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A Treadmill Mom Goes for the Gold

How a 38-year-old found the will to become an Olympic runner.

Make Exercise Non-Negotiable at Any Age

As her adaptable training regimen suggests, Clark doesn't let exercise slide because of busy schedules or stress. "It has to be of paramount importance," she says. "Even when I was a resident [read: overworked and exhausted], I made the time to go out and run three times a week, even if it was only for short runs."

She gets laced up for those runs all on her own -- that is, you won't find a nagging personal trainer or a stopwatch-wielding coach masterminding her exercise regime. John Clark (no relation), a local high school cross-country coach and friend, chalks up this kind of self-propelled determination to her age. While Clark's 38 years would seem to be an impediment -- most of her competitors are in their 20s -- it may be one of her greatest advantages. She's focused, John Clark says. "She knows what she wants to do, and she's got the confidence to go out and do it."

The Road to Sydney

On the day of the Women's Olympic Marathon Trials in Columbia, S.C., last February, the thermometer soared to a stifling 84 degrees. The field was packed with runners who had better times and bigger names, including Joan Benoit Samuelson (the 1984 Olympic champion and world-record holder) and Anne Marie Lauck (a two-time Olympian), as well as Kristy Johnson and Libbie Hickman, both of whom had run under the 2:33:30 qualifying time in other marathons.

While the heat seemed to slow these more veteran runners, Clark, who works out on a treadmill in a heated room, did just fine. Somehow, this quirk in her training allowed her to slog through the heat undeterred.

All Eyes on Clark in Sydney

Clark had entered the race hoping to break the top 10, but shocked both herself and the other younger, more experienced runners with her win. "Winning was a dream come true," she says. "It was completely overwhelming and thoroughly wonderful!" After the victory, Clark headed straight back to Alaska and to work. About a month later, she indulged her family with a weeklong trip to Southern California.

She admits that the thought of heading off to Sydney alone a bit daunting. Not that she isn't excited about her Olympic debut. "I never had the conscious goal of going to the Olympics," she says. "But this is an opportunity of a lifetime. And it's an opportunity of a lifetime for my kids, too. Can you imagine being 9 years old and getting to go to the Olympics because your mother is competing?"

In the end, she hopes that her Everywoman Olympic debut will be an inspiration to other women struggling to balance a career, a family, and fitness, and that it will help them realize that many things are possible.

Susan E. Davis is a freelance writer based in Alameda, Calif.

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