Samuelson uses running to spread green message

Updated: October 30, 2009, 4:25 AM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Joan Benoit Samuelson loves to end a summer run with a dip in the ocean. No better way to stretch out her legs than a little breaststroke kick.

Once the weather turns colder at her Maine home, she won't bother to drive to a health club to swim in an indoor pool. It reflects a message she wants to send on a broader scale: simplify lives, connect with nature.

The two-time Boston Marathon champion has become a vocal advocate on environmental and health issues. To the 52-year-old Samuelson, it fits in perfectly with her running life, which adds its latest chapter when she competes in the New York City Marathon on Sunday.

"I've logged close to 140,000 miles during my career, and I feel as though I've been a human barometer for climate change," she said Thursday. "And I can see the changes, whether it's in the ambient air qualities, whether it's in runoff, whether it's in nitrification of ponds and streams. I see these changes, and they are changing.

"Anything I can do to bring attention to the fact that we all need to make changes in our daily lives, our professional lives, our corporate lives, our family lives to curb climate change is something I feel like I can talk about and be passionate about."

Samuelson is running in New York to celebrate the 25th anniversary of her gold medal in the first women's Olympic marathon at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. She'll be racing alongside the regular entrants, not the elite field, and plans to enjoy the ambiance in a way she never has at a previous marathon.

But she also made sure to add: "Suffice to say, I've never run over 3 hours, and I've never dropped out."

Other top runners Samuelson's age have burnt out long ago. She's still passionate about the sport and credits balance for that: balance between training and family, a balanced diet. Part of the balance in her life now is speaking out about issues dear to her.

"It's not the races I've left behind that I've won or where I've set records," she said. "It's my commitment to making this planet sustainable and as environmentally sound as it can possibly be for the next generations."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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