Achieving Greatness with Anne Audain

Pursuing your passion takes a lifetime of dedication. Sometimes, you might feel that you’re not reaping what you sowed. But the road to success is neither easy nor short. Many successful people needed to work hard and ceaselessly for years before getting a breakthrough in their careers.

In this episode, Anne Audain shares her incredible journey as a runner. Throughout her career, she broke many records, won many races, and inspired many significant changes in the sport. Even back then, when there were fewer opportunities for athletes to earn money and go pro, she was able to break the norms and earn a living with her passion. Learn how Anne triumphed over all the obstacles and made history as an athlete, and as a woman.

If you want to learn more about Anne’s incredible journey and be inspired to set out on your pursuit of greatness, this episode is for you!

Resources

Here are three reasons why you should listen to the full episode:

  1. Discover how running became a professional sport.
  2. Find out how Anne overcame challenges as an athlete.
  3. Be inspired by her story.

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Episode Highlights

[03:17] Anne’s Childhood 

When she was a child, her parents noticed she walked on her heels. Bone deformities grew on her feet, but she couldn’t get surgery until she was 13.

After her surgery, she wasn’t given crutches or a wheelchair; instead, the doctors gave her an orthopedic boot to push her forward on her feet.

When she took off her cast, she found that it was easier to run than walk.

[06:30] The Start of Her Running Journey

She joined the Otahuhu Athletics Club in South Auckland at 14 years old.

She tried high jumping and long jumping but ultimately found that she loved running. Then, she finished third in the Auckland Senior 800m Champs and was recruited by her first coach into his athletic squad.

When she began running, the longest distance in Olympic Games for women was 800m.

[10:06] Progressing Into the Major Leagues

She started racing cross country in the senior races at 14 years old.

At 15, she won the New Zealand road championships and Auckland vs. Waikato. Then at 16, she raced in the New Zealand championships in the 1500m but wasn’t able to go to Munich though she qualified for the Olympics because she was too young.

She finished ninth in the World Championships in Belgium at 17 years old.

Listen to the full episode to hear more about how she got to represent New Zealand and travel for free many times!

[14:08] How She Started Road Racing

In 1981, she left New Zealand with her husband and headed to England.

Anne got her airfare to England by getting into a New Zealand cross country team to go to Madrid in March 1981. She had no intentions of pursuing the sport, but Rod Dixon told her to try road racing.

Anne then came to the United States and finished third in a 10k in New Orleans.

[19:58] The First Professional Race

Back then, they just raced and won trophies; but road race directors wanted the sport to go professional to stop the under-the-table payments. Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, also supported the change so he can sponsor runners.

In June 1981, Anne won a 15km race in Portland, Oregon — the first professional race — where there was equal prize money. Despite the consequences, she believed she deserved a chance to earn money, too.

Because she was only in the United States on a visitor’s visa, she got in trouble since it was illegal to accept money and those who do can get a lifetime ban from the sport.

[25:28] Anne's Road to Success

The United States road race directors ignored the ban, and allowed her to continue her sport.

She was able to race at the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta and continued road racing. By the end of 1981, she had earned $22,000. She also signed with Nike, becoming the first female runner to sign with the company.

She eventually chose to become an American taxpayer and deal with immigration.

[28:02] Helping Athletes Grow 

Races becoming professional shook up a lot of sports and gave opportunities for student-athletes to get sponsorship agreements. Becoming a full-time athlete allowed her to get better accomplishments.

She was one of the first to get the H-1B visa, which is now used by many athletes. Besides, she was only reinstated a week before racing in Brisbane at the Commonwealth Games.

Anne believes that athletes should get opportunities to grow when they’re young.

[36:15] Anne’s Many Achievements 

She set the world record in the 5000m at Mt Smart Stadium.

In 1982, she was undefeated in the United States and broke the course records of each race that she ran in. Her two biggest decisions were going pro in the United States and changing coaches.

Listen to the full episode to hear all about her road to success and the accomplishments that she garnered in her running career!

[39:44] Transitioning Out

She retired due to mental reasons since she started losing focus and discipline. Once she made her decision, her coach, John Davies, said she just needed six months of sabbatical, but she knew she was done.

In 1993, she founded what became the largest women’s only event in the United States. She put her passion into building that event and empowering women to participate in the 5000k race.

[45:16] The Biggest Lesson

Her sport taught her how to live a focused, calm, and healthy life, which was particularly useful during the pandemic. Ultimately, learning to live a simple life is the greatest gift.

About Anne

Anne Audain, the first professional female distance runner. Throughout her career, she has set records and pioneered professional running for women. She has been inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame, the USA Running Hall of Fame, and honoured with a Member of the British Empire medal from Queen Elizabeth II for her contributions to her sport worldwide.

