On Monday afternoon, the Binghamton Athletics Department welcomed former Olympic marathon champion Joan Benoit Samuelson as the featured speaker at the 14th Annual Celebrating Women’s Athletics Luncheon.
Benoit Samuelson was the first ever women’s Olympic marathon champion, taking the gold medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Additionally, she won the Boston Marathon in 1979 and 1983, setting a record time for women in 1983 that held for 28 years.
“I’ve seen a lot of banquets for both men and women at the university level,” Benoit Samuelson said. “But to break out the women individually I think is something very special. And I think there should be more of these events because if you look at the history of sport, women really didn’t have the opportunities until 1972, and then it took a while for those Title IX scholarships to kick in.”
The first Celebrating Women’s Athletics Luncheon was held in 2006, with 75 attendees. The event has developed into one of the athletic department’s largest fundraisers. This year’s 780 attendees represented the highest total in the luncheon’s 14-year history.
“I was really impressed with the turnout and the young student-athletes coming from surrounding neighboring schools,” Benoit Samuelson said. “The middle school athletes, the high school athletes, the Binghamton [University] athletes, the support from the community, the alums. It was a hard group [to] address because there were so many different cohorts of people, […] but a very enthusiastic environment.”
During her speech, Benoit Samuelson emphasized to the athletes in attendance the importance of devotion.
“Follow their hearts and dreams,” Benoit Samuelson said. “Dreams can come true as long as you’re willing to work hard enough to fulfill those dreams, and if you have a work ethic and a passion, anything’s possible.”
Another major theme was the significantly improved culture surrounding women’s athletics that exists today, as opposed to when she was young.
“I grew up being told that if a woman ran any longer than a mile, she’d do bodily harm and never bear children,” Benoit Samuelson said. “Well, two children later and 150,000 miles later, I’m still running and loving it as much as I did when I took my first two steps.”
Other speakers from the event’s illustrious history include former United States women’s soccer midfielder Shannon Boxx, Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Rebecca Lobo and former softball Olympian and current ESPN baseball analyst Jessica Mendoza.
The luncheon was not the only event Benoit Samuelson took part in during her visit to Binghamton. At 7:30 a.m. Monday morning, she joined BU President Harvey Stenger for a run around campus, along with members of Binghamton’s track and field and cross country teams. Open to the public, attendees included BU alumni and staff members, among others.
This year’s event raised over $50,000 to support the Binghamton Bearcats Athletic Association Women’s Scholarship Fund. Senior outside hitter Erin Shultz, a four-year starter on the Binghamton volleyball team, is one of 10 recipients of this year’s scholarship. Shultz was selected as this luncheon’s student speaker.
“This is a phenomenal event,” Shultz said. “We love hosting it every year at Binghamton University. It does a lot for women’s athletics and the scholarship funds that they provide.”
In her speech, Shultz stressed a similar message as Benoit Samuelson.
“Don’t put your identity in the things that you do,” Shultz said. “I think sometimes as an athlete or even as [a] perfectionist, if you’re in academics, whatever, you might want to put your identity in that. But just chase your dreams.”
The overarching theme from both speakers was that in today’s day and age, with hard work, anything is possible for female athletes.
“The road isn’t always easy,” Benoit Samuelson said. “But as long as there’s passion, there’s fire. And with fire, you can ignite anything in the world.”