Written by Lisa Turner, editorial intern
This Saturday, New York Road Runners celebrated the 40th anniversary of its first all-women’s Mini 10K. To celebrate, we sat down with Jacqueline Dixon, the Mini’s very first winner in 1972, who bested the competition as a 17-year-old from San Jose, California. At the time, women didn’t run in long-distance races, but Dixon didn’t care—she just wanted to win.
She moved to an army town in North Carolina in November of that year, but took a two-year break when she realized the location put her personal safety at risk. She moved back to California and returned to racing, continuing on well into the 1980s, until she noticed that her body wasn’t recovering from training. After a series of tests, doctors told Dixon she had cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart muscle slowly deteriorates, and that she needed a pacemaker. Though she stayed active after the surgery playing racquetball and soccer, she had to give up running for good.
During her visit to the 40th anniversary of the Mini, Dixon took a few moments to chat with us about the running challenges she’s faced and what she misses most about the sport.
What type of obstacles did you face as a female runner?
When I went out on runs, there would be…how do I say it, threatening men. I was used to running on roads in California because that’s how I got to practice. I’m used to people calling things out of their windows, but one morning when I was training with two other girls, this guy in a truck rolls up to us and rolls down his window, looks at us straight in the eye and tell us he’s going to stab us to death.
That’s kind of what North Carolina was like, too. I received an unhealthy amount of attention. So I stopped running until I got back to California. I never saw anyone running down the street the time that I was there. Women just didn’t run.
When was it OK to run out in public?
A lot of times I had my teammates with me, but it was still an oddity. It just wasn’t really common, not until the ‘80s. I was fortunate that I was in an area with the world’s best athletes.
Do you still live in California?
Now I live in Salt Lake, Utah, where my granddaughter lives. It was difficult at first. It took a while to make friends, but it’s a good place to raise a family.
What do you miss most about running?
The freedom; the powerful feeling I had when I ran. I was peaceful and centered, in control of everything in my life. I used to love to run, whether it was 100 degrees or raining.
How has the sport changed since the 1970s?
Things change a lot. We used to have steak the night before and eggs the morning of. Training back when I was running was almost an experiment.
What do you think of the women now that are running?
It truly is amazing. There’s so much opportunity. In my day, there were a lot of women with extra talent but no support. Nowadays, when somebody has talent, it’s noticed and there’s a place to put it. I can’t tell you how many good runners that never went where they could have.
Does having a heart condition change the way you live now?
I’ve learned that if there’s something you want to do, don’t wait—do it. I think all of us as human beings think, “There’ll be a better time for me to get started, or for me to talk to that person, or for me to write that letter. I’m busy now, I’ll do it tomorrow.” You don’t know what tomorrow is. If someone told me back in the day when I was running that I had heart disease, I would have laughed in their face. You just don’t know.
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