BAR HARBOR — Even for non-athletes, hearing the story of anyone who has competed in the Olympics is enough to get you off your backside and inspire you to work a little harder to reach your goals.
In a multimedia presentation in the Mount Desert Island YMCA gym on Sunday morning, Olympic runner Lynn Jennings shared stories from her career. She narrated video footage of a few key road, track and cross-country races with what she remembers thinking during the race and how she adapted her race strategy as conditions changed. The audience included middle and high school athletes, coaches, marathoners, hikers, bikers and other interested community members. A smaller group headed out for a short jog through town together after the talk.
At age 17, after a stellar high school cross-country career, Jennings snuck into the Boston Marathon. Her time put her at third in the women’s division, she said, but her parents hustled her away to avoid making a scene. She also injured her knee and got dumped by her coach, who had warned her it wouldn’t be safe for her to run.
“If you try to shortcut the system, it doesn’t work,” she said.
After a difficult college career, she thought she was done with running. Then, while painting her parents’ house in the summer of 1984, she came inside one day to take a break and happened to catch on TV the moment when Joan Benoit Samuelson from Maine won the marathon at the Olympics. That shocked her out of her funk, she said, because she had raced Samuelson many times in high school – and always had beaten her.
She began to train again the very next day. A few months later, she got her first contract with Nike. After making it to sixth place in the 1988 Olympics in the 10,000 meters by self coaching, she decided it was time to get a coach.
“Coaches hold the mirror so you can see what you’re doing,” she said. “It’s like having a little tailwind behind you all the time.”
The coach who had dropped her so many years before agreed to work with her again. He helped her clean up some bad habits, she said, and think more clearly about her race strategies.
She began to win national and world cross-country titles. At the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, she said, the last thing her coach told her before her 10,000-meter race was that “There are three medals.” Sure enough, she was the bronze medalist.
MDI high school runners who attended the talk said it was helpful to hear about the challenges and doubts Jennings faced. “I took away her saying to never give up, ever,” Caroline Driscoll said. “You can have rough patches, but you’ll always get through them.”
Waylon Henggeler agreed. “It’s important not to let a particular season or race define you or get you down. You keep working at it and look at the whole thing.”