Running for Her Country

July 17, 2008

BERKELEY - By Debbie Rosenfeld-Caparaz

Editor's note: The following feature appears in the summer 2008 issue of the Cal Sports Quarterly.

Magdalena Lewy became a United States citizen on one of the most infamous days in this country's history. Now, seven years later, she will proudly represent her adopted homeland at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Lewy emigrated with her family from Poland when she was a teenager and concluded the citizenship process on Sept. 11, 2001. Despite only beginning her running career as a high school senior, she will don red, white and blue this summer as one of three women on the U.S. Olympic marathon team.

Currently an assistant track & field coach at Cal and former star athlete for the Golden Bears, Lewy sees a connection between her U.S. citizenship and Olympic achievements.

'I feel a lot more responsibility because of it,' said Lewy, who will turn 35 just prior to the Aug. 17 Olympic marathon. 'I am honored that I can dedicate this [Olympic] race to those who lost their lives [on Sept. 11].'

Lewy was not highly recruited to compete as a runner in college after getting just a brief introduction to the sport in 1992 while attending Lakewood High School near Los Angeles. A swimmer for most of her life, she only joined her school's track & field team because she was bored at the conclusion of swimming season and was looking for something else to fill her day.

Following her two years at Long Beach City College, Cal director of track & field Tony Sandoval recognized Lewy's potential and brought her on board in 1994-95.

'When I came to Cal, some people didn't think I could be competitive at the Division I level,' Lewy said. 'Tony saw something in me that other people didn't. I was given the chance, and I was third at NCAAs before I left Cal.'

In 1997, Lewy capped her collegiate career with a human biodynamics degree and a third-place finish in the 5000 meters at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. The All-American's time of 16:04.86 in that race still ranks second in school history, and her 3000-meter best of 9:25.93 stands third in the Bears' record books.

'I knew she could be good,' Sandoval said. 'You never know how good. You have to stay healthy, and you have to stay in the sport long enough. That's the key for any athlete - to maintain that level of commitment not for a year but for multiple years.'

Dedication to the sport has fueled Lewy's postgraduate success. In 2000, Lewy decided to switch gears and become a marathoner. She knew she needed to participate in a longer event to optimize her talent and drive for running. A third-place finish in 2:44:57 in her first marathon in Cleveland in 2001 was an indication that Lewy's intuition about her running future was correct.

'When I started training for the marathon, I realized this is exactly where I belong,' Lewy said. 'I love the training, the endurance, the mileage and the long repeats. It suits my personality and lifestyle much better. That's when my Olympic dream started to become real.'

Under the guidance of veteran Arizona-based coach Jack Daniels since 2002, Lewy has become more focused. She periodically trains in person with Daniels but mainly relies on feedback from e-mails and phone calls. She also credits her husband, Richie Boulet, a five-time All-American distance runner at Cal (1992-96), for her success in juggling her roles as Olympic qualifier, coach, wife and mother to three-year-old Owen.

Lewy logs between 80 and 120 miles per week, including 18 to 25 miles at a time on weekends. A typical weekday begins before 7 a.m. with a 10-mile run in the Oakland Hills. The former Cal volunteer coach and current first-year full-time staff member then spends the day in Berkeley. She squeezes in additional runs at lunch time or with the Cal athletes. In the evening, Lewy works out on her treadmill at home.

'I probably run more than I drive,' said Lewy, who says she utilizes the hours of alone time to think. 'Some people stop for coffee in the morning. I stop for a 10-mile run on my way to work.'

From the moment Lewy left for the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials in Boston, she knew that all of the early morning wakeup calls were going to pay off. At the April 20 race, Lewy led for the first 24 miles and placed second in a personal-best time of 2:30:12, bettering her fifth-place showing at the 2004 trials.

'I think it hit me a couple of miles before the finish line,' Lewy said. 'I had such a big gap on the girls behind me. I was wearing sunglasses so nobody could tell I was crying. I was thinking about all of the sacrifices that I made in my life paying off.' Boulet, Daniels and former Cal runner Bridget Duffy were eyewitnesses to Lewy's accomplishment, and Sandoval woke up at 5 a.m. Pacific Time just to watch a live webcast of the race.

'We figured Magdalena could run 2:30, so that's the pace she ran,' Daniels said. 'The right three people made the team (Deanna Kastor first and Blake Russell third).'

Daniels withheld predictions regarding Lewy's performance outlook in Beijing because of variables such as hot weather that could impact runners' times. He mentioned that Lewy is 'well designed' to run marathons because she doesn't weigh much, is strong and has a tremendous motivation to run well.

'Those things together will always bring out champions,' Daniels said.

Lewy acknowledged that there is a chance that she could medal, putting her in the company of Kastor (bronze in 2004) and Joan Benoit Samuelson (gold in 1984) as the only American women to win Olympic medals in the marathon.

As much as she wants to be on the medal stand, Lewy also wants to soak in the Olympic experience.

'I've always watched the Olympics on television and have seen the athletes from all over the world competing for the same goal,' Lewy said. 'People are being united and competing after all of this hard work. We have all worked towards this one goal to be an Olympian. It's a mixture of wonderful experiences I can't wait to see.'

Lewy already has big plans for after the Olympics. She enjoys climbing high peaks and has already tackled Mt. Whitney (14,179 feet) and Mt. Shasta (14,505 feet) several times with her husband, and she wants to scale Aconcagua in Argentina (22,841 feet), the highest peak in South America.

Additionally, before Lewy ever qualified for her first Olympics, she realized she didn't want this to be her last trip to her sport's pinnacle of success.

'The day before the race, I was walking with my husband in Boston,' Lewy said. 'I told him, 'I'm just starting to figure this all out. I want to try for another four years.' He said, 'You should train for as long as you want to.''

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