Sunday, November 4, 2012

Debbie Heald: Amazing race and story

The December 2012 issue of Runner's World has a fantastic article centered on a grainy video clip of a race and a 16 year old American running phenom. In 1972, Debbie Heald, the 16 year old high school runner, toed the starting line of  the USSR-USA indoor meet in Virginia. Along side her was Doris Brown, 29, the US champion and five-time world cross country champion, Tamara Pangelova, 28, who had set the world record in the indoor 1500 meters in the European Championship the previous week and Lyudmila Bragina, 29, who would win the Olympic 1500 in Munich that summer. The 16 year old had duct taped her racing shoes together as a shoe rep from Adidas had not thought her worthy of wearing a new pair of their shoes. What happens next is mind boggling and the old video can be seen here:

Debbie Heald's amazing race and finish is quite remarkable and was the new world record at the time. Her winning time is still, 35 years later, the USA girls indoor high school record for the mile, even though it was run on an 11 laps to the mile track. The life she has lived after this fantastic race is chronicled in the Runner's World article. It brings up issues of childhood abuse that she suffered and a turn into mental illness along with her many injuries. There is also her former fourth grade teacher who has maintained a friendship and stood by her side throughout all her difficulties.

Here is a Sports Illustrated Vault article on the race from March 27, 1972: They're Sweet 16 and Deserve a Kiss. I know I have seen this race on youtube before, but I can't remember if I watched this when it was on television at the time. I do remember the US-USSR races. I was somewhat attuned to girls track and field at the time as I had a classmate, Johanna Forman, who was an outstanding runner at the time and had made the Sports Illustrated "Faces in the Crowd" for her racing as a 12 year old just a couple of months before Debbie's race. I still recall the assembly at our school for Johanna when she made Sports Illustrated and hearing about all her running accomplishment. She went on to be a national and international class runner as a youngster and attended Harvard.

Here is a 10 year old article from the LA Times on Debbie Heald: Rough Run.


Mary Cain breaking Debbie Heald's indoor mile record with a 4:32.78 .

This is a video I took of Mary Cain breaking the high school indoor two mile record.

Mary Cain breaking the indoor mile record a second time at The Millrose Games


neacy said...

I read this story this morning, what a heart warming start to my day. What an inspiration you are, thanks and a shout out to you Debbie.

Anonymous said...

The 1972 Olympics were held in Munich, not Berlin.

Jim Hansen said...

Thanks! I fixed it.