Olympian Carrie Tollefson schools kids on fitness

Carrie Tollefson's message to Duluth middle school students Tuesday was perseverance, and the U.S. Olympic track runner had plenty of examples to illustrate her point.

Carrie Tollefson
Former U.S. Olympian Carrie Tollefson of St. Paul was featured in a presentation on fitness to Duluth middle school students Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of Grandma's Marathon)

Carrie Tollefson's message to Duluth middle school students Tuesday was perseverance, and the U.S. Olympic track runner had plenty of examples to illustrate her point.

The best was about recovering from heartbreak during the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials. She expected to qualify for the Summer Games in Greece by placing in the top three of the 5,000-meter event, but she finished sixth. Yet she also was entered at 1,500 meters and, despite 100-degree temperatures on the track, won the race.

About 200 students each at Morgan Park and Woodland saw video of the victory in Sacramento, Calif., and an energized Tollefson, who grew up in Dawson, Minn., earned applause for the effort.

"You are not going to win every race, you are going to face bumps and bruises along the way, but don't be discouraged," she said. "The idea is to find a sport and exercise every day. Move your body every day."

Grandma's Marathon has brought athletes to Duluth in recent years to spread the word during Fit-n-Fun assemblies. Other speakers have included Duluthian Kara Goucher, Dick Beardsley, Bill Rodgers and Suzy Favor Hamilton, all acclaimed runners.


Tollefson, 35, a St. Paul resident and mother of a 2-year-old girl, is best known as Minnesota's only five-time high school girls cross country champion (1990-94). She went on to win five NCAA Division I cross country and track titles at Villanova University and continues to race, while working in television and radio commentary for road racing and track.

There are rumors she retired as a professional runner, but instead she's persevering. To get to next month's 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials at 5,000 meters, she must run a qualifying race in 15 minutes, 50 seconds or faster. She tried in April in Stanford, Calif., in her first serious race in three years, and missed. She tried again last Friday, in Los Angeles, leaving her husband and daughter at home, and spending money on airfare, a rental car and hotel room (she no longer receives sponsor money from Adidas).

About 75 seconds into the race, a runner stepped on the back of Tollefson's left shoe, which came off. By the time she tried to unknot the laces, the other runners had pulled away and her night was over.

"I have aspirations of having more children and being a great broadcaster, but I'm not ready to give up racing," said Tollefson. "It was hard to swallow, to travel so far and have my hopes end in less than two minutes. There were some tears shed.

"But I try to practice what I preach. I'm a runner and I have to give it a go. I have to try. Realistically, my racing could last five more years or one month."

Although losing a shoe during a track race is rare, it has happened to Tollefson three times. The first was in a 1,500-meter race in Finland in 2004 and the second in a much-publicized 1,500 at the 2005 Steve Prefontaine Classic. In Eugene, with two laps to go, runners starting tumbling like dominoes, according to the Eugene Register-Guard, with five having to leave the race, including Tollefson.

The best-known losing-a-shoe race featured Proctor's Garry Bjorklund at 10,000 meters in the 1976 U.S. Olympic Trials, also in Eugene. His left foot was accidently stepped on halfway through the 6.2 miles, he kicked off the shoe and finished in an adrenaline-fueled rush, placing third and advancing to the Summer Games in Montreal, Quebec.

Tollefson says she may have one more qualifying chance at the Portland (Ore.) Track Classic on June 8-9. The U.S. Olympic Trials 5,000 qualifying races are June 25.


Tollefson will be in Duluth on June 16 to provide radio commentary on the U.S. Half Marathon Championships to be held in conjunction with Grandma's Marathon.

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