A Prank Gift Propels an Underdog to New Heights in the Marathon

Her husband was at the finish line, mouth agape. “I crossed the finish line and just waved two fingers at him,” D’Amato said. “I was two minutes off the Olympic qualifying time. I didn’t think I would break three hours that day. The fact that I was two minutes off that standard? That’s when everything came back.”

She returned to a coach, Scott Raczko, with whom she had worked after college, to see just how far she could go.

D’Amato was in good company: among more than 450 women who qualified for the Olympic trials marathon in February 2020 in a show of the deep amateur talent among American female distance runners. They included an aeronautical engineer, an Air Force first lieutenant, a teacher, an occupational therapist and an academic adviser. She was also once again racing against professional athletes like Des Linden and Molly Huddle, runners she had faced in her collegiate days.

D’Amato finished in 15th place — with a time of 2:34:24. She did not make the Olympic team, but it was within the realm of possibility again.

“I never thought those would be my goals again,” she said. “In 2016, when I was pregnant with Quin, a friend asked if I ever thought I’d run competitively again. I was eight months pregnant, feeling the most out of shape I ever had, and laughed and said, ‘No, no, I can guarantee you I’ll never run competitively again.’”

In the next few months, she surpassed her college 5-kilometer time by a minute, set a 10-mile American record and lowered her marathon time by more than 11 minutes, finishing the Marathon Project in Chandler, Ariz., in second place behind Sara Hall with a 2:22:56.

While her times dipped and her profile rose as the newest underdog on the podium, she was supported by runners like Molly Seidel and Emma Bates, who, she said, had helped her through what she described as impostor syndrome.

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