A book review by Oiselle's Founder
Don’t F*ck with Kara Goucher
And Six Other Takeaways from The Longest Race.
Today you’ll see, hear, and read all about how Alberto Salazar is a sexual assaulter. It will be covered by numerous big media sources, including Good Morning America, Nightline, and People Magazine. Read, watch, listen. It’s important. It happened. And undoubtedly, there are thousands and thousands of assault victims who will weep in recognition.
But reducing The Longest Race to the single story of assault would be a huge mistake. (Perhaps a common mistake, as we live in an era where we constantly have to retell the stories of celebrity women so that we can honor their full humanity.) It would also rob us of a very real and powerful truth: Kara Goucher is one of the most effective change agents of our time. Whether it’s systemic doping, sponsor abuse, or unethical coaching, she has literally bent each of those powers to her will and affected real change. And while the trolls and keyboard warriors have nipped at her heels for more than ten years, this book is - quite simply - a de facto silencing of the doubters.
“It's a journey inside the machine,” Kate Fagan told me recently, with a rare look inside the highest levels of the sport and its players.
Author photo credit // Ian Allen
Yes, athletes will love this book, but it’s also a memoir for anyone who has put their heart on the line — and in the mixer. It’s Kara as an Olympian, ready and strong. It’s Kara as the savvy racer, getting in people’s heads and turning the screws. It’s Kara at her darkest moments, compartmentalizing harm and trying to survive. But in the end, it’s just Kara. And the fullness of Kara’s life. There are Olympic moments, inside scoops, sports industry revelations; these are the run nerd details that had me flying through the pages. Not only as a Kara fan, but as a friend who pleaded with her to write it (my Jamie Lee Curtis to her Michelle Yeoh… ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!)
From that cheer spot on the race course of Kara’s life, these are my takeaways, in no particular order:
1. Kara has the receipts. The Longest Race is explosive. It reveals abuse, corruption, doping, lying, exploitation, and corporate liability. It’s worth pointing out, however, that a book like this would never get published unless Kara had the evidence. As her co-author Mary Pilon writes in the intro: “Kara and I established two basic ground rules. 1) No questions were off-limits. 2) Kara would provide documents, photographs, logbooks, medical records, texts, emails, arbitration transcripts, contracts, and access to her contacts, so I could verify her claims. She delivered on all counts.” The significance of Kara’s story only grows by knowing the extent to which it was vetted.
2. Don't F*ck with Kara Goucher (and underestimation can be a gift). I’ve occasionally heard Kara say that she’s “just a girl from the North Country” (Northern Minnesota). It’s folksy and disarming. At the same time, it’s clear that a whole bunch of people got Kara Goucher very wrong. In fact, those in positions of power, god-like power even, are undoubtedly wishing they could turn back the clock. She was underestimated at the end of high school, as she made cold calls to colleges and got snubbed by Stanford. She was underestimated by doping cheats, who didn’t think she’d take notes and reveal secrets. She was underestimated by Salazar, who didn’t think she’d rise up and bring him to justice. And she was underestimated by Nike, the sports monopoly that’s used to playing dirty without consequences. The arrogance of power, and the many who underestimated her, was in fact Kara’s gift.
Kara's Minnesota fan club at the 2016 Trials
3. Mark Parker, John Slusher, John Capriotti, Alberto Salazar, and Darren Treasure. These are the five Nike executives/staff who created the culture of abuse that Kara endured at the height of her career and as a two time Olympian. Names are being named because it’s time we focus on those who abuse power rather than those who fall victim. The book highlights how each played a role in turning her life upside down, most notably cutting off her pay (without warning during) her pregnancy, even as her value to the company soared. The insight here is that Kara was almost completely done in by the power moves and gaslighting. In an example Kara shared (that will set a lot of women’s hair on fire), Slusher tells Kara how inspirational she is to his track-running daughter, followed by news that he will no longer pay her. The Longest Race is fresh and needed evidence for the chorus of voices (Felix, Montaño, Cain, and others) who are using their stories to change and improve the sport.
4. In the game of mind over matter — the mind must be protected. Those in the mental health and sports psychology professions will cringe a thousand times over when they read about Darren Treasure, the pseudo-psychologist brought into The Nike Oregon Project, who turned out to be an unlicensed force of harm and betrayal. Among garden variety bad advice like, ‘just stop thinking negative thoughts,’ Treasure encourages Kara to question her marriage with Adam, to prioritize her training over the health of her family, and behind her back, shares the contents of their sessions with Alberto for further manipulation. The story highlights the significant need for more training and certifying of these roles at the intersection of mental health and athletics.
5. Adam Goucher gives us hope. The book takes so many twists and turns it’s dizzying. College years, going pro, rising to the top of the game, becoming parents. And yet throughout, Adam Goucher is an example of what can go right, and represents hope. Not syrupy sweet hope. Adam’s known for his temper and I’ve seen him use it. But rather in the unwavering and committed way of hope. An Olympian himself, who’s star was higher than Kara’s for many of their early years, we watch him go from the anguish of career-ending injuries, to showing up at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in a “Mr. Kara Goucher” t-shirt. This is next level love. Not all partners could pull that off. In ways that are both subtle and central, Adam is revealed as a person who is as ferociously loyal and courageous as his wife.
6. Love and resilience start at home. It’s clear that Kara’s big view of the world started young, and in particular, was lit from within by the love of her mother and sisters. The book also gives us the most detailed account she’s ever shared of how her father was killed by a drunk driver when she was four. In a way that illustrates the duality of loss, her father’s death takes the family back to Minnesota, and Kara forms a once in a lifetime bond with her grandfather (“Papa”). Throughout the book, Papa is a guiding spirit; always there to tell her that the impossible is in fact possible. You have to wonder if this is the kind of love that’s needed to raise a girl who plays the Olympic anthem on her cassette player and then spends a lifetime quietly outlasting and out-winning those who don’t recognize her power.
Kara is her own sports metaphor. One of my strongest memories of Kara was after the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials race in L.A. In the sweltering heat of the paddock, finishers stumbled about, dazed and hunched. The weather had turned the race into an inferno; carnage was everywhere. As I picked my way through the crowd, handing out water bottles and giving hugs to the Oiselle athletes, I spotted Kara standing next to the railing. She looked depleted, vulnerable, and yet quietly simmering.
On the other side of the railing were a handful of reporters. You could tell they smelled blood. They probed and baited, hoping for a piece of flesh. She delivered — but in classic Kara fashion. When asked about Salazar and the The Oregon Project, she radiated resolve. As she put chips of ice on her neck and shoulders, she looked straight at the cameras and said, “There will come a day…” She paused as Colt tugged gently at her hand. “There will come a day… when the truth comes out, when justice is served.” And as with many things Kara says, her statement went viral and social media swarmed. Her fans cheered and amplified, her coaches (Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs) defended, and others accused her of being bitter and washed up.
Kara and Colt right after the 2016 Trials
Seven years later, that day has come. And while you could argue there’s still a lot more justice to be handed out, this much is true: The Nike Oregon Project is disbanded, the Salazar name is removed from its building on the Nike campus, and the once legendary coach is serving a lifetime ban from the sport. All thanks to a ‘girl from the North Country.’
Kara & Sally
We will continue to stand behind and support Kara. You can too!
Order The Longest Race from you retailer of choice. Read this book and pass along to a friend or family member!
Shop the Kara Collection, where a portion of sales go directly to Kara.
Photo credit // Shane Macomber
To read more, check out this article from Oustide Magazine where Sally got to sit down with Kara to chat more about The Longest Race.