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Motivated by loss, Jordan Hasay poised to be America’s next great distance runner

Jordan Hasay talks about the loss of her mother and success at Boston Marathon

Local running legend Jordan Hasay talks about the recent loss of her mother and her record-breaking third place finish at the 2017 Boston Marathon.
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Local running legend Jordan Hasay talks about the recent loss of her mother and her record-breaking third place finish at the 2017 Boston Marathon.

When American sports fans were introduced to the women’s third-place finisher at the Boston Marathon on Monday, they saw what many in the running community and those on the Central Coast have known for a long time — Jordan Hasay is a star.

It wasn’t just her accomplishment of being the top female American finisher in North America’s oldest and most famous marathon or her record-breaking performance in her marathon debut that captured the hearts of sports fans of every stripe.

It was the intersection of the running prodigy’s talent with charisma and purpose.

The Arroyo Grande product known for her trademark long blond braids was running — tongue out and smiling — for the person who introduced her to the sport that has become her life, her best friend and mother, Teresa, who died suddenly at the age of 56 in November. The more than 300,000 people around the country who watched Hasay’s post-race interview on Facebook alone could feel her joy and pain through the screen.

America had found its new favorite marathon runner.

Coming Down

As Hasay walked gingerly into The Tribune office Wednesday, the 25-year-old was still riding high from the past two days — days she said were both emotionally and physically draining.

“I feel really bad,” Hasay said of her muscles, her smile telling a different story. “I have been running since I was 12, and I have never felt this bad after a race.

“I have jogged around a little bit just to make sure that I can run.”

Hasay said she was still riding an adrenaline high she’s felt since landing in Boston last Thursday. It’s been a mix of excitement and angst.

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The media hype surrounding her marathon debut was far-reaching. Hasay graced the cover of Runner’s World magazine ahead of the race, and questions swirled about how she would perform in her first major competition after a disappointing U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in 2016 when she was competing in much shorter events.

But Hasay is used to the spotlight. The first of her virtually countless mentions in The Tribune came when she beat seventh- and eighth-grade girls as a sixth-grader by setting a St. Patrick Catholic School record with a 5:42 mile.

As she stood at the start line on East Main Street in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, on Monday, she was peaceful.

“People have told me, ‘I can’t believe how calm and at ease you looked on the start line,’ ” Hasay said. “It was just because I told myself that (my mom) is here the whole time. She is going to run every step with me.”

Once the race was underway, the doubts crept in. Even though Hasay had worked plenty of 25-mile sessions into her intense training, this was a whole new beast. Self-talk calmed her anxiety.

“I do a lot of, ‘I believe I can do this.’ And ever since my mom passed away, it has been, ‘We can do this,’ ” Hasay said. “That makes me even stronger.”

Through the first 10 kilometers, it was American Des Linden who took control of the lead pack. Linden, a California native and marathon Olympian, was considered one of the favorites to win the race. Hasay hung back, just trying to have a strong showing in her debut, but her mindset changed about halfway through the race.

Maybe she could win this thing.

Meanwhile, her father, Joe Hasay, was intermittently watching the race unfold on the big screen near Copley Square.

“I’m always nervous,” he said in a phone interview Thursday. “There were times I was watching, but then I would turn my back and ask my friend how she was doing.”

Jordan Hasay pulled energy from her surroundings.

Personalized water bottles from her friend, Allie Woodward, handed to her at every water station, screams from the crowd, her mother’s engagement ring on her left hand, thoughts of those who lost loved ones in the Boston Marathon bombing just a few years earlier — each provided a jolt of energy into her California-tanned legs.

She was carried down the final street by chants of “USA, USA” and “Jordan, Jordan.”

“I wanted the race to finish until I got to the finishing stretch,” Hasay said. “Then I thought, ‘Huh, this isn’t so bad. I would keep running down this.’ 

Hasay finished behind winner Edna Kiplagat (2:21:52) and second-place finisher Rose Chelimo (2:22:51), but she set a record in the process. Her time of 2:23:00, a 5:27-per-mile pace, was the fastest ever in a marathon debut by an American woman by nearly three minutes. The time garnered a $40,000 paycheck and beat Hasay’s goal for the race by exactly two minutes.

When Joe and Jordan embraced after the race, the tears flowed.

“I get tearful now talking to you now,” Joe Hasay said. “It’s hard to describe. She has put so much into the running world since she was 12. It was a great uplifting for her.”

Running For Her Life

In the weeks following her mother’s death, Jordan Hasay struggled to sleep. Before the sun would rise, she would lace up her Nikes and set out through the hills of Arroyo Grande on a 5.8-mile course that she used to run with her mom.