She founded the Anne Audain Charitable Trust to support at-risk youth in Auckland in 1991 and the Idaho Women’s Celebration 5K in 1993. Her autobiography, Uncommon Heart: 1 Woman’s Triumph, was published in 2000.

If you want to know more about Anne’s journey and achievements, check out her website. You can also reach out to her on LinkedIn and Facebook.

Powerful Quotes

[11:15] Anne: ‘Every dream is to go to the Olympic Games and you can always look back and say, “It might have been my one and only chance.”’

[13:07] Anne: ‘So what I was getting out of my sport then was a whole bunch of world travel free, which was absolutely amazing. But who knew where it was all going to go? So I split my career, 11 years as an amateur, and then things could have gone backwards or forwards.’

[24:00] Anne: ‘If I can earn money out of my talent, then I want the same chance.’

[29:17] Anne: ‘All these people go, "Well, they should be doing it for the love of their country” and so forth. Well, I did it for the love of my country for 11 years, and I was almost lost. I wouldn't be sitting here with another 11 years of even better accomplishments if I had not been proficient.’

[35:12] Anne: ‘How do you grow athletes if you don’t give them a chance when they’re young?’

[36:41] Anne: ‘In ‘81, I was two weeks away from being gone from the sport; and in ‘82, I had a world record, a gold medal, and was unbeaten. So here’s the difference my decision made in my life.’

[46:30] Anne: ‘I think if you can learn to live a very simple life, which we do learn to live a very disciplined, focused, but also a very simple life as professional athletes, that’s [...] one of the greatest gifts that you get.’

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To pushing the limits,

Lisa

Transcription

Welcome to Pushing the Limits, the show that helps you reach your full potential, with your host Lisa Tamati, brought to you by lisatamati.com.

Lisa Tamati: Welcome back to the show everybody. This week, I have Anne Audain. Anne Audain is, of course, one of New Zealand's top female runners. She has been six times qualified for the Olympics — world record holder. She's incredibly successful in both marathons and shorter distances. Back in the early 80s — was just unbeaten in America with all the road races that she ran, and she was a real pioneer of women's professional sport. I hope you enjoy this interview with the amazing Anne Audain.

Before we head over to the show, just want to remind you to please check out what we do. We love making this content. We love sharing all of these great insights with you. We’re very passionate about health fitness, about the latest in health science and medicine. We would love to work with you if you want to improve your game as far as running goes or high performance.

If you've got a difficult health journey, then check out our epigenetics programme, look at our DNA programmes, our running coaching programmes, as well as our longevity and anti-aging supplements — and pretty much into longevity and anti-aging. When you hit your 50s, you want to make sure you're going backwards if you can. Check out our nicotinamide mononucleotide, it’s our main anti-aging supplement, and we also have trimethylglycine. You can check that one out at nmnbio.nz — that's nmnbio.nz. All the other stuff, you can check out on my main website at lisatamati.com. Right, over to the show now with Anne Audain.

Hey everyone, welcome to the show. Today, I have the amazing legend of the running sport, Anne Audain. Anne, welcome to the show. It's fantastic to have you here.

Anne Audain: And it's great to meet you too.

Lisa: You're sitting in Indiana. You've made your home in the States. Why are you not in New Zealand?

Anne: Oh, I wish. Well, of course, in the last few years, we can't even get there. That's kind of put a stop to all that. But I've pretty much come back every year through all these years. I've been in the States 40 years now, and I miss New Zealand — but it's where my sport and life took me. You got to take everything that comes at you. I took a chance on coming here to run way back 40 years ago, and here I am.

Lisa: Here you are today, so happy and healthy in Indiana — always reminds me of Indiana Jones. Anne, I want to go diving into your story because it's quite a remarkable story. I mean, you've been showered with accolades for your amazing running career; you've won more road races than, I think, any other athlete back in the day; you've qualified for the Olympics six times; you've done all these incredible things. I'll let you tell your story in your words. But it didn't all start out roses. Can you take us back to the troubles you had in your childhood?

Anne: Well, I was given up for adoption by a teenage mom. When it came time — I was a baby — when it came time for me to start walking, my parents noticed I didn't exactly use my feet real well. A child can't exactly explain everything that's going on. To put it simply, I walked on my heels. I wouldn't go forward on my toes.

As I grew, some bone deformities grew on the front part of my feet. The doctors told my parents that they weren't going to consider surgery until I was a teenager and my bones were strong enough to take the necessary surgery. All through my childhood, it was very painful, and I didn't walk correctly, and I couldn't wear proper shoes.

