Six up-and-coming U.S. distance runners receive $5,000 each in financial support; pioneering development program has awarded more than $530,000 since 1996
Arlington, VA – The Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) proudly presents its 21st Roads Scholar® class: Katja Goldring, Martin Hehir, Mara Olson, Robert Molke, Maddie Van Beek and Jim Spisak.
Since 1996, RRCA has awarded grants totaling more than $530,000 to 118 athletes through its Roads Scholar® program. At the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Los Angeles, sixteen Roads Scholar grantees raced for Team USA berths to Rio with the 4th, 5th and 6th place male finishers (Luke Puskedra, Tyler Pennel & Matt Llano) being recent Roads Scholar grantees, a testament of the program’s positive impact.
The goal of the Roads Scholar grant fund is to assist American post-collegiate runners who show great promise to develop into national and world class professional, road running athletes. The grants awarded by the RRCA go directly to the athletes to support their training needs.
“Every year, our selection committee makes tough choices in deciding our Roads Scholar grantees from a deserving pool of emerging American elite runners,” said Jean Knaack, RRCA executive director. “Like past Roads Scholar classes, we look forward to the successes of our newest grantees as they pursue their running and Olympic dreams.”
Congratulations to the 2016 Roads Scholars:
Katja Goldring (Flagstaff, AZ): Goldring started running as part of the Students Run LA program designed to engage middle and high school youth in running in the Los Angeles area. In high school, she ran one year of cross country and track & field. Collegiately, she ran at UCLA for five years, where she earned Academic All American honors for the Bruins, and graduated with PRs of 16 minutes, 32 seconds in the 5000 meters and 34:41 in the 10,000 meters.
After graduating from UCLA, Goldring continued to work with her coach Forest Braden (past RRCA Roads Scholar) while moving up to the longer distance events. With modest PRs at shorter distances coming out of college, she took quickly to the roads where she qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in her first marathon, with a 2:40:33 at the 2014 California International Marathon. During her build-up to the Trials she ran a 1:14 and a 1:15 half-marathon. Her 9th place finish at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials came as a complete surprise to the running world and put Goldring, 25 at the time, on the short list of future American stars in the women’s marathon.
Goldring moved to Flagstaff, Arizona in August 2016 and joined the HOKA ONE ONE Northern Arizona Elite team to train under coach Ben Rosario.
“I am excited about my future here in Flagstaff as I am surrounded by a great training environment as well as wonderful teammates and coach,” said Goldring. “I greatly appreciate RRCA’s support and plan to use this grant to help me pursue my running goals to the fullest.”
Martin Hehir (Flagstaff, AZ): In 9th grade, Hehir had a realization about his potential as a runner and he began focus on what would become his lifelong passion. Earning a scholarship to Syracuse University was only the beginning, as his tenure there included multiple conference titles, a sub-4 minute mile, seven NCAA Championship berths and four All-American performances, all of which culminated with a Division 1 Team NCAA Cross Country title in 2015.
Hehir dipped his toes in the road racing scene during his final spring semester at Syracuse. He placed 6th in his first USA Championship, the Gate River Run 15K in March of 2016 with a time of 45:01. One month later, he competed in the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run in Washington, D.C. where he finished third overall, clocking 48:29. Then, after barely qualifying for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials in the 10,000m, Hehir finished an impressive 7th in the race.
Shortly after the Olympic Trials in Track & Field, Hehir announced he would pursue a professional running career as a member team HOKA ONE ONE Northern Arizona Elite under coach Ben Rosario. In his debut race with the team on October 9, 2016, he finished 4th at the USA 10 Mile Championships (47:48) hosted by the Medtronic TC 10 Mile.
“Earning this grant is such a great fortune to me, and my future in this sport,” said Hehir. “I cannot thank the RRCA enough for believing in young, aspiring runners and providing them with the means to follow their passions.”
Mara Olson (Boulder, CO): Mara Olson began her running journey around the soccer fields and lakes of Minneapolis, Minnesota. She later found her stride at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. As a Bulldog she earned five All-American honors, two Elite 89 Awards, the Big East 10,000m title and a third place finish at the 2013 NCAA Cross Country Championships where she led her team.
Having had her fill of Midwest winters, Olson moved to Boulder, Colorado after graduating in 2015 with a degree in Biology and minors in Neuroscience, Chemistry and Spanish. As a founding member of local team Roots Running Project and a representative of adidas Rocky Mountain Elite, Olson is testing her range of running capabilities.
After foregoing the 3000m at the 2016 USATF Indoor Championships due to illness, Olson came up just shy of an Olympic Trials qualifying mark in her first spring as a steeplechaser. Recently on the roads, Olson placed 7th at the 2016 USA 5K Championship with a time of 16:09, and 5th at the USA 10 Mile Championships, recording a 54:18.
