Friday, June 18, 2010

Magda Moves On

Running Times

In the morning, there were the requisite protests.

On a March day this spring, when planned marches and picketing spread over California in response to proposed cuts to education, Berkeley was, as usual, the geographic and ideological center of the commotion. But the protests and resulting traffic messed up Magdalena Lewy Boulet's whole schedule, which is how she ended up where she is now, jogging around UC-Berkeley's faded yellow track instead of running on her preferred trails in the nearby Oakland hills.

Not that it bothers her much. She circles a few laps, trailed by two current Cal runners, and then heads out onto the surrounding concrete and asphalt, exploring a maze of walking paths, taking haphazard turns so sharply and quickly her companions are often caught by surprise, caroming off in different directions, arms windmilling as they try to make adjustments, while she happily bounces along the sidewalks, smiling and chatting, unperturbed by the circus around her.

A professional career that began, as she puts it, "so type-A," where every detail had to be controlled, is now much more relaxed, and Lewy Boulet--Magda to everyone who knows her --seems to be thriving as a result. Motherhood forced her to abandon some of her previous inflexibility, and now she has found a balance between her running and the rest of her life that, perhaps ironically, has helped her produce some of the best times of her career.

The 36-year-old Lewy Boulet weaves through congested walkways and streets, in and out of traffic, up and down curbs, never a hesitation or a break in her stride in her hour-long run. As she runs, a group of coeds plays on a slack-line in their front yard, barefoot, toes massaging the dry, itchy grass; a gaggle of high school girls runs by, dressed in shorts and T-shirts on the first warm day the East Bay has seen in March; a cyclist in neon spandex calls out, "Go, Magda!" to which Lewy Boulet responds with a big grin and a little fist pump before turning and breathing, under her breath, "I don't know who that is, but oh well!"

She lopes down a congested College Avenue, past groups of outdoor cafe-goers basking in the sun. "I love the Bay Area," she says, and picks up the pace to finish up an easy Thursday afternoon workout.

Lewy Boulet came into running late. Born in Poland, her family moved to Long Beach, Calif., when she was 18, where she attended high school. She began her athletic career as a swimmer, but after a friend convinced her to try out for the cross country team her senior year in high school, she discovered a natural aptitude and switched focus, eventually competing in cross country and track for Long Beach City College. Her performances in junior college were solid if unspectacular, but she was willing to run almost any event, an element of toughness that Tony Sandoval, the head cross country coach at UC-Berkeley, immediately admired.

"I just knew with the kind of enthusiasm she displayed she'd be good," Sandoval says, "but I didn't know how good."

After a rough first year at Cal in which she suffered a stress fracture, she went on to eventually place third in the 5,000m at the 1997 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

Still, her collegiate performances weren't enough to garner a professional contract, and she went on to work as a research director at the Berkeley-based company GU between 2001 and 2007. She became a U.S. citizen on September 11, 2001, and had a son, Owen, in 2005.

Lewy Boulet had several forays into coaching, volunteering at UC-Berkeley and working for a year as an assistant coach at St. Mary's College. Yet she kept training, even if it meant waking at 5 a.m. before work at one of her jobs to fit in a workout. It was only recently that she has dedicated herself to living the life of a professional distance runner, as she resigned from her coaching duties at Cal in August 2009.