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Out There: Remembering Sally Meyerhoff

One year after the champion runner's tragic passing, her pigtails and pink socks still live on.

One year after Sally’s tragic passing, her pigtails and pink socks still live on. 

As the saying goes, “Never judge a book by its cover.”

There was a girl named Sally Meyerhoff who used to show up at races in pigtails and pink socks. When she toed the start line of a race, people only saw a cute ball of spunk. She didn’t look like a threat, and most competitors dismissed her.

That is, until they watched her break the tape at the finish line. If someone wrote her off once, they certainly didn’t make that mistake again. Sally was the Prefontaine of her generation; no one knew quite what to make of her, but they certainly knew she was a force to be reckoned with.

Photo Gallery: A Tribute To Sally Meyerhoff

At age 27, Sally had built up an impressive legacy—two-time NCAA All-American, two-time Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier, XTERRA world champion and 2011 P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon champion, just to name a few. She took up triathlon to spice up her run training and almost instantly qualified for the Ironman World Championship.

But for those fortunate enough to know her, Sally wasn’t really any of those things. Sally was … Sally. She was our friend, our teammate, and a fixture in the running and triathlon communities.

Sally didn’t fit any of the stereotypes of an elite athlete. She was approachable, relatable and just plain friendly. She had energy and an infectious zest for life. She’d go from winning a major race to giving high-fives at a friend’s charity 5K to offering up advice for strangers while shopping at the local triathlon shop.

Sally made us believe if someone so normal could be so successful in running and triathlon, maybe there was hope for us, too.

It’s been a year since the running and triathlon communities received a devastating blow with four short words—Sally Meyerhoff is dead. While on a training ride, Sally collided with a vehicle just outside of Phoenix in March 2011.

Shortly before her death, she shared her thoughts on life:

“I cannot express how HAPPY I am with where I am in my life and how grateful I feel for being able to do what I do … any time I’m feeling unmotivated, I think about how miserable I feel when I’m not training or doing something else I don’t LOVE. I totally and completely love this life I’m living.”

It’s been said that when someone dies, that person’s spirit lives on. It is my sincere hope that this is true of Sally. If every person in the running and triathlon communities take on even just a little bit of Sally’s spunk, the sport will be infinitely better. We suffered a devastating blow when she died, but we still count our blessings that we were graced by her wonderful soul.

Sometimes, during my long runs, I think of Sally. As I ponder what she’s doing, I always smile. If there is a God, Sally’s hanging out with him right now. I bet she’s already offered to braid his hair into pigtails—and he’s wearing pink compression socks under his robe.

This piece appears in the March issue of Competitor magazine. 


About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke