The Running of a Matador: Jacqueline Hansen Blazes a Trail for CSUN

Jacki HansenThe world must look like one long running path to California State University, Northridge alumna Jacqueline Hansen ’74 (English). She has won countless races and broken so many records that she’s reached the top of the podium in the racing realm.

That’s why the National Distance Running Hall of Fame named her in its 2012 class of inductees. This year, the non-profit organization Running USA awarded Hansen the Women’s Trailblazer Award, given to a runner who “has been a leader and a pioneer in the sport and has served the sport with distinction.” A racer who held the women’s marathon record time and the first woman to win one in under 2 hours and 40 minutes, she certainly fits the bill.

Hansen’s CSUN athletics story began the moment she stepped onto the San Fernando Valley State College campus in 1972. The Granada Hills High School and Pierce College graduate was determined to become one of the best long-distance runners in the world. She accomplished that goal in short order, winning the Boston Marathon in 1973, only her second race. That victory kick-started a career that Runner’s World magazine called “one of the most important in the evolution of women’s distance running.”

However, her course was a little lonely at the start — she was the only woman to sign up for track and field at Valley State College and was encouraged to run with her male teammates whenever she wanted. The women’s side of the team would grow, but Hansen had little time to socialize after practice. As a student and world-class athlete, it’s hard to juggle everything.

“The hardest thing about training for Boston was the long miles and the short days,” she said. “It was a spring marathon and required training through the winter months. We don’t have bad weather on the West Coast, but it was all those workouts in the dark that got to me. I worked my way through college, so every day included work plus classes, so the training came before sunup or after sundown. Eleven of the 13 workouts per week were in the dark.”

It was worth it, however, when she crossed the finish line of the ’73 Boston Marathon in 3:05:59. To mark the 40th anniversary of her win, she was invited back in 2013 to be the official starter of the elite women’s race. She received much, much more than she bargained for that fateful day. Hansen was on the other side of the course when the devastating Boston Marathon explosions hit, but the runner said she felt the same fear as those closer to the attack.

“Everything was joyous and celebratory until the bombings,” she said. “Then it was a harrowing experience. Our innocent world of road running has changed forevermore. We are so vulnerable, for many miles of open road, for hours on the course.” She will return to Boston this year with a friend who wasn’t able to finish the race after the tragedy.

“I am sure it will be very emotional,” she said. “I am in touch with the Boston Athletic Association, the race committee, [who] will put me to work. I will be on the starting line again, as well as on the finish line, just like last year. I know they have expanded all security and what that will look like remains to be seen. I attended the Chicago Marathon after the bombings in Boston, and I have never seen such heightened security except maybe at an Olympic Games venue.”

It’s that type of dedication to the sport that has earned Hansen myriad awards and accolades. Her alma mater got into the act, inducting Hansen into the Matador Hall of Fame in 1988. As one of CSUN’s greatest athletes, it made sense to add her name to the Hall. However, the runner said, the honor still blows her away.

“Wow, just to be a Hall of Famer and to be so respected, indeed cherished, by Matador alumni, students, faculty, staff,” she remembered. “I am overwhelmed how much I am appreciated every time I set foot on campus. It opened an opportunity for me to come back and be valued and invited to serve on committees, one after the other. I am deeply honored and full of gratitude.”

Her most recent recognition, the Women’s Trailblazer Award from Running USA, gives her the same type of feeling. Her post-racing life revolves around the sports she loved. She’s given up running (but keeps active on her elliptical machine), leaving the open roads and long trails to the athletes she coaches at the high school and university levels. Hansen also serves on several committees — something she’s done since the ’80s — one of which led her successful crusade to add more women’s track events to the Olympics. For Hansen, these milestones are just as important as her record times.

“It’s so fitting to recognize my contribution beyond the world records and the wins,” she said. “I am more proud to have been part of women’s history and to be part of those who made a difference, who affected change to improve our opportunities to run and race in the Olympics.”