“I am so grateful for this grant,” Olson said. “With the support of RRCA, I am able to wed my academic, artistic and athletic interests to create a compatible and full life.”
Robert Molke (Minneapolis, MN): Molke attended high school at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, New Jersey. During his prep career in Cross Country he led his team to two consecutive NXN appearances, where the team finished 10th (2007) and 6th (2008). He was recruited to continue his running career at Syracuse University.
During his collegiate career, he led the Cross Country team to three conference titles and a 10th place finish at the 2013 NCAA Cross Country Championships. On the track, Molke was runner-up in the 10,000m at the 2012 Big East Championships and qualified for the 2012 10,000m NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round. He ran a best of 28:57 in the 10,000m at the 2014 Stanford Invitational and 14:00 in the 5000m indoors at the 2014 Iowa State Classic.
Post-collegiately, Molke moved to New York City to pursue a career in media & public relations with New York Road Runners and competed for the New York Athletic Club. He took to the roads, finishing 9th at the 2014 Falmouth Road Race, 16th at the 2014 Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon, 5th at the 2014 Brooklyn Half Marathon and 18th at the 2015 USA Half Marathon Championships in 1:03:27, which was his qualifying time for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.
After his initial success, Molke attended the 2015 RunPro Camp and shortly after joined Team USA Minnesota. After a six-month layoff from running due to injuries, he began competing again in the Spring of 2016, finishing seventh overall as the top American at the 2016 Pittsburgh Half-Marathon and 8th overall at the 2016 Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon. Molke recently ran his marathon debut at the 2016 Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon, finishing 11th place in 2:26:39.
"I am thrilled to receive this grant," Molke said. "I am very excited for my future in the sport, very appreciative of the selection, and looking forward to running with RRCA’s support in 2017."
Maddie Van Beek (Fargo, ND): Van Beek started running in 6th grade, where her first season of Cross Country was life changing. Van Beek was a member of the Minnesota Class A state champion 4x800 team in 8th grade, and was eventually the Class A state champion in the 2 mile in 11th and 12th grade. In cross country, she worked her way up from 34th as an 8th grader to 6th, 4th, 3rd and finally state champion as a senior in high school. Gradual success in high school and encouragement from high school coach Jeff Morris led her to pursue a college running career at North Dakota State University (NDSU) in Fargo, North Dakota.
In college, coach Ryun Godfrey put Van Beek in the steeplechase her freshman year, and she was hooked. She ran 11:08 in her freshman year of college and by her fifth year of eligibility, working closely with sixth place 2012 Olympic Trials Marathon finisher Andrew Carlson, her time dropped to 9:54, leading to an 8th place finish at the NCAA Championship. She also set a PR in the 5000m with a time of 16:06 by her fifth year.
Following college, Van Beek has continued to work with Carlson while pursuing a professional running career. In 2016, she competed at the U.S. Olympic Trials in the steeplechase. Between 2015 and 2016 she has finished top 10 in seven USA Championships on the USATF Running Circuit, with fifth place finishes in both USA 20K Championships and the USA 1 Mile Road Championships.
“I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity that the RRCA has given me,” said Van Beek. “This scholarship will only strengthen my determination for success in running and will lessen the financial burden of pursuing my dreams as a distance runner.”
Jim Spisak (Woonsocket, RI): Spisak, a Johnstown, Pennsylvania native, began running seriously in high school. Though far from a national standout, he ran 4:16 and 9:18 for the 1600 and 3200 meters respectively and earned a scholarship to Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.
By the end of his collegiate career, Spisak had broken every school record including the 1500. Highlights of his college career included qualifying for the 2012 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, placing ninth at the 2014 USATF Indoor Championship in the 3000m, breaking the Atlantic 10 Championship meet record for 10,000 meters and competing at the 2014 NCAA Division I Outdoor Championship in the 10,000.
Spisak moved to Woonsocket, RI, in September of 2015 to join the New England Distance Project. His first year with the group and training under coach Kurt Benninger included top 10 finishes at the USA 20K (seventh), 10 Mile (fourth) and 12K (fourth) Championships.
Spisak started 2016 with a 1:02:26 half-marathon in Houston, which led to a Team USA selection for the World Half Marathon Championships, though he did not compete in the race. Spisak missed most of the outdoor track season, returning to run the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 10,000, placing 19th.
“I am honored to have been selected for the 2016-17 RRCA Roads Scholar Grant,” said Spisak. “The RRCA is truly making a huge difference in the lives of post-collegiate runners, as this grant goes a long way in helping us work towards our dreams. I am extremely appreciative of the support and look forward to continuing to pursue my passion at the highest level.”
To make a donation to the Roads Scholar program, go to: www.rrca.org/about/donate-to-rrca