When I was 13 years old, they put me into Middlemore Hospital, and the orthopaedic surgeons told my parents that all they really wanted was to help me to walk better. They did surgery and took away all the excess bone, transplanted tendons to my big toes. Really, the genius of them, which I don't think many doctors here in the United States would actually risk, was that when it came time to leave the hospital, they didn't give me crutches or a wheelchair.

I always joke that I'm probably the one that had those orthopaedic boots that they have now. I was the first. The surgeon, they created a black leather boot to attach to the buster cast. On the bottom of the black leather boot, they had a wooden rock — like a rocking horse. Then, I walked down to their hospital on those boots with feet that had not healed.

What their goal was to push me forward. They forced me forward because they thought my memory of walking on my heels and very pigeon-toed would not go away. Unless they forced me forward, I wouldn't do it because of that —

Lisa: It makes sense.

Anne: It does make a lot of sense and they gave me my running style. I mean, when the cast came off, it was easier to run than it was to walk.

Lisa: Because I have a mom who's had an aneurysm, and we've been dealing with her stroke and aneurysm, and she cannot roll her foot. She has dropped foot, and the foot is stiff on the left side that she won't push off. It's really hard to retrain your brain when your brain is saying that.  It's not helping us out.

Anne: Yeah. As a youngster, you've spent all your life walking a certain way. They just didn't believe that even no amount of rehab would force me forward if I didn't do it, or if they didn't force me forward — and they did.

Lisa: So that made you push off nicely. How long did it take for you — you got the boots off, and then you just basically said it was easier for you to run than to walk because you had that rocker when you were leaning forward I suppose. You were in the position to — you ran everywhere?

Anne: I did. I joined the Otahuhu Athletic club in South Auckland because the New Zealand system is all the club system, and all my neighbours, the kids at school, the neighbourhood kids all belong to the athletic club. I just told my parents I wanted to join it too. I just joined the Otahuhu Athletic Club one year later at age 14.

I joined. Of course, back then, girls were only allowed to run as far as a quarter-mile — the young girls. I tried everything — I tried long jumping and high jumping. I was pretty fearful with that because I didn't exactly want to land hard on new feet. But I found that I love to run. I ran the 100, 200, 400 metres.

A person from the club entered me in the Auckland Senior 800-metre Chance when I was 14 years of age, and I finished third in the senior championships. That's when my first coach — who was coaching at the Otahuhu Athletic Club — asked me to join the squad that he had. That's where it all started.

Lisa: Wow, so what year —

Anne: The ‘70s.

Lisa: 1970s. Girls in athletics clubs weren't even allowed to go more than a quarter of a mile. Are they all worth…

Anne: Well, when I began running, the longest distance in the Olympic Games for women was 800 metres.

Lisa: That’s insane.

Anne: They put the 1500 metres into Munich in 1972.

Lisa: That's so crazy. I'm friends with Kathrine Switzer. You probably know Kathrine. The 1968, her going in the marathon, had been told back then, ‘Your uterus would fall out if you're a woman and you couldn't run a marathon.’ Now, of course, ultramarathon runners run hundreds of kilometres. Nothing's fallen out yet.

In a short space of time, women's athletics has changed drastically. You're actually a big part of that, really, in a number of ways, which I hope to dig into today. Tell us about progressing from there. You were obviously a talented — genetically, you must have had some brilliance, as far as your speed. Did your birth parents — who you got to know later on, I believe — were they genetically gifted at all? What was the story?

Anne: Not in terms of — nobody in the family did athletics. They were dairy farmers in Waikato. I have six siblings — full siblings, because my birth parents married each other a year after I was born. I have six younger brothers and sisters. It was a farming family, so they didn't participate in sports as such. I would say that my birth father was Dutch — just a real, strong, hardy Dutchman. But no. Obviously, there was, but they didn't realise it.

Lisa: You're the only one in the family to have gone into a career like this. Tell us about your progression through your early years and coming into some of the major league stuff.

Anne: Well, let's see. I think the beauty of New Zealand, compared to here in the United States, is we’re more free to do what we want in terms of sport. Here, I would never have been given the chances to do what I did in regards just being able to step into those senior races and race against senior women. I started racing cross country in the senior races at age 14 and 15. At age 15, I won the New Zealand Road Championships in the senior category. Auckland versus Waikato, I would race against the senior women.

In ‘72, I was 16 years of age and I raced in the New Zealand Championships in the 1500 metres, and I actually ran a time that was the Olympic qualifying standard to go to Munich. I was chosen in the team, but was pulled out with three weeks to go because they considered I was too young. That's probably correct. Yes, every dream is to go to the Olympic Games, and you can always look back and say, ‘It might have been my one and only chance.’ But in some respects, when you remember the Olympic Games and the massacre of the Israeli athletes in the Olympic village, the New Zealand team was housed right by the Israeli athletes

They were pretty traumatised by that. As a 16-year-old, it's a good thing I didn't go. Then, at age 17, I got selected to go in the New Zealand cross country team to the World Championships in Belgium. I finished ninth in the World Championships at 17 years of age. You're right, I got pretty good sight into the fact that I did have a talent. 

