By Sara Epstein Moninger for Iowa Now
Little known fact: the Iowa City area serves as an ideal training ground for long-distance running.
That’s according to former Hawkeye athlete and three-time All-American runner Diane Nukuri-Johnson, who on Aug. 5 will be competing in the marathon at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
“People think Iowa is flat, but it’s not. It’s hilly, it’s quiet—it’s everything you want,” notes Nukuri-Johnson, who lives and trains in Iowa City and enjoys navigating local roads, golf courses, and park trails for her twice-daily runs. “Plus, it’s safe.”
Running and safety are two things Nukuri-Johnson does not take for granted—pursuing both has led her to a better life, she says. She discovered a love for running when she was growing up in Burundi, a small country in Eastern Africa that has been marred by civil strife for the past five decades.
At 15, she was the fastest girl in Burundi, a distinction that propelled her to the 2000 Olympics. But facing increased violence in her homeland, which had claimed the life of her father, she decided not to go back after competing at the Francophone Games in Canada a year later. Instead, she stayed with a cousin in Ontario and finished high school, while continuing to run. Her athletic skills earned her a scholarship to the University of Iowa—and a return ticket to the Olympics.