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A dream realized in Rio for local Brooklyn teacher

BFS’ Vongvorachoti first-ever Thai woman to complete Olympic marathon

August 23, 2016 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn Friends School physical education instructor Jane Vongvorachoti became the first-ever woman from Thailand to complete the Olympic marathon in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo courtesy of Jane Vongvorachoti
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Don’t always be dazzled by the gold, or distracted by the controversy.

The recently completed Games of the XXXI Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil featured plenty of both.

Whether it was Usain Bolt reaffirming himself as the fastest man in the world, Michael Phelps resuming his reign as the greatest swimmer in history, fears of the Zika virus and rampant crime surrounding the Olympic Village, or Ryan Lochte causing an international incident with his penchant for embellishment.

But the Summer Games also provided an opportunity of a lifetime for one local runner, who quietly but boldly carved out her own bit of history through the streets of Rio the Sunday before last.

Jane Vongvorachoti, on hiatus from her stint as a physical education instructor at Pearl Street’s Brooklyn Friends School, ran the women’s Olympic Marathon in two hours, 47 minutes and 27 seconds, becoming the first-ever runner from her parents’ native land to complete the grueling course.

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Though Vongvorachoti’s finish was only good for 91st place in the prestigious field, she didn’t need a medal podium, huge endorsement deal or the adoration of millions watching on television to feel the gravity of the moment she’d been chasing for the better part of two decades.

“It was so emotional to finish this race,” the 32-year-old former St. John’s University soccer standout and 2014 New York Road Runners’ Runner of the Year told the Brooklyn Eagle via email in an exclusive post-race interview.

“This was a race for my country, for my family, friends, coaches and all who have supported me. I would never have gotten here without them all,” she added. “Every prayer, every kind word, every poster made for me was strength every step of that race.”

Her colleagues back in Brooklyn also paid close attention to Vongvorachoti’s historic run.

“The Brooklyn Friends School community is so proud of Jane for realizing her dream in running in this year’s summer Olympics,” said BFS Athletic Director David Gardella. “It was exciting to follow Jane and her story, and to watch it finally take place in Rio. She worked extremely hard to accomplish this truly special goal and it was awesome to see her name and time pop up on my computer as she placed in this year’s Olympic Marathon Run. 

“Jane has been an inspiring leader to our students, our parents and the Brooklyn Friends faculty and staff,” Gardella added. “We are so proud of our former colleague and we wish her all the best in the future. Way to go Jane!”

Vongvorachoti fell just short of becoming the first-ever Thai runner to qualify for the women’s marathon in advance of the 2012 Games in London. She also spent seven years on the nation’s National Soccer squad, which also failed to reach the Olympics during her tenure.

So 2016 became the new target, and back in January, Vongvorachoti and fellow Thai marathoner Natthaya Thanaronnawat, who finished 130th in Rio, both made the cut via their performances at the Houston Marathon, finishing under the qualifying mark of two hours, 45 minutes.

Once she knew she was headed to Brazil, Vongvorachoti had to suspend her teaching duties and focus solely on the 26-mile course ahead of her, running over the Brooklyn Bridge, through the streets of New York, and ultimately, training in Thailand in advance of her first Olympics.

After arriving in Rio on Aug. 3 and participating in the Opening Ceremonies, Vongvorachoti was able to tune out all the potential distractions and focus solely on the task at hand: completing the run of her life.

“The living situation wasn’t too bad,” she revealed. “I had a single room. It was very small and the sink was tiny. but it was clean and the water and toilet worked just fine. The shower curtain did fall once, but I was able to put it up. There were no crimes at all near or in Olympic Village.

“My focus was to still get my runs in and I still had some key workouts to complete so I did not attend any competitions to watch other athletes except for a basketball game early on. I was there to compete.”

And compete she did.

“I analyzed the course like a book and checked off how I felt as I ran,” Vongvorachoti noted as she described her long-anticipated race day.

“On a good day and best conditions I was fit enough to run sub 2:40:00. But as an experienced marathoner I knew if I picked up the pace, I would pay for it at the end. I also knew if I felt good with 10k to go, I could always move up.”

Despite her vigilant training, Vongvorachoti had to cope with the summer heat as she continued through the thousands of onlookers gathered to cheer the athletes on.

“It got really hot and the weather started to take its toll starting at 33k, and then I was trying to focus on continuing to stay relaxed and get to the next [kilometer] or catch anyone who was starting to fade in front of me,” she said.

“Coming down the home stretch was the best feeling ever. I sped up as much as I could. I pumped my fists in the air a few times. I didn’t care at that point about time because it was slower than usual because of the conditions. I soaked in the crowd.”

Though 90 women finished in front of her, including Gold medalist Jemima Jelagat Sumgong of Kenya, only the gym teacher from Pearl Street could claim she was the first woman ever to complete the marathon for the nation she was representing.

“Believe me when it got hard, it really got hard in the race,” said Vongvorachoti, who finished in front of 42 of her fellow competitors, not to mention the 24 who simply failed to complete the course.

“But I kept taking the next step forward because I had to make it to that finish line,” she added. “I worked my entire life for this and so many people have been there the entire way. This race was for us.”

Having finally run her way into and through the Olympics, Vongvorachoti took time to reflect on the epic trek to Rio.

“It has been a long journey. Full of failures, injuries, disappointments and successes,” she noted. “Times with low finances and little support. I left my job to fully prepare.

“I am not a millionaire coming out of this Olympics, but I am richer in love, experience and personal fulfillment than I could ever hope possible. I am so proud to represent Thailand, any program, institution, team, club and everyone. It has been an honor.”

And what, perhaps more than any highlight or lowlight, we can take away from these 31st Summer Games is the embodiment of the true Olympic spirit.

It’s also something Jane Vongvorachoti is looking forward to potentially repeating four years from now in Tokyo.

“2020??? Just watch,” she declared after being asked if she would try to run yet another Olympic marathon.

“That has been the statement I have said in my head since I was 11-years-old and cut from the Long Island Select Soccer team. Just watch. I will make it. You’ll see. Just watch. Never stop dreaming and live your dreams. Go after it … I have found out that is what life is about. Take risks. What do you have to lose?”

 


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