Growing up in Cape Elizabeth with three brothers, Joan Benoit Samuelson never felt slighted on the ski slopes or the tennis courts or the vacant lots where they played baseball.

Not until her brothers played organized baseball and she hung out along the fence, tucking her hair under her cap and hoping to be invited to play when teams were short of players during summer vacation.

The invitation never came.

“That’s the only place where I felt I was left out,” she said. “I would have played any position, but I actually loved catcher.”

Soccer wasn’t available to girls in the early ’70s, so Samuelson played field hockey in high school and ran track, mostly sprints.

Rehabilitating a broken leg from skiing was what got her interested in distance running, but field hockey was her sport at Bowdoin, which had only been admitting women for four years when she arrived on campus in the fall of 1975.


“When I went to Bowdoin, cross-country wasn’t a sport for women,” she said.

On many winter and spring weekends she would train with the Liberty Athletic Club of Cambridge, Mass. Because her results were posted in club rather than college races, she began getting inquiries and scholarship offers from coaches unaware that she was already enrolled at Bowdoin.

“That was a great feeling,” said Samuelson, who eventually accepted an offer from North Carolina State that she viewed as something akin to a junior year abroad rather than transferring.

She also got a taste of being a scholarship athlete at a Division I school.

“My life revolved around athletics at NC State,” she said. “Not so much at Bowdoin.”

Athletes had a special dining hall. Regular students were on their own.


“That changed a few years after I left,” she said.

As did college sports in general, as the effects of Title IX rippled throughout the land. Benoit won three Boston Marathons between 1979 and 1983 before winning the gold medal in the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics — the first Olympics that had a women’s marathon.

“I think it’s still a man’s world in a lot of areas,” Samuelson said. “But women have broken the glass ceiling. They’re finding their ways and their niches in jobs that used to be held by men.”


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