There’s a 450-meter stretch along this route that Hasay holds dear. It’s a steep hill on a section of Equestrian Way — a road lined with old oaks and white fences that looks out over Noyes Canyon. It was here on this piece of cracked pavement where Hasay first imagined herself running up Heartbreak Hill, the famous 600-meter stretch of the Boston Marathon that she navigated with ease Monday.

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This steep hill on Equestrian Way in Arroyo Grande is where Jordan Hasay and her mother, Teresa, used to run and pretend to be competing in the Boston Marathon. tgibson@thetribunenews.com Travis Gibson

“That’s when I feel her the most,” Hasay said of running the route. “I would watch the sun rise as I was running up James Way, and I would feel like she was in the sun, and I would try to tell myself that.

“At times, I felt like my mom was the only one that really understood running and the only one that believed in me.”

Hasay would also think about her running career on those therapeutic morning runs.

Hasay had won four CIF Division 5 state titles while at Mission Prep, the Footlocker National Cross Country championship twice and multiple USATF junior titles. She set 13 age-group records and nine national records. At the University of Oregon, she was named an NCAA All-American 15 times, winning two indoor titles in the mile and 3,000 meters. She turned pro and signed with the Nike Oregon Project, hoping she could prove she was more than just a teen prodigy and college standout.

Then she plateaued. Her first major injury, plantar fasciitis, didn’t help.

“You have these successes, and people think, ‘Oh, it’s just been an easy ride, she has always been successful,’ but no, there was very low moments,” Hasay said.

At the 2016 Olympic Trials in July, she finished ninth in the 10K and 13th in the 5K event, missing out on a chance for the third time to make an Olympic team.

“I just wasn’t improving my (personal records) and not having success on the track. After the trials didn’t go so well this summer, we said we really need to try something new here.”

Her father even suggested she think about other career options.

“I could see a little bit of depression,” Joe Hasay said. “I told her that running isn’t everything. You can do whatever you want. She just looked at me and gave me this stare. I knew it was the ‘wrong’ stare.”

Then marathon running entered the picture. It was something Hasay had always seen herself doing eventually, just not this soon. It was supposed to come at the end of a long and successful track career. With the help of Oregon Project coach Alberto Salazar, Hasay began expanding her training.

“I remember after the first 20-miler, I was proud for like three weeks because I just finished it,” Hasay said of her 6:20 pace-per-mile run.

Hasay followed that up with good showings in races leading into the Boston Marathon, and her confidence grew. After her third-place finish in Boston, she has made the decision to step away from the track and focus on marathons and road racing with her eye on the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. It’s an event that hasn’t been a strong point for the Americans recently.

The last American female to win a medal in the Olympics was Deena Kastor in 2004 with her bronze-winning performance in Athens. Before that, it was Joan Benoit winning gold in Los Angeles in 1984 in the first year of the women’s event. Now, some are already calling Hasay the future of American marathon running.

“I am just glad that I finally found my event so I can focus on that and not go back to track and continue to be frustrated,” Hasay said. “I really feel I am world-class and kind of moved away from that teen prodigy.”

After her record-breaking marathon, Hasay made sure to remind her dad of what he once said.

“Hey, Dad, you remember when you told me to quit?”

Shining Star

To become an elite-level athlete you need an edge. Hasay seems to have found hers in the pain of loss.

“Ever since my mother passed, too, there has just been this sense of family,” said Hasay, who has been splitting her time between Portland and Arroyo Grande. “Especially even from this community and then of course my family and friends. And I think that is what enabled me to get even to the point where I was fitness-wise leading into the marathon. It could have easily gone the other way.”

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Jordan Hasay, left, stands with her mother, Teresa Hasay, during the U.S.A. Junior Track & Field Championship on June 22, 2008, at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Courtney Hergesheimer

Hasay admits that there are still times when she breaks down thinking about her mother’s death, the cause of which the family is choosing to keep private. Hasay knows all she can do now is to stay positive, just like her mother would have wanted her to.

“If I can ever live up to the person she is so that the world can have a little bit of that person still, that is kind of my goal,” Hasay said. “I was thankful to do well, so that the world could sort of see her smile at the end and see her joy because she wasn’t here quite long enough. I wish the world still had that, but I will continue to try to give it to the world.”

Teresa Hasay always seemed to know her daughter would reach this place, even if others doubted. She always told her daughter, “You just need to be my shining star, that’s all you have to be.” Turns out she was just in the wrong galaxy.

Now that star is ready to shine brighter than ever.

Travis Gibson: 805-781-7993, @TravisDgibson

A previous version of this article misstated the home state of Des Linden. She is from California.

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