From then on, I was finishing high school, going to teacher’s college, becoming a school teacher, representing New Zealand again in ‘75, ‘77, ‘79, ‘81. In the world cross country, we only went into every alternate year because for the financers, they couldn't afford to send the cross country team every year. I had all of that and went to Montreal in 1976.

At age 20, it was my first year of school teaching which was in Ōtara in South Auckland. I went in the 800, 1500 metres. By that point, I was New Zealand record holder, and won the New Zealand championships in 800 and 1500 metres. You could say the first 11 years of my career was done as an amateur, as a school teacher representing New Zealand many, many times.

What I was getting out of my sport, then, was a whole bunch of world travel for free which was absolutely amazing — but who knew where it was all going to go? I spent my career — it was a 22-year career — 11 years as an amateur and then, things could have gone backwards or forwards.

Lisa: This is interesting. You took a bit of a stand because the amateur rulings and stuff back then were very, very, very strict. I remember growing up and knowing what amateur and professional was. You took a bit of a stand at one of your races, and actually took some prize money, and that pioneered the way, really. Was that a really difficult decision for you to do that?

Anne: Well, what's interesting is there's a documentary finally being made this year here in the States about that year, which was 1981. I had left New Zealand with my first husband, and we were going to go to England and see what we were going to do in England. He wanted to go and work in England again. I got my airfare to England by getting into that New Zealand cross country team to go to Madrid in March of 1981.

I had no intentions of any future in the sport. I thought that, ‘This was it.’ I got my airfare paid for,  and we were going to stay in England. Lord knows what I was going to do. While I was there, Rod Dixon was in the team with us. He said to me — because Dick Quax and Rod had already been on the United States road racing circuit for about two years. Lorraine Moller had gone there too and had run a marathon, I believe — or maybe two marathons.

Rod said to me, ‘Anne, you should go to the States. You really should try the Road Racing because,’ he says, ‘I think that's going to be your niche. You got to try those middle distance — you got to go to those distances.’ I thought, ‘Okay, why not?’ I came to the United States and Dick Quax got me into a 10k down in New Orleans.

We fly into New Orleans and — this is kind of a cute story — I arrived at the airport, and I got picked up by a limousine, I got taken to this fancy hotel and never seen a hotel room like it. I thought, ‘My Lord, who do they really think I am? This is how they treat runners in the United States. Really?’ They said, ‘Well, we need you to come down to the press conference.’

I go downstairs, and there's a big room set up, and the tables up the front with all the microphones. I just go sit in the audience like, ‘Okay, I'll come to the press conference.’ ‘Oh, no, no, no, no, you need to be up there with the other athletes.’ I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness.’ So I go up there and I think, ‘Well, maybe it's just because I'm a New Zealander.’ In the international field, in other words, they got a New Zealander up here.

There was Bill Rodgers, Frank Shorter — good Lord, I mean, I'll say names. But these days, a lot of people won't even know Joan Benoit Samuelson, Jackie Gareau who has just won Boston — so, great fields. I got myself on the end of the table, and they started at the other end, asking questions and interviewing.

Then, they were remembering that Dick Quax had got me into this race. Then they get to me and the emcee says, ‘Well, you've run an amazing time for a 10k. What do you think you're going to do tomorrow?’ But I'd never run 10k in my life. This was going to be my first 10k. I was quick enough to realise that Dick had probably told them that I’d raced the 10k, and he’d given them a time. I had no idea. All I said was —

Lisa: Fake it till you make it.

Anne: Yes. All I said was, ‘Well, I think tomorrow, I've got a shot at my best time.’ Because it was going to be my best time. Wonderful because that wasn't lying.

Lisa:
Brilliant way to get out of the door.

Anne: The next day, I finished third. The American girl, Elana, ran an American record. Joan Benoit Samuelson, who eventually went on to win the first Olympic women's marathon in ‘84, she finished second. I ran third in 33 minutes and 18 seconds. Then, they said to me, ‘Well, my goodness, that's amazing because you beat your PR by a minute.’ That's when I got to know what Dick has said.

Lisa: He got you started.

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Lisa: The circuit in America, these road races were paid races? Did you start, then, to earn a living out of this?

