The glorious FloJo and the joy of running

Sunday, September 27, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

For years, I have scoffed at women who run. They pound along the pavement, rain or shine, hauling in great lungs full of bad air, dodging traffic and dog poop. Runners. What can they be thinking?

You are going to jar your innards loose, I would say with clinical precision. Your uterus is going to fall out, and you will trip over it and break your neck. How can this be good for you?

And what about your knees?

"Well, what about your own knees?" someone might have replied. "They are getting to be the size of hubcaps. Maybe you should consider using them for something besides propelling you to the head of the line at Graeter's."

World-class smiler

Of course, nobody actually said that to me. But they could have. Then I would have said that in the unlikely event that I did decide to try to get in shape, I certainly would choose something that was more fun. Tennis. Golf. Alligator wrestling.

You rarely see anybody running who looks as if they're having a good time, scowling and bobbing at traffic lights. They mostly look like they are on their way to a root canal, except for one woman who has been bouncing joyfully through town with a distinctive spring and picket-fence smile.

That would be Julie Isphording, Olympic marathoner, motivational speaker, bank executive, author and world-class smiler.

She met me to talk about running in general and one runner in particular. I wondered if she was offended by my suggestion to meet at a coffee shop. Should I have suggested a juice bar? Maybe I should have just told her we'd meet in the park and that I would bring along bean sprouts and herb tea.

When she bumps into people at the grocery store, she says they're always surprised to see her with Captain Crunch breakfast cereal and Coors Lite beer in her cart. As we talked, she drank coffee and used artificial sweetener.

Myself, I took it as a sign of good mental health.

I wanted to ask her about Florence Griffith Joyner, FloJo of the one-legged running costumes and the amazing jumbo nails. Style and dash and another incomparable smiler.

At the 1988 Olympics, even more than the fashion show, people remember her crossing the finish line in the 100-meter race with her arms outstretched. Joyously.

Question of drugs

That was 10 years ago. Last week, she died in her sleep, reportedly from a heart seizure, amid rumors of long-term damage from performance-enhancing drugs. No one knows for sure what caused Florence Griffith Joyner's death, and official tests could take weeks.

"It's a shame, but it's a reflection of where we are with elite athletics and drugs," Penn State professor and performance-drug expert Chuck Yesalis told USA Today.

Julie Isphording remembers having to check in with the Olympic committee, even when she went on vacation with her family. "Random drug tests meant that they could show up on your doorstep any time and you had to produce a specimen."

In Los Angeles for the 1984 Olympics, Julie and Florence Griffith Joyner posed side by side in the team picture. Later, together they provided color commentary for television.

"She always did the crowd stuff," Julie says. "She was great, especially with kids. And just so beautiful. One of the things she did was to bring feminine beauty back to the sport."

And an indelible memory of sheer delight.

That's the best part, Julie says. You just feel good. Even the pounding along the pavement?

"Flying," she claims.

Maybe I believe her. The best evidence is FloJo, hair streaming, arms outstretched. Beaming.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. E-mail her at, call 768-8393, or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. Her new book, I Beg to Differ, is available at (800) 852-9332.

Florence Griffith Joyner coverage from Associated Press