It was the reverberations of whistles and loud noises in the school gymnasium that first put Karen Dickerson on the track. Instead of playing dodge ball and badminton inside with her classmates, she would head out to run laps each day. It wasn’t long before her gift for the sport became clear.
By the time she reached high school she was slotted as the number one runner in both the 1,600-meter and 3,200-meter distances at Edison High School in Alexandria, Virginia. But that was only the beginning.
Now 27 years old, Dickerson has completed 10 marathons to date. As a Special Olympics athlete, running has brought her around the world and back, from Dublin, Ireland for the 2003 Special Olympics World Games, to Shanghai, China for the 2007 World Games Torch Run, to Athens, Greece for the 2011 World Summer Games. She has also run the Boston Marathon multiple times, which is where she ran a personal best of 3:24.58, putting her in the top 10 percent of female finishers in 2007.
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Despite her successes, Dickerson remains an astute student of the sport. She reads up on the subject and examines her splits after each race to determine how she might improve. She also relies on the help of her long-time coach, Nancy Julia, who breaks down race results with her to help make decisions about her course of training. While the goal is always to get better, she says the real reason she runs is simply, "it keeps me fit and is good exercise."
Over the years, Dickerson’s accomplishments haven’t gone unnoticed. In addition to her collection of trophies and medals, she was also recognized at the White House in 2007 by President Bush.
"Karen is a tireless advocate for her fellow athletes. She's what we call a fierce competitor," said President Bush. "In the 2003 World Games in Ireland, Karen was told that she had a stress fracture in her leg. Yet, through sheer willpower, she won the Bronze Medal. Karen should serve as an inspiration for a lot of folks in our country. You follow your dreams, you never gave up, and you've shown us what the Olympic spirit is all about."
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Dickerson says she is most proud of "qualifying for Boston in my second ever marathon and getting a PR in Boston in my third ever marathon, as well as representing the USA as an athlete at the Special Olympics World Games in Athens, Greece, in 2011."
When it comes to the future, she doesn’t plan on letting go of those dreams anytime soon. Today she has her sights set on running a sub-3:20 marathon, as well as completing the 26.2-mile distance in all 50 states. Her tireless devotion to her discipline and world travels make her an adventurous spirit just about everyone could learn a thing or two from. She remains a true testament to the fact that anything is possible as long as you want it bad enough.
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