Miki Gorman may or may not be a name familiar to those in the endurance racing community. The fact she’s often overlooked and not held to the same legendary status as some of her peers is undeserved. As we continue our celebration of Women’s Month, we spotlight Gorman as a trailblazer in the running industry.
Gorman was born Michiko Suwa in China to Japanese parents while her father served in war. She was in Tokyo, walking 6 miles to and from school, helping her little brothers survive as early as age 8. Even though Japan sent a delegation to run the Boston Marathon in 1951, Gorman once said that “No women ever ran in Japan in those years. Women could not do anything so public.”
Eventually at age 28, she moved to the United States, still with no running experience whatsoever. Part of her incredible story lies in the fact that she was so slight of frame, it ironically helped her stand out amongst her competitors. Her husband, Michael Gorman, encouraged the transition into running and helped her overcome the dirty looks and disrespectful comments from male gym members that were commonplace in the 1960s.
But Gorman’s running prowess is unique for two factors. First, it is highly uncommon for someone to become an elite runner at age 38. She started late and certainly didn’t start slow. Her first competitive run was a 100-mile ultramarathon in 1970 that took 21 hours! Just four years after she started running, she won the Western Hemisphere Marathon and set an unofficial women’s world record doing so. Four months later, she won the Boston Marathon in 1974 with a course record 2:47:11.
She won the Boston Marathon again in 1977, and placed second in 1976. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, she won the New York Marathon in both 1976 and 1977, at the age of 41 and 42. It took another 40 years until an American woman won the New York Marathon in 2017. Her personal best time of 2:39:11 was achieved in New York in 1976, which was then the second fastest women’s marathon in history. But still, she was not done setting records, competing against women nearly half her age in 1978, as she set a women’s world record in the half-marathon.
Her daughter, Danielle, said in an interview that “I don’t know if at the time she recognized how significant it was for her to be this Asian-American elite athlete breaking ceilings. It’s almost as if she was able to transcend that barrier of identity.”
Gorman’s humility was just as legendary as her racing accomplishments. She even once accepted a Hall of Fame induction award by saying “I do not deserve it.” In 2012, she said her personal best time “was not fast enough. It was only my fifth marathon… I should have set the ultimate goal much higher in order to keep pursuing more from distance running.” Her competitive career was also derailed by injuries until her retirement in 1982 at the age of 47.
Gorman was inducted into the Road Runners Club of America Hall of Fame, the USA Track & Field Masters Hall of Fame, and the National Distance Running Hall of Fame. We celebrate Miki as an icon in the running industry and an inspiration to women and the Asian-American community.
1. https://www.nyrr.org/Run/Photos-And-Stories/2021/Miki-Gorman-Toshi-delia#:~:text=Michiko "Miki" Gorman and Toshiko,%2C gender%2C and cultural background.