Story posted October 17, 2005
When runner Libby Barney '03 was a student at Bowdoin College, the name that stood out among all the legendary athletes in her sport was Joan Benoit Samuelson.
Benoit Samuelson -- winner of the 1984 inaugural Olympic women's marathon and two-time winner of the Boston Marathon -- had graduated from Bowdoin in 1979. So for Barney, Samuelson was -- and is -- more than just a hero: "She is our hero. Bowdoin's own."
Barney met up once again with her hero Saturday, October 15, 2005, when Bowdoin rededicated its outdoor track in honor of Samuelson during Homecoming Weekend.
The outdoor track, named for legendary Bowdoin track and field director John Joseph Magee, was rededicated through the generosity of Nike, Inc., whose $300,000 gift funded recent upgrades to the facility.
"I'm proud to be here today, on behalf of Nike, to help rededicate and celebrate Bowdoin's track and field in honor of Joan Benoit Samuelson," said Nike Brand President Mark Parker at the rededication ceremony. "Joan has been a part of the Nike family for more than 25 years. To be able to celebrate her running legacy with a world-class track and field is truly the ultimate expression of Nike's appreciation for her accomplishments. Joan's enduring inspiration is unparalleled by any other female distance runner, and it is Nike's hope that this new track will inspire many young athletes in the future to compete or simply to enjoy the benefits of a physically active lifestyle."
Nike had originally offered to honor Samuelson three years ago with a donation toward the construction of a new track in her hometown of Freeport, Maine. When those plans fell through due to town siting and financial issues, Freeport and Nike investigated partnering with Samuelson's alma mater, where the outdoor track was in need of resurfacing and other repairs. Under the terms of the agreement, the Nike gift funded Bowdoin's track upgrade in exchange for allowing the Freeport track team to hold practices and meets at the College when Bowdoin athletes were not using it.
"This is a winning partnership for both Freeport and Bowdoin College," said Samuelson last December when the agreement was announced. "Freeport High School will have access to premier training facilities for the first time, which should help in the development of a highly competitive track team and increased community interest in the sport. The history and tradition of the Bowdoin track - serving as the training ground for the 1972 Olympic team, for example - should help motivate the Freeport athletes to achieve their goals. I appreciate the personal support Nike has given me over the years, and thank them for their support of Freeport, Bowdoin, and the running community in Maine."
In her remarks during Saturday's ceremony, a "humbled and honored" Samuelson acknowledged the Magee family, and many Olympic athletes, including Steve Prefontaine, who had trained on the Magee track.
For Libby Barney, whose track achievements during four years at Bowdoin (1999 to 2003) include Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Runner, and NCAA Maine Woman of the Year, glimpses of Samuelson cheering on Bowdoin runners at home meets or taking a run across the fields of Wolfe's Neck Farm in Freeport were frequent occurrences.
Samuelson supported Bowdoin runners in other ways, as well, Barney noted at the ceremony.
One fall day in 2002, as the Bowdoin runners were training for the New England Championships, a rumor circulated among the athletes that Samuelson would be joining them that day for the grueling "Flow Mile" workout, which involves running five miles, each one faster than the one before.
"Flow miles required confidence, pacing, skill - and the distraction and support provided by your teammates," Barney recalled. During the workout, "We were on top of the world, and Joanie was right there with us. When we finished, she told us that she had never seen a Bowdoin team stronger than ours."
That year, the Bowdoin team qualified for the National Meet.
"Joanie believed in us," said Libby.
Bowdoin President Barry Mills marveled that Samuelson's running career all began simply as a way for "Joanie the skier" to recover from a broken leg.
"But running is only part of Joanie's story," Mills noted at the rededication. "She is a devoted wife and mother. A motivational speaker. A community organizer and volunteer. A coach and commentator. A constant friend of this College, and a role model and hero for women athletes at the top of their game, as well as for young girls taking the field for the first time. At Bowdoin we often claim to produce leaders in all walks of life. While Joanie doesn't do much 'walking,' she is certainly counted among the leaders of her generation."
