By CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE | Published August 12, 2021
SOUTH BEND, Ind.–Molly Seidel, the most decorated runner in the University of Notre Dame’s history, became just the third American woman to medal in the Olympic Marathon when she took bronze in the women’s event in Tokyo Aug. 6.
Afterward, Seidel told reporters that she felt “a bit overcome” and cried “a little bit” after her win. “This is the day you dream of your entire life. This is what it means to be an athlete,” she said.
The women’s marathon in Tokyo was just the third marathon that Seidel, 27, had run. She finished in 2:27.46.
The 2016 Notre Dame graduate made Team USA for the marathon in February 2019 by placing second in the Olympic Trials held in Atlanta. That was her first marathon. On Oct. 4, 2020, Seidel ran her second one, the London Marathon, and finished sixth overall.
“You kind of learn something about yourself while you’re running,” Seidel said in a YouTube video the Indiana university released ahead of the Summer Games. “No matter how many challenges I’m gonna face, I’m always going to keep trying — and it doesn’t matter if I’m injured or someone is gonna tell me I can’t do it. I’m gonna always keep coming back, because deep down I love running more than just about anything.”
Grade school mile starts her career
Seidel, who grew up in Hartland, Wisconsin, was in fifth grade when she learned running success could be in her future.
“We ran a mile in gym class and I came through right around six minutes or so,” she recalled in the video. “My gym teacher came up to me and said, ‘Do you realize you just broke the school record for the mile? You should go out for track.’ That was kind of the first moment where I was huh, I know I really love running, I love going out and doing it, but this could actually be something I’m good at.”
She went on to win 12 state titles in high school in track and cross country, and was heavily recruited by colleges coaches. She chose Notre Dame and once she was there “got the sense this was a place I’d be surrounded by these girls who support each other to be the best they can be.”
Her freshman year did not turn out like she’d hoped, running-wise. She said she was “incredibly sick” with the worst sinus infection, which left her unable to breathe well and she ran the worst race of her life.
Sophomore year wasn’t much better, she recalled.
“It’s tough when you go for these long spans of time not racing,” she said in the video. “Sophomore year was probably my lowest point. I just couldn’t get my head in the right place. Physically I was nowhere near (where) I needed to be.
“I lost so much confidence in myself and was thinking like, man, I wonder if I ever will be able to get back on that trajectory I was on coming from high school? Was I ever good enough to do that kind of stuff?”
Matt Sparks, Notre Dame’s head coach for cross country and track and field head since July 2018, was associate head coach when Seidel was at Notre Dame. He helped her get focused again.
“Having Coach Sparks come in and basically tell me, yeah, you are good enough to do that” made all the difference, she said, and she went on to capture four NCAA national titles during her college career.
Running prepares for the long view
“At the end of day it’s just running. You’re going out and it’s not that complicated — you’re trying to run fast. It literally just you and the clock,” Seidel added.
In a race “you are in the moment (and) and saying, ‘I just want to run fast and beat people,'” she said. “You have to push harder than you ever pushed. It doesn’t matter what happened a year ago, because this is what’s happening right now. … It’s terrifying, but it’s so exhilarating.”
Sparks said he has never met anyone who “lives and breathes” running “like Molly does.”
Winning races doesn’t change who she is, Seidel said. “Yes, I’m happy that it happened, but I’m gonna go and do my run just like I would have done anyway. You’re always striving for something more.”
What she hopes people will remember about her, beyond her running titles, is that “when things got tough she didn’t give up,” she said.
“That’s probably what I would want to leave behind,” Seidel said. “It’s not about going out and killing one workout or doing incredibly well in this one race. It’s about the weeks and the months and the years you’ve been steady and consistent.
“There are going to be really tough times and it’s about getting through those and pushing on, because if you can keep at it anything can happen.”