daily mail. Bills, bills, and more bills she thought until she came across a letter from the National Distance Running Hall of Fame.
Hansen opened the envelope and read the letter. The correspondence brought her tears of joy. Hansen had been named to the 2012 class of inductees into the prestigious National Distance Running Hall of Fame.
The letter read, in part, "The requirements for selection into the Hall of Fame are that candidates have had a significant impact on distance running in America," wrote Timothy R. Reed, Executive Director. "Inductees are nominated and elected primarily by the current members of the Hall of Fame; you should be proud."
Hansen's reaction was "proud indeed."
"I was just so happy and honored," said Hansen, a 1974 graduate of Cal State Northridge. "It was such a great honor knowing that the nomination process and the voting was conducted by my peers."
The induction process started when Doris Brown Heritage nominated Hansen for the Hall of Fame. At one point in her career, Brown Heritage held every women's national and world record from 440 yards up through the one mile. She also represented the United States at the 1968 and 1972 Olympic Games.
"Doris was a hero of mine when I started running, and we worked together on several national long distance running committees," said Hansen.
Induction ceremonies will take place on July 7 in Utica, NY. "This will be a meaningful and joyous event," said Hansen, who is expecting a large number of family and friends to attend.
Hansen joins an exclusive list of great American and international distance runners. Previous Hall of Fame inductees include Mary Decker Slaney, Francie Larrieu Smith, Grete Waitz, Joan Benoit Samuelson, Frank Shorter, Jim Ryun and Marty Liquori.
The National Distance Running Hall of Fame was established in 1998 to honor those runners who have contributed to the sport of distance running. Hansen joins Horace Ashenfelter and Glenn Cunningham as the 2012 inductees into the National Distance Running Hall of Fame. Ashenfelter won a gold medal in world record time in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the 1952 Olympic Games. Ashenfelter stands as the only American to hold a world record in the steeplechase. As a senior at Penn State, Ashenfelter won a total of 17 national championships in a variety of distances in track & field, and cross country between 1950 and 1956. Cunningham, a graduate from the University of Kansas, captured the silver medal in the 1,500 meters at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Severely burned as a child, Cunningham captured the world record in the 800 meters and the indoor mile in the late 1930's.
Hansen, a 1974 Cal State Northridge graduate in English (she later obtained her Masters degree in Teaching Education at Loyola Marymount) has been a champion not only in long distance running but also as an activist for women's long distance running. She was best known for winning the 1973 Boston Marathon while a student at Cal State Northridge. She was instrumental along with several other influential people that successfully lobbied the International Olympic Committee to add the women's marathon and later the 5,000 meters and the 10,000 meters to the Olympic Games at a time when young women had little or no opportunity to compete in athletics.
While at CSUN, Hansen trained under Laszlo Tabori, a great runner who held the world record in the mile and 1,500 meters, and was the third man to run a sub-four minute mile.
During her impeccable career, Hansen won 12 of her first 15 marathons. During her running journey, she set eleven world records.
Although she never competed in the Olympics, Hansen beams with pride the success that other women's distance runners have enjoyed on the national and international level. One such memory was during the highly successful Olympics Games in 1984 in Los Angeles. Hansen hosted Joan Benoit in her home when Benoit won the first women's Olympic Marathon.
Hansen worked as a volunteer for America's women's marathoners at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. Although 28 years have past since the most successful games in history, Hansen distinctly remembers sitting in the stands at the Los Angeles Coliseum and watching Benoit cross the finish line to win the gold medal.
"I just teared up," remembers Hansen. "I just started crying. I was there with my four-year-old son and he started to cry. I had to calm him down. I simply told him that these were happy tears. So happy …"
Hansen's accolades and accomplishments would extend to the moon and back; too numerous to mention, but her website (jacquelinehansen.com) details her tremendous career.
Her running days are long over, but her humanitarian efforts continue towards the finish line. That includes tireless work as a volunteer coach for such groups as Team Diabetes. Hansen currently coaches women's cross country at Notre Dame High School. Hansen also teaches at Loyola Marymount University.
Twenty-four hours are not enough for Hansen to complete her long list of influential projects.