Anne: Oh no, not at all. No. After that race, I'd been invited to go to stay with Jeff Galloway and his wife in Atlanta, Georgia. Jeff had been an Olympian for the United States in the marathon, but with all the 1980 boycotts, he didn’t get to go. He had started up, involved with a Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta, a 10k. He just said, ‘Why don't you come and stay with us for a while, and we'll tell you what possibly is going to happen here in the United States.’

Up until then, there was nothing. You just ran the races and won a trophy. There was nothing — it was totally amateur. But the Road Race directors wanted the sport to go professional because they were tired of the under-the-table payments that they were having to give out, predominantly to the men. They wanted it to change.

Then, Phil Knight, who was the founder of Nike. Nike, back then, in 1981, was just a small group of offices in Oregon — nothing like it is now. They were making the shoes in a little factory in Oregon. Phil Knight wanted the sport to change too because, obviously, he's producing running shoes, but he can't use the runners — he can't sponsor the runners. That's technically illegal.

It was just amazing how people — they put me up in their homes; I went and ran some other races; I got given 100 bucks at a time to go talk in a running shoe store. People were just amazing. The hospitality, how enthusiastic they were to create this Road Racing circuit and make it professional. Well, you were going to be up against United States track and field, which back then was called the Athletics Congress.

Everybody who wanted to run a road race had to be a member of the Athletics Congress. They had a real hold on the sport, and they wanted to keep their hold on the sport. That led to the Olympic Games, and no one wanted the Olympic games to be professional, so there was going to be a huge battle ahead.

In June of ‘81, I turned up in Portland, Oregon to race a 15-kilometre race, and there was going to be $10,000 first prize, a total of $50,000 spread between the men and the women's field. The greatest thing that happened was that there was going to be equal prize money immediately. Equal prize money for male and female. I think it's the first sport. The professional race, they made it equal immediately. I give them all credit for that. It's going to be $10,000 first prize.

I had no money left. In fact, I was pretty much two weeks away from packing up and quitting, and going to England — two weeks away. I went there, and they had a big meeting the night before, and they got us to sign documents to say that, ‘If we finished in the top 10 the next day, would we or wouldn’t we accept the prize money? And did we understand what the consequences were going to be? And that there was going to be a big battle ahead.’ I was all in.

Lisa: What did you have to lose?

Anne: I didn't have anything to lose. I thought, ‘If I finish fifth or six, I‘d earn enough money to stay a little bit longer to see what I could do.’ I’d also traveled in Europe with our guys on the European track circuit in the ‘70s. I'd seen all the under-the-table money. I just thought, ‘I deserve it too. If I can earn money out of my talent, then I want the same chance.’

The next day — that good old running style I had — it was 15 kilometres and it was five miles uphill and four miles down. I just got into the rhythm going up the hill, I realised that I was just running so much easier than the others, and so I just went for it. I got to the top of the hill, and I was quite a way in front, and I thought, ‘Oh boy, all I have to do is get down this hill and I've won.’ I did win, and I get $10,000.

The moment I crossed the finish line, I'm in all sorts of trouble because I'm only in the United States on a visitor's visa, and that's illegal to have accepted the money. The United States tax folks there, and then I immediately get a lifetime ban from the sport.

Lisa: How crazy.

Anne: I’ve still got the telegrams from the New Zealand Amateur Athletic Federation, as it was then. Anyway, my parents, they just thought, ‘You've really messed up your life.’ But I was 25 years old. 

Lisa: You got to make a living.

Anne: I got to make a living. The beauty of it was that the United States Road Race directors ignored the ban. I raced again at the Peachtree road race in Atlanta, and I went on to continue road racing that year, and at the end of ‘81, I’d earned $22,000 in prize money.

I'd also got a Nike contract which has since been proven. Because of this documentary being done this year, that I am the legitimate first female runner to sign with Nike. Three days after that race, I worked out a contract on a table napkin at an ice cream store in Atlanta, and it was for $400 a month. $400 a month, and I thought I just won the lottery. It changed my life.

Lisa: How’d you get around the tax stuff with the US government tax stuff?

Anne: Well, there was an agreement between New Zealand and the United States where you can choose. I mean, it took a lot because I was in trouble immigration-wise as well. I had all of that to work out. You have to get a tax ID. I chose, at that point, to become an American taxpayer, and I have been ever since.

Then, I had to deal with the immigration. At the end of ‘81, I pretty much was deported. I was told to go back to New Zealand, go to the United States Embassy, and work out what status I needed to be able to come back to the United States. It was absolutely crazy time. Just because, I said, of this documentary being done, I had to relive all of it, get out my scrapbooks and all the articles and everything and the headlines. You just go, ‘Oh boy.’ It really shook up my life in the whole sport.

