Evansville woman went from bullied child to Olympic runner


Anne Audain has a message for all bullies: that young girl you tease all the time, who has trouble walking properly? She could well become an Olympic distance runner.

A three-time Olympian for New Zealand and former world record holder in the 5,000 metres, Audain will share her “Triumph Over Adversity” story at 6 p.m. Thursday at Shoulders Commons inside Harrison High School. The event is free to the public.

“You should be careful how you treat people,” Audain, 66, said. “You never know what they might become.”

Audain, who was born with severe bone deformities in both feet, inspired people to take risks and achieve the impossible. At 13, she underwent corrective foot surgery. Within three years, Audain qualified for the Munich Olympics in 1972. That was just the beginning.

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During her running career, which would span more than 20 years, Audain set a world record for the 5,000 meters in 1982 and was the first female runner to be endorsed by Nike, one of the the most recognized in the world. Along with Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, a bust of Audain adorns Nike’s global headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.

She said the only major difference between her and other promising young runners is a genetic gift. Through meticulous training, Audain has become a world-class runner.

Then living in Boise, Idaho, Audain met her future husband Chuck Whobrey at a running camp in Asheville, North Carolina, and came to Evansville’s Arts Fest River Run in 1994. Audain and Whobrey were married by Pat Shoulders in 1997 and she was an Evansville. resident since.

Anne Audain

Here’s a Q-and-A with Audain. It has been edited for length and clarity.

What is the moment you are most proud of? Set the women’s world record in the 5000 meters (with a time of 15:13.22 on March 17, 1982)?

In the end, I would say my whole career. I was in the world top 10 for 10 consecutive years. I was the first female athlete to enter the New Zealand Hall of Fame. I could have retired after that, but I continued for another 10 years. I have a Nike plate in Beaverton, Oregon.

Have you met Lilly King?

Coincidentally, I was at the high school cross country meet (SIAC) in Angel Mounds. I was signing cards and Lilly (who raced for Reitz) came up to me and talked to me. Her mother (Ginny) said (Lilly) would never forget her. I still have conversations with Ginny.

What do you think the average person doesn’t understand about competing at the highest level?

First off, I would say I’m genetically gifted. But you have to have the right coaches. It gets very scientific about how you train. You have to train for a long time. My first coach (Gordon Pirie) took me to the Olympics. The second coach (John Davies) had a completely opposite philosophy and it took me to the top of the world. A big part of that is that it’s so structured. The average person does not understand how specific the training is.

Anne Audain underwent foot surgery to walk properly at age 13.

You were adopted, nearly lost sight in one eye after being pushed into a concrete fountain by a bully, had surgeries that allowed you to walk, then run, and break all limitations. How did you do?

I get asked that all the time (laughs). I finally met my biological parents who got married after I was born. I have six younger siblings. They said, “You would never have been who they were if they had stayed with us. My adoptive parents were so much the facilitators of this (success).

You noted that your biological parents, Johannes and Margaret Oosterhock, were dairy farmers. Your adoptive father was a printer for the New Zealand Herald, the country’s largest newspaper. You said he educated you on sports.

He took me everywhere, to rugby and cricket matches. We listened to a Muhammad Ali fight on the radio. My dad helped me figure out what it took, in terms of hard work. On the other hand, I love to run. I found my niche. Also, I like to race competitively. Where it came from, I have no idea.

Contact Gordon Engelhardt by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @EngGordon.


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