Hansen admits she was a terrible athlete at Granada Hills High School and was always picked last or not picked at all during P.E. classes. Hansen was short in stature, wasn't having fun, but she admitted "I kind of liked sports." Granada Hills High School offered a multitude of sports activities. Hansen ended up taking an elective class in tennis and that is where she met Dixie Griffin, a teacher, who would often ask "Why is there a boy's track team but not a girls track team?" Griffin, who was an Olympic Trials competitor in the javelin, aimed to give young women the opportunity in athletics like the men.
"Dixie was a huge influence on me," remembers Hansen. "She gave everybody a chance. Dixie taught tennis but she was a national champion in track & field. She was a positive influence and a person who was an advocate for young women to compete in sports. She was a woman with a purpose."
Thanks to the efforts of Griffin, Hansen competed in several track & field events including the 400-yard dash, the hurdles, the javelin, the shot put and the long jump while at Granada Hills High School. Hansen didn't qualify for the City Championships but her track & field efforts sparked a passion that has since carried her to greatness.
Hansen's story led to Pierce Junior College where she trained with another female athlete along with the men's team. Her track & field coach was a golf teacher who taught the sport out of a book. She competed in several track meets but was often relegated to keeping the scorebook at the men's meets.
"I always had a thought about how far I could I run without stopping," said Hansen.
Hansen then transferred to San Fernando Valley State in 1970 where she signed up for a track & field class taught by a basketball coach. While in college, Hansen trained with Laszlo Tabori at Los Angeles Valley College. Hansen had dreams of becoming an outstanding competitor and a runner in long distance events. With Tablori's coaching talents, tough words of encouragement and training regime, Hansen was heading in the right direction.
Hansen still keeps in contact on a regular basis with Tabori, who is 81-years-old and lives in Agoura.
"Laszlo made me the runner I was," said Hansen, who trained with Tabori for more than 30 years. "It took a lot of hard work and discipline. I didn't know at the time how intense this man was. Honestly, my first workout warm up was more than I had ever run in my life. He was such a disciplinarian. I still talk with him all the time. I am hoping he can join me at the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in New York."
Hansen trained as a middle distance runner but discovered her long distance running talents when she competed in the events longer than the 5,000 meters.
In 1971, Hansen attended the Culver City Marathon to watch and cheer for a teammate (Cheryl Bridges). That event was a pivotal event in her life.
In an interview with GaryCohenRunning.com, Hansen said "… I told Cheyl that Laszlo (Tabori) and I would come out and cheer for her. I thought that anyone crazy enough to run that far (26.2 miles) needs some support. I watched (the race) and I caught the bug … I was fascinated by it (the marathon) and I made a secret vow to myself to come back and run this marathon (Culver City) a year later."
A year (1972) later, Hansen, in her first marathon, captured the Culver City event.
From that point on, Hansen's marathon career zoomed.
In 1973, Hansen was encouraged to run in the Boston Marathon. A teammate and friend from another high school (Monroe HS), Patrick Miller, had run for Yale and told her that a women's division had been added to this prestigious event. Hansen agreed to go, tripled her interval workouts and made plans to head east to not only compete in the event but to win this prestigious race.
"I was ready to run," said a determined Hansen.
The large crowds at the Boston Marathon helped her through the grueling 26.2-mile event. She still hears the sounds of screaming girls at Wellesley College yelling to her from the sidelines, "You're number one."
"I crossed the finish line and it was euphoric," said Hansen. "Winning the Boston Marathon literally changed my whole life. I was now a marathoner runner. I definitely found my event and I loved it. That event was a huge turning point in my life."
Love the marathon indeed. Hansen broke the 2:40 woman's marathon barrier in 1975. She was ranked as the top women marathoner in 1974 and 1975. Hansen won 12 of her first 15 marathons. She also set two world records.
When asked what award means the most to her is a bit unfair, but Hansen remembers one in particular, the 1984 American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California, Annual Award for Leadership. The award was given to her for her tireless and successful lobbying efforts to advance women's distance running and to add the marathon and later the 5,000 meters and the 10,000 meters to the Olympic Games agenda.
In an interview with GaryCohenRunning.com, Hansen said "… I really feel like my political contributions were more significant because they left the world a little better place than I found it."
Although her running days are over, physical activity remains a constant in her life. She walks every day. "I don't have any excuses why I shouldn't exercise."
Congratulations Jacqueline Hansen !!!