Sure, Joan Benoit Samuelson has run a lot of marathons. In fact, at 54, she's still running enough to go through a couple of pairs of shoes every month and a half.
But what makes her famous — and what's brought her out to Billings area schools on Thursday — is the fact that she was the first woman to win an Olympic marathon gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games.
"It was inspiring," said Alyssa West, a fourth-grader at Lockwood School. "It was really good."
Benoit Samuelson spent 20 minutes in the school's gym talking to third- and fourth-graders about the importance of setting lifelong goals and striving after them every day.
To ensure that students were following the topic, she peppered them with questions.
"Does everybody know what a goal is," she asks.
In unison, the students all respond, "Yes!"
With that back-and-forth, she explained to the students the importance of setting goals that had meaning to them personally — goals that would light a fire within them.
She told them not to worry about what their friends were interested in doing or what everyone else was going after.
"We all have to run our own races," she told them. "We can't run anyone else's race."
It was that realization that won her the gold medal at the Los Angeles Olympics, she said. The women's marathon event debuted at those games and early in the race, Benoit Samuelson was caught in a pack of runners near the front of the field.
She didn't like the pace, and she didn't like not being able to maneuver. So when the pack stopped for water, she kept on running. She set her pace, kept it and never looked back, she said.
And she was still in front when she crossed the finish line.
"Pay attention to what's important to you," she told the group.
And once they have that figured out, she told them, they shouldn't quit.
"There is no finish line," she said, quoting the old Nike ad campaign.
Benoit Samuelson also won the Boston Marathon in 1979 and 1983.
The students in the gym seemed to enjoy the presentation, clapping often and stomping their feet on the bleachers to bang out their approval of her message.
"Goals are good," said Ethan Opp, a fourth-grader. "It can help you get out and do sports — get active."
Benoit Samuelson is in town as the featured speaker in for the Montana Women's Run Pasta Night on Friday. The Women's Run is marking its 30th anniversary and is a fundraiser for women's services throughout the region.