Olympian inspires young athletes to follow their dreams

Marcus O'Sullivan visits X-treme Running Camp


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  • Four-time Olympian Marcus O'Sullivan talks to young runners. Photos by Laurie Gordon




  • O'Sullivan poses with campers at this year's X-Treme Youth Running Camp. He is right in the center behind the girl in white and the girl in pink.




  • O'Sullivan's favorite pair of racing spikes



By Laurie Gordon

— Four-time Olympian. Marcus O'Sullivan has been called the Derek Jeter of running. He never brags about his accomplishments. You can go right up to him and ask him anything about the sport and he is truly an ambassador of the sport of running, as he demonstrated Tuesday when he spoke to about 60 young runners at X-Treme Running Camp. in Newton.

Speaking to young runners is, “My opportunity to give back to the sport here in Sussex County where my wife grew up,” he said.

O'Sullivan coaches running at Villanova University. In Pennsylvania, and has a farm in Sussex County where he spends the summers.

O'Sullivan's 15-year running career began during a post-church Sunday walk with his family when he was about seven years old.

“I asked my dad if I could make an Olympic team,” O'Sullivan said. His father didn't blink at his son's dream, but rather practically answered, “The '76 games will be too early and the 1980 games in Moscow is too early, too. I think 1984 is a good year.”

They never spoke of that conversation again, but O'Sullivan said his father's response had “planted a seed.”

O'Sullivan went out for his first running team, but he was too small and when the girls beat him, he quit. At the end of middle school, he volunteered for the team, but he was told it was a tough sport and he was too small. Finally, in high school, a teacher made going out for the cross country team mandatory.

“A hundred and twenty kids were running around a small, crowded field,” O'Sullivan said, “I just kept on running and someone grabbed me and said 'number four, you're on the team.'”

Still, though he ran in high school, he said his times weren't earth-shattering.

It wasn't until after high school when O'Sullivan met a coach named Donald Walsh that his running turned the corner. It wasn't easy. He'd ride a bus an hour to work each day in Ireland and return home tired from his day. He'd eat dinner, take a nap and arise to train from eight to 10 at night. His house had no refrigerator or dryer, and he'd use a little heater in his room to dry his soggy running clothes after each workout. He trained his heart out, but balancing that with work resulted in a case of mononucleosis.

“Maybe that showed how important rest is,” he said, because after five weeks off after doing all that training, O'Sullivan came back to take his 4:25 mile down to a 4:05 which landed him a college scholarship to Villanova University.

In 1984, just as his father had projected, O'Sullivan made the Olympic team, and he went on to qualify for three more Olympic games in 1988, 1992 and 1996. He won three gold medals at the World Indoor Championships in the 1,500 meter race and traveled the world competing in different countries.

Of his first Olympic experience, O'Sullivan said, “It was the greatest experience I ever had as a young man.”

Sure the running was amazing, but O'Sullivan said, “So were all the parts that made up the experience. The security was very different then so my (now wife) was allowed to come into the Village and it was kind of like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory because everything was free. The Beach Boys even performed for the athletes and Vidal Sassoon was there to do hair cuts including shaving the Olympic rings into your hair if you wanted for the guys.”

O'Sullivan said that that Olympics, held in Los Angeles, was the only time the Olympics actually made money.

“The city was smart and did things like instead of using charter buses to transport the athletes from the Village to the venues where they would compete, they used school buses from around the city.” He said. “On the way to the track, our bus broke down. We were afraid we'd miss our events and the police said they could not transport us so we had to wait for another bus.”

Time was ticking. Finally one of the coaches asked the police if they could do an “International Courtesy.” They called headquarters and sure enough they could do that so athletes from all nations piled into police cars for transportation to the stadium.

“My story isn't about running: it's about following your dreams," O'DSullivan told the campers. "Your passion may not be running. Maybe you want to be a great artist or writer or vet or doctor. It's not necessarily about running but about fulfilling some ridiculous dream that you may never tell anyone about. It may be something way, way out there for now, but don't give up on your dreams. A lot of people shy away from their dreams because they want some sort of guarantee before they put in the effort. That doesn't happen. Whatever your dreams are, enjoy the process.”



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