By Denise Erdahl Ploof
Three-and-a-half years after graduation, Jennifer Burningham ’96, a nationally ranked women’s marathon runner, qualified to compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials in Columbia, S.C. A Portland resident with a B.S. in natural sciences, Burningham bettered her 139th national ranking by placing 50th at the trials last February.
She ran 2:51 in what she said was a difficult course and tough race because of the 86 degree temperature. To qualify for the 2000 Women’s Olympic Marathon in Sydney, Australia, runners had to run 2:33 or faster, and only the first place runner qualified.
Competing in the marathon trials was a phenomenal experience, said Burningham. One hundred seventy women qualified and an estimated 17,000 spectators came to cheer them on. “I’ll never forget the experience,” she said. “I felt really honored to be there.”
An administrator for the Oregon Graduate Institute outside of Portland, Burningham had been running on a regular basis with several male friends who were planning to compete in the Portland marathon in the fall of 1999. She ran well (2:48) in the Portland marathon, which qualified her for the trials. “I knew I was in good shape,” she said, “but I was surprised I qualified for the trials.”
Burningham says the reason she continued to run after college was because she was part of Puget Sound’s national championship cross country teams from 1992-94. The teams won the NAIA Division I championship three years in a row. “Just being on the team and involved in such a high level of athletics. I had a great time and wanted to continue running,” she said.
While attending Puget Sound, she says she learned that “working hard and working toward a goal will get you where you want to be.” And, she adds, “it definitely paid off.”
At 27, Burningham still runs with her friends almost every day, averaging 70-80 miles a week. Her long-range goal is to race in the next Olympic Marathon Trials in 2004 and to better her place as well as her time.