Sunday, October 24, 1999

Isphording retired, not inactive


Ex-Olympic marathoner staying fit, promoting, coaching her sport

BY SUE MacDONALD
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Julie Isphording didn't start running seriously until she was almost out of high school, but once she started, she hasn't slowed down.

        She ran the qualifying races that got her to the women's U.S. Olympic marathon in 1984. And despite a back injury that cut short her marathon career, she still runs every morning as the sun comes up in her East Walnut Hills neighborhood and environs.

        Next Sunday, she codirects the Cincinnati 5-kilometer Avon Running fitness walk/run and a 10-kilometer national championship for women runners who have qualified in cities across the country.

        Over lunch recently, Ms. Isphording talked about her continued interest in running, fitness and health.

        Question: Do you remember your first race?

        Answer: It was the Springer Sprint at Lunken Airport. I was 17. I knew nothing about running. It was a 5-kilometer run, and I'd only been running for a week. I ran two miles every day — one mile to Busken Bakery, have a donut, and then one mile back home (Mount Lookout).

        I thought it was the dumbest sport in the world. I was on the starting line wondering to myself, "What am I doing here? After this, I'm never going to run again." And I won that race.

        I've always saved that trophy because it was the trophy of a running man — they didn't even have women trophies — and because I was so darned proud of myself.

        I enjoyed it and kept running. I enjoyed the competition.

        It was something I was pretty good at and there was a certain joy to crossing the finish line. It helped that I was born with pretty powerful lungs.

        Q: What made you decide to try for the Olympics?

        A: I was at Xavier in 1983 when the Olympic committee announced it would include the women's marathon for the first time. I figured I would try for the Olympic trials and give it a shot. It's a scary thought to put everything in one basket, but if it doesn't make you sweat, it's not worth it.

        Q: You made the team, obviously, but weren't able to finish the race. In retrospect, what are your memories of the '84 Olympics?

        A: The sad part for me is that I had to drop out at mile 11. I tore a tendon in my foot and it paralyzed the left side of my body. They took me to the medical center in an ambulance and wheeled in a TV so I could watch the finish.

        Joan Benoit won, and it was the most beautiful thing to watch because she was my hero. But it was so sad because I didn't finish. I felt like a failure.

        Q: After subsequent back surgery, you were told by doctors you'd never run again, right? How is that now you're running daily, coaching “spinning” classes at the Williams Y and coaching individual runners?

        A: I moved back home after my back surgery. One night I snuck out to the Withrow (High School) track and I just had to do one lap. I knew my mom would kill me if she found out. I really felt everything and had no pain.

        I snuck out the next night and ran two laps, then three. And I kept training from then on.

        I went back to the L.A. Marathon in 1990 and won it. It was even better, in a sense, because I never dreamed I'd be there. That 100 yards before crossing the finish line — that's the best.

        I can remember thinking, "Oh, my God, I can't belive I've gotten a second chance.'

        Q: What about people who say they don't like sports or don't like running?

        A: Everybody's an athlete. It just depends on whether you're in training or not. And remember, you're supposed to have fun.

        I love encouraging girls and women to start running or take up a sport they enjoy.

        Q: What keeps you going?

        A: I'd love to be be able to compete again, but (competition) is kind of retired to me, and I use the word "kind of' because (the idea of not competing) is hard to accept.To me, every day that I run is a gift.

        I like coaching people, talking about running. It's a vicarious thrill to watch people smile as they cross the finish line, especially if you helped them get there.

        Q: When you speak to younger athletes or groups, what's your message?

        A: Go after your dreams. The proverbial starting line has so much promise, and if you can approach it with curiosity instead of fear, you've learned something valuable.

ISPHORDING FILE
        • Age: 37

        • Occupation: Assistant vice president/director of marketing/advertising for Huntington Bank; former Olympic marathoner.

        • Current pursuit: Codirector of Avon Running, a 5k fitness walk/run for Tristate women of all ages and abilities and a 10-kilometer national championship race in Cincinnati next Sunday. National winners advance to world finals in Milan, Italy.

        • Personal: Single. 1980 graduate of Ursuline Academy, 1983 Xavier University graduate summa cum laude with a degree in accounting.

        • Motivations “If you put your heart and soul into anything, you can do it . . . It's so transforming when people embrace health and fitness, because it makes such profound changes in their lives.”

       



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