Benita Willis (Johnson) Looking for Fourth Victory at 32nd Annual Freihofer's Run for Women
Three-Time Australian Olympian Feeling Confident After Tragedies of Recent Years
ALBANY, NY (April 21, 2010) — If grit is determined by how well a person rebounds from personal setbacks, then Australia's Benita Willis (Johnson) is a walking example.
The three-time Freihofer's Run for Women champion has spent the last two years overcoming a spate of injuries and personal challenges that would likely have somebody with lesser resolve ready to throw in the towel.
But there's a new Benita Willis in town. The three-time Olympian ('00, 5000m; '04, 10000m; '08, marathon) and former world cross-county champion is eager and excited to take on the challengers at the 32nd edition of the Freihofer's Run for Women on Saturday, June 5th at 10 a.m. in downtown Albany, N.Y.
"I am very excited about my future," said Willis. "I am much more confident within myself and feel stronger emotionally for having experienced such tough times personally these last few years."
Moments after winning the 2008 Freihofer's Run for Women, Willis learned that her father passed away from a rare neurological disorder. She credits him for being a huge source of inspiration to her throughout her life.
"He was so strong and dedicated to our family -- raising myself and three other siblings extremely well, plus being the most amazing husband, teacher and friend to everyone in our whole community back home," recalled Willis.
The same year Willis's father passed away, Willis's marriage came to an end. She then suffered from a bout of injuries, which saw her race standings tumble. Upon her return to Freihofer's in 2009, Willis was poised to tie Lynn Jennings' record of four consecutive wins, but she fell off pace early and placed sixth.
True to her nature, Willis made no excuses, graciously thanked the crowd for their support and vowed to do her best next time.
And what a difference a year can make.
On the road to recovery, Willis placed 2nd at the Great Australian Run in November and received a huge psychological boost at the World Cross-Country championships last month, placing 17th against the top runners in the world.
"I've been able to remain injury-free since this time last year," maintained Willis. "I feel that this has been a tribute to the fact that I am feeling much happier within myself.
"I think she's an incredible woman," noted Freihofer's Run for Women Event Director George Regan. "Benita's consistency in coming to Albany speaks a lot about her quality as a person, and I know she has the admiration of the other runners and especially the people of Albany."
Regan also feels good about Willis's chances at the run this year.
"I have all the confidence in her abilities to be able to win the race this year as she did from 2006 to 2008," added Regan. "I think she feels that as well and that's why she is coming back this year."
As for Willis, she'll continue to draw on the memory of her father.
"I think about him everyday, but don't feel sad anymore," she said. "Instead, I feel happy knowing how much he wants me to be happy, whilst achieving my goals and living life to the full. As that is what he always did. I guess I have come a long way in a year!"
The only 5 km road race in America to hold the IAAF's "silver" label designation, the Freihofer's Run for Women offers $27,000 in prize money. This year's race will once again include the USA 10 km Open and Junior Race Walk Championships featuring many of the nation's top race walkers.
A 30-minute Freihofer's Run for Women TV special will air Saturday, June 5th at 10:30 p.m. on Fox affiliate, WXXA-23.
To register for the Freihofer's Run for Women, or for more information about the Freihofer's Run for Women, the 22nd annual Freihofer's Community Walk, 23rd annual Freihofer's Kids' Run and 8th annual CapitalCare Health & Fitness Expo, visit freihofersrun.com. From the home page, you can also link to the event's Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages.
Event sponsors include the Charles Freihofer Baking Company, Price Chopper Supermarkets, The City of Albany, Fox23, the Times Union, host hotel 74 State, CSC, Subway and Dale Miller.
Freihofer's, a leading baker of wholesome products, is committed to fostering the growth and recognition of women in sports and inspiring all generations of women to experience the benefits of exercise and good nutrition. Freihofer's continues to set the pace by sponsoring the annual Freihofer's Run for Women 5K. Now in its 32nd year, the event, which is home to the Master's World & U.S. All-Comers record, features thousands of women of all ages and abilities from Olympians to recreational joggers, who challenge themselves on the picturesque 3.1-mile course. For more information, visit http://www.freihofers.com/
PHOTO: JEFF FOLEY (WWW.JEFFFOLEY.COM)