In 2000, I was re-doing my office at home and decided to decorate with pictures of favorite athletes. Even though she was just a freshman, I knew that Shalane Flanagan was going to be a phenomenal athlete. In those days, it wasn’t easy to find photos of college athletes (other than football and basketball players). I found a source for a picture of her and ordered one. It turned out that the photographer was Cheryl Treworgy, Shalane’s mother, who herself had been a world record holder in the marathon. I told Ms. Treworgy how much the UNC community appreciated Shalane becoming a Tar Heel.
In my personal pantheon of favorite athletes (which, unlike most Halls of Fame has gotten smaller as I’ve gotten older), Shalane Flanagan continues to be someone I admire greatly.
She is now 36. I used to take my daughters, who aren’t much younger, to watch her run at UNC track meets because I wanted them to see a strong young woman who represented her sport, her university, and herself with great distinction.
Shalane went on to run in numerous Olympics at various distances, including a 6th place finish in the marathon last year in Rio.
It’s the overall example that she demonstrates in her life that has spoken to me, however. You can tell a lot about someone by how they accept victory and defeat. In 2014, when Shalane fell well short of her goal in the Boston Marathon, she said, “I don’t wish it were easier. I just wish I were better.” On September 8 of the next year, when she set the American Record in the 10K, she thanked the former record holder “for setting such high standards and for being such an amazing friend, role model and inspiration.”
Shalane wrote a best-selling cookbook with her friend and former UNC teammate Elyse Kopecky last year and I had the chance to hear her speak. Part of her reason for writing the book was a mission to convince runners to eat whole, real food.
And though she is a private person, she has spoken about one of the latest and biggest challenges she’s faced, becoming a foster parent to two teenage daughters. “It has been by far one of the most rewarding things my husband and I have ever done, and we’ve talked about how we could envision doing this all the time, maybe never even having our own and just doing foster care. There’s such a need for it. We haven’t had any incidents to deter us, or hardships. My only regret is that we didn’t get them sooner. But we’re changing the trajectory of their future and their life,” she told ESPN.
I’ve found it dangerous to put people on a pedestal. After 17 years of following her career, however, I feel certain that Shalane Flanagan will continue to inspire and make me proud.