Following the rededication ceremony and the Bowdoin football team's win against Hamilton College, Samuelson led a group of runners around the track.
"Joan has been an inspiration to us all, through her 1984 marathon win, her years of running in Brunswick and Freeport, her tireless support of the sport, and her motivation of younger runners like myself," concluded Libby Barney. "We are proud to be intertwined with Joan as a part of Bowdoin's running history. This track belongs to her."
Nike's gift to Bowdoin for the track enhancement was part of the Bowerman Track Renovation Program, a 10-year, $2 million program dedicated to refurbishing or constructing running tracks around the world; and NikeGO, Nike's signature U.S. community affairs initiative and the company's long-term commitment to getting kids more physically active.
Upgrades to the facility included widening the straight-away track on the starting side from six to eight lanes, repairing the steeple chase and high jump areas, relocating the long jump and pole vault areas, and resurfacing the entire track.
The material for the pole vault, steeple chase, long jump and high jump equipment incorporate Nike Grind material made from approximately 4,000 recycled athletic shoes as part of the company's Reuse-A-Shoe Program. Reuse-A-Shoe is an integral part of NikeGO, the company's long-term commitment to get kids active and give them the means to do it.
Bowdoin College's outdoor track, located at Whittier Field, is named for John Joseph (Jack) Magee, the College's first athletic director, who served as coach of the track team from 1913 to 1925 and director of track and field athletics from 1925 until his 1955 retirement. Magee's teams won 20 Maine State Championships in 38 years of competition, including nine consecutive state titles after World War I. Bowdoin teams won the New England Championships four times - in 1923, 1925, 1934, and 1950. Magee was a member of the coaching staff for the U.S. Olympic Track and Field teams in the 1920, 1924, 1928, and 1932 Olympic Games. He turned down a coaching position for the 1936 Olympics because he did not believe that the Games should be held in Nazi Germany. Magee was elected to the Helms Foundation Hall of Fame in 1949, was vice-president of the Amateur Athletic Union of the United States, co-founder and president of the Maine AAU, and former president of the Association of Collegiate Track Coaches of America. Born in 1883, Magee died at the age of 85 in 1968.
The most recognizable athlete in Bowdoin's history, Joan Benoit Samuelson is one of the most decorated runners in the world. A two-time champion at the Boston Marathon (setting world records in 1979 and 1983), she was presented with the Jesse Owens Award in 1984, and in 1985 earned the Sullivan Award as the top U.S. amateur athlete. She will forever be remembered for her dominating gold-medal performance in the inaugural women's marathon at the 1984 Olympic Summer Games in Los Angeles. She has been inducted into the International Scholar-Athlete Hall of Fame, the Boys' and Girls' Clubs of America National Hall of Fame, the Maine Sports Hall of Fame, the International Women's Sports Foundation Hall of Fame, the Bowdoin College Athletic Hall of Honor, and, most recently, the USATF National Track and Field Hall of Fame. A native of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, Joan Benoit Samuelson now resides in Freeport with her husband, Scott Samuelson (Bowdoin Class of 1980), and their two children.
Nike, Inc., based in Beaverton, Oregon, is the world's leading designer, marketer and distributor of authentic athletic footwear, apparel, equipment and accessories for a wide variety of sports and fitness activities. Throughout its 30-year history, Nike has been a consistent and strong supporter of women's sports, including its support of Joan Benoit Samuelson in her quest to become the first woman Olympic marathon gold medalist. Nike's Reuse-A-Shoe program collects, slices, and grinds up old and unusable athletic shoes to make Nike Grind material, which is then used in a variety of sports surfaces, called NikeGO Places. Since its inception in 1993, Nike's Reuse-A-Shoe program has recycled more than 16 million pairs of shoes, and has donated more than 170 NikeGO Places in communities around the world.