Lisa: But it takes a brave soul to do something like that. Of course, now, we take that all for granted. That's how it's all gone. But someone has to be the first, and someone has to take that brave step, and it's ridiculous. You did a take, cutting your life to your sport, and why can't you make a living from it? I always thought it was ridiculous anyway, and I was only a kid back then. You pioneered the way.

Anne: I remember after it happened was that — rugby. They always were amateur, and I remember some conversations with the All Blacks were just, ‘How come a bunch of female runners are getting paid, and we can't?’ I think it shook up a lot of sports. It certainly changed track and field, it changed the Olympic Games. It opened up the — look at what's happening now. Even here, in the collegiate system here in the United States, they're now allowing the college athletes to have sponsorships, agreements.

I just read with the gals, the Rugby Sevens. I'm going to be allowed to be paid, so they don't have to have jobs and try to be athletes at the same time. I read the comments on that, and I just thought, ‘I'm a perfect example of becoming good as an amateur and becoming great the moment I was able to be a full-time athlete.’ I’m a perfect example of that. There's no going backwards.

All these people go, ‘Well, they should be doing it for the love of their country, and so forth.’ Well, I did it for the love of my country for 11 years, and I was almost lost. I wouldn't be sitting here with another 11 years of even better accomplishments if I had not been proficient.

Lisa: Yes. To me, it's just a ridiculous argument if you're going to see — because you have to dedicate your entire life to this if you want to be really good. My sport is really a widow sport — ultramarathon, we're a bunch of eccentric weirdos who run around. My dream was to represent New Zealand just once.

I spent years. I tried it with different sports, and I failed, and my dad was really keen for me to represent New Zealand. It took me till I was 42 on my eighth attempt of doing 24-hour races, where you run around for 24 hours. You have an idea of what that actually means because it's —

Anne: Twenty-five minutes as far as I've gone.

Lisa: When you're doing a 24-hour race, it's brutal. It's absolutely brutal. The qualification for the World Champs was 185k. It took me eight attempts at failing at the 185k — working out from 140 to 160. On this one day, I managed to do 194.3 kilometres in 24 hours at the age of 42 before I represented New Zealand. The New Zealand Athletics Association told us, after all of that effort, not only would we have to pay everything to go to the World Champs, but they banned us from going to the World Champs.

They wouldn't let us go, even though I'd finally qualified. That was gutting. I got to go to the Commonwealth Champs, and we didn't even get a singlet. I know our sport is not a mainstream sport, but when you put 20 years of effort into getting there — and this is 18 years ago. This shit, in my opinion, when you've given so much, and when your sport is a brutal sport — I mean, to run 194k in 24 hours is pretty extreme. It's a shame. I did that once, and I got the silver fern, and they gave it to my dad, and he stuck it on his wall, and that was me done from that.

In a very much, much smaller way than you, I pioneered a little bit of a wave for ultramarathoning to make a living. I managed to make a living from my sport for a number of years through sponsorships. I always say to learn to market myself: speak, present, get teams on board, all of these things that you learn in order to just get enough to survive. Now, by no means was I going to be rich.

The North Face were my sponsors for many years, but then, lots of other companies like Toyota and so on who come in and sponsor various things, and some local firms like Turner Engineering — just enough to get through.

You paved the way, not only for the mainstream sport, but also for the little sports like that — to find a way to go, ‘Now, there is no path. I'm going to pioneer a path. I'm going to make one.’

Anne: Who knew? To be honest, you took a chance. I trusted the people that were involved. Phil Knight put up the money to hire all the legal. Where it really costs me is I had to hire an immigration lawyer because I needed somebody here in the United States to be helping me while I was down in New Zealand, and then to get the proper visa.

I was one of the first when they established this H-1B visa, which is now what all the sports people from around the world are coming into the United States on because it allows them to come in here and earn the prize money here in the United States. There's a special visa for that. All those sorts of things had to come into play.

Now, the ban in terms of — I mean, the fact that I even got to go to the Commonwealth Games, — the New Zealand Athletics powers that be were not helpful. They've kind of got an alternative version of the story, which is very interesting because they got some claims now on the timelines of things where I go back through my scrapbooks and they're trying to say they reinstated us in August of ‘81, but I've got headlines that say, ‘Oh no, we weren’t reinstated until February of ‘82.’ 

They got a revisionist history of the timeline and, ‘Oh no, they supported. Oh no, they were right.’ They weren’t. They made it hard. I didn't get reinstated until a week before I raced in Brisbane. I flew to Brisbane not knowing whether I was going to be reinstated in time to run.

Lisa: Wow, this is crazy. I can truly believe that. There's a lot of bureaucrats in places that shouldn't be there. Probably never run themselves.

