How Marathoner Gabriela Andersen Inspired the Great Shigeo Nagashima: Never Give Up

Gabriela Andersen
Marathoner Gabriela Andersen at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

“I knew if I stopped or sat down, that would be the end of it. I was just determined to make it to that finish line.”

And so Gabriela Andersen of Switzerland staggered into the Olympic stadium. The 30° C (86° F) heat and humidity of August in Los Angeles was overpowering, and far from ideal for a marathon. On top of that, Andersen had somehow missed the water station and did not replenish herself in the last phase of the marathon.

Greatly dehydrated, Andersen was listing awkwardly to her left, staggering at times across the lanes. It was a horrible sight for spectators in the stands and for spectators globally on TV, as they prayed the marathon would not collapse, and cheered her on to complete the first ever women’s marathon at the Olympics.

Her husband, Dick Andersen, watching in anguish from the stands, as officials in white walked alongside Andersen, asking her about her condition. In this video from The Olympic Channel, Andersen explains that one of them was a doctor who was actually encouraging. The doctor told her that he saw her sweating, and that she knew where she was going, and that both were good signs. But this was the Olympics, and this was the first marathon for women at the Olympics, so Andersen told herself,

‘Try to keep running. Try to stay upright.’ My muscles just did not respond. It just deteriorated over the last 400 meters. At this point, I’m in the Olympics. I want to finish this race because this is my one and only chance. I was 39. I knew in another four years there was a very slim chance to qualify again.

And as she made her way around the stadium track, the cheers grew louder and louder. “I clearly remember the cheering and the noise. It was just incredible. It was so loud. I didn’t expect something like that. That probably kept me going too.”

At long last, in a respectable time of 2 hours, 24 minutes and 52 seconds, Andersen finally reached the line, falling into the waiting arms of three officials, two of whom carried her off the track. Fortunately, two hours later, Andersen was fine.

Shigeo NagashimaTwo months later, Andersen and her husband made a trip to Japan. Of course, the Japanese had witnessed Andersen’s finish to the marathon, and one person in particular, had to tell her how he felt. That was Japanese sports living legend, Shigeo Nagashima, arguably Japan’s most famous baseball player. When Nagashima met Andersen, he told her “I was moved by your singular drive to your goal. You were the perfect expression to me of the wonder and challenge of sports.”

After hearing those words, Andersen realized more than ever before that it’s not always about the result, that It’s often about not giving up.

Today, at the age of 70, Andersen lives in Idaho in America and is training hard on skis, looking forward to competition. As she said in this Japanese article, “In life, there are many setbacks. I always tell myself, ‘don’t give up, head straight for your goal.”