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Life After The Olympics: Running With Summer Sanders

Photo by Lori Adamski-Peak
Photo by Lori Adamski-Peak

In the 1992 Summer Olympics, Summer Sanders emerged as the most decorated American swimmer in the history of the games by bringing home two gold medals, one silver and one bronze.

Sanders, who retired from swimming in 1995, never thought that she’d top this incredible athletic accomplishment. However, in April of this year, Sanders finished what she believes to be the most important race of her career.

At the 2013 Boston Marathon, the 40-year-old ran through the line in 3:33 and was in her hotel room by the time the tragic bombings occurred. She says that being in the city during this horrible event has infused her daily runs with unshakable purpose.

“It’s not that I didn’t appreciate my Olympic medals when I got them,” says Sanders, who now lives in Park  City, Utah. “It’s just that I’m able to appreciate life at a greater depth now. I wear my Boston Marathon jacket and visor with such pride. And I wore my medal all the way home, besides taking it off to go through security at the airport. I’m more aware now, and I’m more grateful.”

Sanders first began running soon after she “hung up her swimsuit” and started college at Stanford University. During leisurely jogs with her girlfriends on a 4.5-mile loop around campus, she discovered a love for the social aspect of running. “It would basically just turn into a chit-chat session,” Sanders says.

“That was so foreign to me as a swimmer. You never got to talk about your day unless it was between touching the wall and the start of the next set.”

Sanders ran the 1999 New York Marathon on a whim, when an  injured runner-friend who couldn’t compete offered up her bib. Although she hadn’t run farther than 6 miles during the months leading up to the race, her athletic background carried her through the finish in 3:35. A few years later, she trained for and ran the same marathon, finishing in 3:17.

Now that Sanders is wife to U.S. Ski Team alpine racer Erik Schlopy, mom to Skye, 7, and Spider, 5, and a correspondent for various news outlets, she says training has become more of a challenge, especially during frosty Park City winters. I need to stay healthy for my family, so doing 18-milers in negative-10-degree weather and ending up sick in bed just can’t be part of my life.”

Still, that hasn’t deterred her from competing in major races, including the 2011 Chicago Marathon and Boston Marathon this year, where  Sanders says the community response to the bombings infused the race with a deeper meaning.

“I have such emotion for that race and that city and all the love and support that everyone showed us as runners after the tragedies,” she says. “I feel forever connected to that race, and the city. I think the best way I can say thank you to all those innocent people who came to cheer us on is just to run.” ■