Anne: It’s still happening, though. I follow that some of the athletes that really should have been at the Olympics — how do you grow athletes if you don't give them a chance when they’re young? Look at the chances I got at 17, and 18, and 19, 20, being a New Zealand team.

I got so much experience on the world stage at such a young age, and now they're making it so hard where you've got to be way, way up there to get on a New Zealand team. But how do you get to be that good if you're not given the opportunity to grow and experience while you're young? Doesn't make sense. I read it, I follow everything still that’s going on.

Lisa: We've both got a bit of a beef with some of the things that happened, and the way some of the athletes are treated. There's a lot of stuff that's not so great. But then, you went on to do the Commonwealth Champs and from there on. You qualified for the Olympics six times, and you have world records. Let’s just go over some of your achievements because they're pretty phenomenal.

Anne: Well, I set the world record in the 5000 metres at Mount Smart Stadium, and that was the first time I'd ever raced the 5000 metres on the track. Then in October of ‘82, I got the gold medal. My best year was 1982. I went undefeated here in the United States and broke the course records of every single race that I ran in. There's the difference. In ‘81, I was two weeks away from being gone from the sport, and in ‘82, I had a world record, a gold medal, and was unbeaten. There's the difference my decision made in my life.

The other big decision I made at the end of ‘80 was to quit with my first coach and join my second coach, John Davies. I'll be very remiss if I don't add them to the equation of the two decisions I made. First was to change coaches, and secondly was to come to the United States and make the decision to turn pro. It gave me another 11 years. Gave me another 11 years.
I qualified for ‘72, I went in ‘76, I qualified for Moscow, there was the boycott. I went in ‘84 and ran the marathon because there was nothing for me in ‘84. They didn't put the 5000 and 10,000 metres into the Olympics that ‘84, they went all the way to the marathon. Women didn't get full equality in the Olympic games until Atlanta in ‘96. It wasn't until ‘96 they put the 5000 metres.

I lost my window of opportunity in the 5000 and 10,000 metres. Then, in ‘88 — I mean, I think ‘84 would have been my time in the Olympic Games if the 5000 and 10,000 metres had been put in. I went to Seoul in ‘88, but I was 34 years old then. I finished 11th in the final in Seoul, but I think ‘84 would have been my opportunity. Then I qualified for Barcelona, but I was just tired of the — I retired at the end of ‘92. 

Lisa: At the age of 36.

Anne: 36, yes. I didn't retire because of the physical side; I actually retired because of the mental. Because I had 22 years and I really had stayed very healthy. It was 22 very intense years of not only running the American — the second 11 years of running the American Road Racing system.

Speaking of New Zealand selectors, they would never recognise anything I did here in the United States. I had to come back to New Zealand and run in a New Zealand track season to run qualifying times. I was competing year-round.

Lisa: Oh, wow. It really sucks. I mean, you've been… Luckily with injuries, you hadn't had anything after your leg surgery as a teenager. But, mentally, there comes a point, doesn't there, when you go — I remember reading somewhere, you were no longer nervous. To you, that was a sign that, actually, you're no longer in the game, your head’s no longer in the game. And even though —

Anne: Lost my focus. Yes, I lost the discipline and the focus, and I was starting to cut corners. I knew that would bring bad results, and I would sit in the hotel room, and I wouldn't be nervous anymore. I thought, ‘I'm just taking this for granted now. I’m just going through the motions.’

Integrity-wise, it was a matter of, ‘I'm not going to take the money from these race directors just because of who I am.’ And go to these races and not perform, but just take the money — I could have done that. I could have done that for a long, long time. I just thought, ‘These race directors have become my friends. I'm not going to do that. It's just not right.’ I got out on top and it was the right thing to do, and never once did I regret it.

Lisa: I love that. Did you, in the transition from being this elite athlete — I know many athletes, including me, have struggled with the end of their time in moving on to other things in their lives. How was that for you — that transition out?

Anne: Once I made the decision, I honestly think my coach and family had a harder time. They didn't believe me. John basically said I just needed six months’ sabbatical and I'd be back. But I was such a fierce competitor that I knew I was done. It was really easy; it was not a problem whatsoever, and I was pretty secure money-wise, so that I could make a decision what I was going to do next.

My big decision was, ‘Was I going to come back to New Zealand or was I going to stay here in the United States?’ To be really honest, I'm actually a pretty private person. I made the decision that, if I go back to New Zealand, I'm going to be a figurehead in New Zealand for the rest of my life. Be a big fish in a small pond. I wasn't sure that I wanted to do that, so I stayed here.

I knew I could go back to New Zealand any time I wanted to. I was based out in Boise, Idaho and that's where I trained. I got asked to bring a big event — Boise, would I help found a big event — and I did. In 1993, I founded what eventually became the largest women's only event in the United States. I did that. I switched and put my passion into building something.

