Olympic gold medalist and environmentalist Joan Benoit Samuelson delivered the keynote speech and received an honorary degree at the University of Maine at Farmington’s 2015 Commencement ceremony.

Joan Benoit Samuelson, 1984 Olympic marathon champion, at her home

A Maine native and one of the nation’s most recognizable athletes, Benoit Samuelson has blazed a trail for women of all ages in the sport of competitive running. Her life-long commitment to health, fitness and the sport she loves has redefined the idea of a lifetime runner and inspired a generation on how to never give up on being your best.

“Joan Benoit Samuelson is the image of discipline, passion and excellence both on the race course and in life,” said Kathryn A. Foster, UMF president. “She is a leader in building awareness of the value of a healthy lifestyle and sustainable environment and its effect on how we live our lives. What a distinct and fitting honor it is to have her share her thoughts with our graduates in a year when we launch Outdoor Track and Field as a new varsity sport and further our commitment to health, wellness and sustainability.”

In 1979, Benoit Samuelson received All-American honors in cross-country and track and won the Boston Marathon—setting an American and course record—all before she graduated from college. She went on to win the Boston Marathon again in 1983, shattering the American record and breaking the world record by more than two minutes.

One year later, she made history by winning the inaugural Women’s Olympic Marathon in Los Angeles, running the last 21 miles of the race ahead of all competitors. In 1985, she raced to victory in the Chicago Marathon, setting a new American record, and in 2000 she was named a 20th Century Top Athlete by Sports Illustrated.

In the four decades she has been involved in the sport, Benoit Samuelson has taken every opportunity to give back to the sport and to the community. In 1998, she founded the TD Bank Beach to Beacon 10K road race in Cape Elizabeth. This race attracts over 6,000 runners annually and benefits a different children’s charity every year.

Benoit Samuelson believes running underscores the importance of individual health and a healthy environment, which provides a common platform to build awareness of their impact on a healthier future. Currently, she is a consultant to Nike, Inc. and gives numerous motivational addresses and fitness clinics throughout the U.S. She has authored two books, her autobiography, “Running Tide,” (Knopf, 1987), and “Joan Samuelson’s Running for Women” (Rodale Press, 1995).

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