- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 3, 2005

This year Lisa Rainsberger is not favored to win. There is no pressure for her to run a particularly fast time. She intends to completely enjoy herself this morning amid 10,000 other competitors at the 33rd running of the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler at West Potomac Park.

Rainsberger, who won in 1985, 1989 and 1990, is excited to be back in Washington for the first time since her third and final victory. Her stop in the nation’s capital is somewhat similar to her journey here 20 years ago, when she used Cherry Blossom as a tuneup before winning the Boston Marathon 15 days later, the last American woman to do so.

“This race always meant something to me,” said Rainsberger, who used the name Larsen-Weidenbach during her winning years here. “The women who came here were really fit. It gave me confidence running against them. I would use this race as my taper for Boston.”

Rainsberger was fairly new to elite circles when she toed the line here in 1985 against the inaugural 1984 Olympic marathon bronze medalist and defending champion, Rosa Mota from Portugal.

“In 1985, I was so green,” recalled Rainsberger, who at 23 was transforming an elite swimming career into a running career. “Rosa Mota, I passed her I think at eight miles. I said to the guys running with me, ‘OK, boys, take me home.’ I think I beat her by 20 seconds or so. This was the first major event in the scheme of things that I had won. I remember exactly what I was wearing, how my hair was, the perm — I remember everything.”

It was the second year that prize money was awarded at the race, fueling a protest against the sport’s governing body’s policy of not openly paying amateur athletes.

“Here I was a 23-year-old kid and I won $1,500 in 53 minutes,” said Rainsberger, now 43 and living in Colorado Springs. “That was more than my parents made in a month. I was addicted.”

But Rainsberger has endured a career filled with such disappointment that most athletes would have quit. She qualified for the 1980 U.S. Olympic swimming trials as an All-American at Michigan but missed Moscow because of the U.S. boycott. Three agonizing times — 1984, 1988 and 1992 — she placed fourth in the U.S. Olympic marathon trials, failing to win a berth each time.

“People think finishing fourth is devastating,” she told Barbara Heubner of the Boston Globe in April 2000 at the 15th anniversary of her Boston Marathon triumph. “For a day, it’s devastating. Finishing fourth was a lot harder on those close to me because they didn’t know how to react around me. It was sort of like when a friend gets divorced — what can you say to them?”

In 1988, Rainsberger ran in the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials and finished fifth at 10,000 meters in a personal record of 32:12. In 1996, she finished 19th in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. She still ranks 10th on the U.S. all-time marathon list with a 2:28:15.

Yet she refused to abandon an Olympic dream now nearly three decades old.

A year later, Rainsberger transformed her athletic career once again — to the life of a professional triathlete. The event made its debut as an Olympic sport at Sydney in 2000.

“I spent one year as a pro triathlete, trying to make the Olympic team,” said Rainsberger, who is the wife of Ellis D. “Bud” Rainsberger and mother of Meghan (19), Kris (17), Katie (4) and Ian (1). “My husband and I were trying to have children and it wasn’t happening, so I needed a diversion.”

She was the fourth American at the 1997 U.S. Triathlon Nationals and realized she needed to outpace just one athlete to make the Olympic team. But her season, and career, came to a halt when a bicycle accident in January 1998 left her with a dislocated elbow.

“Then in nine months I was pregnant,” said Rainsberger. “That was the end of my athletic career. I walked away at peace. I had a long career. My career isn’t defined by those three races. I qualified for Olympic trials in three different sports.”

Upon her retirement in 1998, Rainsberger launched her coaching career. She has coached for the Team ‘n’ Training Marathon program, the Team Diabetes Marathon program, the U.S. Paralympic Track & Field team, and since 2000 she has run her own Rainsberger Athletics Personal Coaching program (traininggoals.com).

Rainsberger will escort 11 of the 60 athletes she coaches — as well as her husband and two youngest children — to the Boston Marathon on April 18. “It’s an anniversary year for me, number 20,” she said. “I’m going to go down Memory Lane. When I raced it, it was all a blur to me. This time I will be able to enjoy it as a participant.”

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