That was easy, that was only a year later that I started putting my passion into that. I wanted women of all shapes, and sizes, and abilities, and ages to participate in a 5k. It was like I took my story, and then used it as a platform to encourage women of all ages to come out and participate in a 5k. It was a pretty quick changeover, so that part made it easy too.

Lisa: How have you transitioned — what have you done? Have you remained in the sport since that time in the years since? How was your career developed from there?

Anne: Well, similar to yours, actually speaking. I was a former school teacher, as I’ve said, so a lot of what I did when I went to events, Nike always wanted you to have your platform — and my platform was always to go into schools and speak. I continued doing that at events that I had raised. Race directors would bring me back even after retiring. So I did that. The events in Boise took up enormous amounts of my time and energy. Yes, got into speaking, and then continuing with the —

Lisa: That whole… in that space, right up until now. I've seen you in a documentary that was played on New Zealand TV, and I’ve forgotten the name of it now, but you were you're featuring in it, and I can't remember the name.

Anne: Was it The Spinoff? The documentary is only about 14 minutes long?

Lisa: Yes, it was the shortest one on your story. It was an interesting story. Your name is like… When I was growing up — you, Rod Dixon, Dick Quax.

Anne: John Walker.

Lisa: Of course. Ray Muller and Allison Roe — who I've been chasing for an interview. Allison, if you're listening, can I get you on? All of these were your heroes. They were the stars of the track and field world — some names that I grew up with. It's a real honour to meet you today and I've really enjoyed our chat.

What did you actually learn out of your sport? When I look back at the stuff that I did, and even the hard failures, and the crap that you went through, what does it teach you for life, and how have you carried that forward into your life?

Anne: Well, I think in terms of what we've all had to deal with the last two years, it was the easiest thing for me to deal with because I think the discipline and the lifestyle that I had to live as a professional athlete is, ‘You don't do this, you don't do that. You stay away from people who are sick. You live a very focused, disciplined, quiet, calm life where you've just focused on your own health.’

I haven't had a problem going through what we've had to go through, and here, we were locked down as well — forget how long it was — but I could still go out and exercise in my neighborhood. I could still get outdoors. But in terms of the simplicity of life, that part was the easiest. I had friends and neighbours going round that they're just going out of their minds because they did not know what to do with their time.

For me, it was just absolutely easy because I put myself back into professional athlete mode. Exercise, eat, sleep, read, go out in the yard, whatever. But it was really easy. I think if you can learn to live a very simple life — which we do learn. We learn to live a very disciplined, focused, but also a very simple life as professional athletes. If you can learn to do that, that's one of the greatest gifts that you get because so many people just need so much to keep them occupied and entertained.

That's what I learned through all of this. I watched a whole bunch of people just go nuts because they just didn't have all their stuff going on in their lives, and they didn't know how to manage that.

Lisa: Very, very good point. Bringing things back down to basics is probably a good lesson for us all. I think what's come out for me out of this — well, there's many, many, many aspects, and some of them not so great. I think the things that you value, what's important to you like family, slowing the whole pace of life down, ‘We're not being able to travel, we're not being able to do all of those sorts of things anymore.’ Sometimes, you think, ‘Oh gosh, it would be nice to hop on a plane and go somewhere, for sure.’

Anne: I'm desperate to get back. This is the longest I've — well, I've never been. I've always managed to get back to New Zealand once a year. Now, we're looking at maybe 2023 because my husband has to be able to get the time off to be able to come and spend the amount of time in New Zealand that we usually do. We can't plan for 2022. There'll be three years. I miss New Zealand.

There's a lot of times where people think I'm here because, ‘Well, the United States and whatever — she's living in the United States.’ I miss New Zealand. It just happened to be that life brought me here, and then I met my husband, and he's born and bred in the town I'm living in. This is his hometown. That doesn't mean I don't miss New Zealand terribly.

Lisa: That's nice to hear. We would love to have you back. Look, you've been really lovely to talk to you today. I've really enjoyed your insights into your career, your incredible achievements. You've definitely been a role model for women, and for women from New Zealand in the running scene. Thank you very much for your time and your incredible career. I wish you all the best, and I look forward to seeing this doco that's coming out shortly.

Anne: Hopefully, this year sometime. It's been a long time coming because I don't think people really realise if it wasn't for a small group of runners on that day in 1981, Michael Jordan and the dream team would never have been in Barcelona.

Lisa: Wow, exactly. Thank you very much for your time today.

Anne: You’re welcome.

That's it this week for Pushing the Limits. Be sure to rate, review, and share with your friends, and head over and visit Lisa and her team at lisatamati.com.

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