After 40 years, the words still sting — and motivate.
"I was told I never would have the leg speed to run on the collegiate level, to run in marathons and to be successful," Sue O'Malley's high-school track coach in Stroudsburg, Pa., told her.
Oh, how wrong her coach was.
O'Malley, the cross country and track coach at Daytona Beach Father Lopez, has become a pioneer in women's running. Between training and races, O'Malley surpassed 100,000 miles in March, an accomplishment she documented with log books that date to when she first started running in 1974.
Long after she competed in the first U.S. Women's Olympic Marathon team trials in 1984, O'Malley hasn't stopped. As of Thursday morning, her mileage was at 102,759.5, which is not uncommon for a car. For a human, it places her in a rare class.
"At the most, a handful of women have run 100,000 miles in their careers," said Amby Burfoot, the 1968 Boston Marathon men's champion who has a blog called 100K Lifetime Miles. "There is a great respect for people in the running community who have run 100,000 miles."
Said O'Malley, 53: "It's a love, a passion. The really cool part is that I have been blessed with this talent, and I love the competitive part of it. For me, it's not about the bling [trophies]. It's about testing the body.''
As a teenager, O'Malley was small and admittedly lacked the hand-eye coordination for to play other sports. She took up running in high school, starting out as a sprinter but eventually settling into distance events and making the track team at East Stroudsburg University.
Her first marathon was in 1982 in Monmouth, N.J., four months after graduating from college. Her and her husband, J.J., a marathon runner, were on their way to an NFL game before that race.
"I had been urging her to start doing marathons," J.J. O'Malley said. "We were headed to Shea Stadium to watch the Miami Dolphins play the Jets, and I told her we were stopping on the way for her to run [her first] marathon."
Said Sue: "I was real hesitant. I had just put in a 70-mile [training] week and hadn't tapered or anything. But I did the race, won it, and I was hooked."
That day fortified her lifetime goal of running and racing.
She has won 281 races at various distances, including 109 since entering events in the 40-and-older masters division. She has gone through at least 450 pairs of running shoes, about one pair per month. She currently runs about 80 miles a week and is focused on the Jacksonville Bank Marathon in December.
O'Malley is 12 races shy of reaching 100,000 for her career, adding even more miles to her total.
"I haven't thought much about it, but I would like to get to 125,000 miles, which I think I can do over the next eight years," she said.
O'Malley has made an impact on the runners at Father Lopez for more than a six-figure number.
"She never says anything negative,'' senior Kevin Scheiber said. "We could be struggling, and she will be like, 'What you put into it is what you get out of it.' She is always encouraging us."
That approach is unlike the one her high-school coach used so long ago. O'Malley contemplates what she would say if they were to meet today.
"I don't think I would say, 'Ha, I proved you wrong,'" O'Malley said. "Maybe I would just say, 'Thank you for pushing my buttons, for giving me the drive and the determination.'"
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