Never underestimate the will of a champion.

Taken from Running with the Legends…

Training went smoothly through the winter and spring until March 17, 1984, the day of the ill-fated 20-mile run. She ‘felt glorious’ until the pain came, a pain that felt ‘as if a spring were unraveling at the joint.’

Benoit immediately went to Dr. Leach, who injected the knee with cortisone and told her to rest. That seemed to work, as she was able to get back to her 120 miles a week, thinking, ‘the problem was solved.’ It was not, however, as she found out on April 10, when the pain returned with a vengeance after a track workout of three sub-five-minute miles. The morning after that workout, Benoit had to walk home when she tried to run. After a day off, she went out for 12 miles, but could barely lift her leg over a twig. There was nothing to do but take more time off.

When the knee did not get any better, Benoit flew to Eugene, where she was examined by Dr. Stan James, who had operated on Frank Shorter’s ankle in 1977. She tried running with (coach) Sevene and could not even keep up for two easy miles. It didn’t look good, and Benoit writes that ‘I thought my heart would break.’ On April 10, James did the arthroscopy, finding and removing a ‘fibrous mass called a plica, which had become inflamed and was interfering with the joint.’

After the surgery, Benoit took another week off, and on May 2 began running again. There were 10 days left before the Olympic Trials, on each of which Benoit put in 15 hours of training, getting up early to swim, run, go to physiotherapy, lift weights, and take a whirlpool. She naturally favored her right knee, which had been operated on, causing stress on her left leg, and she pulled a hamstring. To treat the hamstring, Benoit underwent 6-10 hours of electrical stimulation with a Myopulse for five days in a row.

‘Joanie is a very intense, driven woman, no question about it. She has a drive few of us can equal,’ says Sevene. Benoit still did not know if she would be able to run the trials, so, on May 9, she did a 16-mile run. After that, she knew she would be able to start the race but didn’t know if she would be able to finish it.

Benoit drove with fiance Scott Samuelson, her college sweetheart, to Olympia, Washington, knowing she needed a miracle to make the team. She got one, breaking away from Betty Jo Springs at 14 miles and running in alone, though still with the pain in her knee, for a 37-second victory over Julie Brown. Her time was 2:31:04. It was, she says, ‘the race of my life.’ Sevene calls it one of the greatest runs by an American athlete ever, saying, ‘She worked her butt off on an exercise machine, and she wins the whole thing.’

Adds Durden, ‘Here is a woman who refused to accept defeat. She just powered through it. I don’t know how many of us, even good runners, would be able to do that. Most of us would say, ‘It’s not meant to be today.’ Benoit, however, refused to give up.


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