The first American woman to win the race in 40 years might just be your new role model, even if you're not a runner.
Before she crossed the finish line in a blonde blaze of glory, you probably hadn’t ever heard her name, but Shalane Flanagan is someone to take note of — even if you aren’t particularly fond of running.
Though she’s an Olympic silver medalist, has multiple international championship medals, and holds numerous American records, Flanagan isn’t exactly a household name. Until now. She won the prestigious New York City marathon with an incredible time of 2 hours, 26 minutes (and 53 seconds). That’s a blistering pace of 6 minute and sub-6 minute miles the entire race of 26.2 miles. Flanagan’s win is so historic because she’s the first American woman to win the race in 40 years.
But there’s more to Shalane Flanagan than unbelievably strong legs and seemingly endless endurance. Brand new foster mom and well-known as an advocate and encourager of female athletes, her story is inspiring, not just for runners, but all of us — especially women. Here are just a few ways Shalane Flanagan’s life and accomplishments inspire us:
She elevates others
In our culture of social media one-upping and reality television where “throw me under the bus” is a common refrain, we’ve gotten pretty used to seeing people do whatever they can to get ahead — often at the very real expense of others. Shalane Flanagan is different — her personal athletic goals are clear, but she’s incredibly invested in other women and seeing them achieve their goals, right along with her. Incredibly, every single woman that has trained with her has made it to the Olympics — that’s a staggering 11 women who have reached the top while running alongside Flanagan.
“Shalane has pioneered a new brand of ‘team mom’ to these young up-and-comers, with the confidence not to tear others down to protect her place in the hierarchy,” Lauren Fleshman, another professional runner says. “Her legacy is in her role-modeling, which women in every industry would like to see more of.” It’s clear that Flanagan isn’t threatened by the accomplishments of successful women around her — she’s motivated and invigorated right along with them, a rare and extremely positive trait that shows just how powerful “teamwork” can be, even in a sport as solitary and individualized as running. This attitude is easily transferable to so many things in life, whether it be at work, at home, or in our neighborhoods — elevating others always benefits everyone in the long run.
She sees opportunity in areas of lack
When Shalane first joined Portland, Oregon’s running club, called the Bowerman Track Club, she was the only woman. Rather than stay the solitary female, she recruited other women to join along with her and began training with them. They were coached by men, and ran mostly with men, but the women began outrunning everyone in the club. This is not some story of “girls are better than boys” though. It’s simply a testament to the perseverance and commitment Shalane shows to helping other women succeed, no matter what. In a group of all men, Shalane didn’t see an obstacle, she saw an opportunity to create something that was lacking, and in doing so she helped create a remarkable team of runners who became some of the best in the world.
She doesn’t let setbacks set her (too far) back
We all get discouraged sometimes, whether it’s something big — we didn’t get that promotion at work or we’re experiencing health problems — or something small: the dinner we slaved over barely got touched before heading to the garbage disposal or the neighbor we reached out to just isn’t interested in reciprocation. Perseverance is hard — and Flanagan knows this all too well, but she’s learned that patience is key. Earlier this year, she suffered a serious injury that made running the Boston Marathon (the oldest and most important marathon in the US) impossible. “About nine months ago, I was heartbroken over the fact that I wouldn’t be able to race the Boston Marathon. But I just told myself that there would be delayed gratification and a moment that would make up for it,” Flanagan told reporters after winning the NYC race. “I’ve dreamed of a moment like this since I was a little girl. It means a lot to me and my family and hopefully inspires the next generation of American women to be patient.”
She takes help when offered
So many women have heavy loads to bear between responsibilities at work, duties at home with children and/or aging parents, and neighborhood and community obligations. And how many of us just never ask for help? Receiving a helping hand from someone is difficult — often it means putting a little of our “I got this!” attitude aside and becoming humble. We want to be humble, it’s just that learning to do it takes work. Shalane — one of the fastest women in the country — isn’t afraid to ask for help from other runners. She trains with other women because it benefits her, too. And her training partners aren’t afraid to reciprocate.
In 2016, she was running her Olympic trial qualifying race with teammate Amy Cragg. It was a hot day and Flanagan began to slow down towards the end of the race — her face was flushed and her stride was off. Cragg didn’t skip a beat in encouraging Flanagan, even slowing her own pace and getting water for her struggling partner. Together, they crossed the finish line where Flanagan “collapsed in Cragg’s arms.” After the race, Amy Cragg told the New York Times: “We had run thousands of miles together; we had worked so hard for this. She had been there every step of the way, struggling with me. We all have someone like Shalane where you’re kind of dependent on her, who has your back and would do the same thing.” Maybe we’re not running marathons anytime soon, but most of us could stand to accept help when offered — if Olympic distance runners can do it, perhaps we can too!