And she just keeps on running!
Claudette Groenendaal moved to Salem from Southern California when she was 11. She attended then Parrish Junior High where she joined the swimming, basketball and track teams. By 9th grade she realized that her passion was running and she gave up the other sports so that she could focus exclusively on track and cross country. She actually competed for North Salem in her first cross country meet – the Tilamook Invitational - as a 9th grader while still attending Parrish. She describes her first cross country meet: “With no experience in cross country, I cautiously ran behind the leaders for most of the race. Within a half-mile to the finish I was surprised to find myself in the lead. Slightly panicked, it was around this time that I saw my coach - Dan Lies - along the course, but he was also surprised to see me at the front and was at a loss for words when I yelled out 'How much further?'. Fortunately, despite not knowing how much farther I had to go, I was able to hold the lead and win my first cross country race.” And so began one of the great running careers for an athlete from Salem-Keizer, the state of Oregon, and, indeed, the United States.
Claudette soon discovered that all cross country races weren’t as easy as her first one. However, later that school year, still a 9th grader at Parrish and joining the Vikings only after completing her final track season at Parrish the prior week, she was the top scorer for North Salem at the OSSA State Championship Meet. She finished 2nd in the 1500 meters and was a member of the 4x400 meter relay, helping to lead the Vikings to a 3rd place team award. She won a gold medal in the 1500 meter OSAA State Championships as a sophomore and was 3rd in the 800 meters. Her junior and senior years saw her take 2nd in the 1500 and 3rd in the 800. She finished her OSAA State Championship career with a gold, three silvers, and three bronze medals. Outstanding by any measure. Fourth-one track seasons later Claudette still holds the Viking school records for the 800 meters, the 1500 meters, and the 3000 meters. Throughout her time at North, simultaneous with her outstanding athletic performances, Claudette was a member of the National Honor Society. Indeed a student-athlete.
After graduating from North Salem in 1981, Claudette turned down Stanford to attend the University of Oregon and compete for one of the legendary track programs in the country. She competed in both cross country and track during her four years as a Duck. She qualified for the inaugural NCAA Woman's National Championships in 1982, her freshman year, and again as a sophomore, making it to the finals in the 1500 both years and helping Oregon to a 4th place finish in '81 and 5th place finish in '82. It was in her junior year that she really began to shine. Groenendaal won the 1984 NCAA final in the 1500 in a meet record and took 2nd place in the 800 while the Ducks finished in 4th place. In 1985, her senior year, she reversed the order, setting a meet record while taking 1st place in the 800 and then coming in 2nd place in the 1500. She was the top scorer for the team, leading the Ducks as they won the 1985 team title.
Once again putting the “student” in student-athlete, Groenendaal flew, straight on the heels of her success at the NCAA’s in Austin (TX), back to Eugene to finish her final exams before heading back to the airport to compete in the USAT&F Championships in Indianapolis the following weekend. Claudette won the 800, making the first of her national teams and qualifying for the 1985 World Cup.
Claudette began competing internationally, as a professional athlete, from 1984 to 1996. Her first race in Europe was in Oslo in 1984. Unbeknownst to her she was competing against a strong field of women who had run faster times than herself. The good news? She wasn't aware of this and beat everyone in the race except for the Romanian - Doina Melinte - who went on to win the Olympic Gold medal in the 800 in Los Angeles that year. In Claudette’s final European race of the '84 summer she competed once again in Oslo, this time winning the 800 at the Bislett Games in under 2:00, her first time under 2:00. She went home with a newfound level of confidence before her senior year at Oregon.
In 1985 Claudette set the NCAA record in the 800 in 1:58.33, taking second place to Mary Slaney who set the American record. (For perspective on Claudette's 2nd place: Mary Slaney, aka Mary Decker, won gold medals in the 1500 meters and 3000 meters at the1983 World Championships, and was the world record holder in the mile, 5000 meters and 10,000 meters. She set 17 official and unofficial world records, including being the first woman in history to break 4:20 for the mile.) Claudette’s NCAA record held for 25 years, from 1985 to 2010. She is still the school record holder at the University of Oregon in the 800 meters and was ranked number #2 in the U.S. in the 800 meters in 1985 and number #1 in 1986. She finished her career as a Duck as a 6-time All-American. She was also the U.S. Champion in the 800 meters for The Athletic Congress in both 1985 and 1986. On the Grand Prix professional circuit Groenendaal won events - she switched between the 800 and 1500 - in Lausanne, Rome, and London.
In 1988 Groenendaal moved to Southern California to join the Santa Monica Track Club. In 1990 she was accepted into the Olympic Job Opportunity program. The program allowed athletes to work a slightly shorter day and also get time off for their competitions. She was hired by the insurance brokerage firm Johnson and Higgins as part of the OJOB program in 1990. Gone for a month or two in the summertime for races, she continued to compete, both in the U.S. and oversees.
In 1998 she celebrated the birth of her son Alex, taking a year off from training before dusting off her spikes again to compete at a master’s level. When Alex was 8-years old he announced that boys were stronger, smarter, and faster than girls. So Claudette decided that in the interest of being a good parent, she would show him that this wasn’t always the case and started to ramp up her training again. When Alex had soccer tournaments that lasted all weekend, she did her workouts in the breaks between his games. In 2011 she competed in the World Master’s Championships, finishing 6th in the 800. In 2015 she was a member of the 4x800 meter relay team that broke both the indoor age group world record for 50-59 year olds and then later that year broke the outdoor world record at the Master’s National Championships in North Carolina. She is currently training to compete in the Master’s World Championships in Finland, hoping to break another world record.
Claudette was inducted in 2006 into the first North Salem Hall of Fame class where she still holds all Viking long distance running records. She was inducted into the University of Oregon Hall of Fame in 1997 as an individual for outstanding track and field career. She was inducted in the U of O Hall of Fame again in 1999 as a member of the 1985 Women's NCAA National Championship team, the first women's team inducted into the Oregon Hall of Fame. Finally, she was inducted in 2006 as part of the 1983 University of Oregon NCAA National Championship Cross Country team. In 2016 she joined only two other athletes when she was named ESPN's Pac-12 Athlete of the Century for the 800 meters.
Groenendaal left J&H in 1999 and currently works for Marsh & McLennan as a Senior Vice-President and will be working at the Track and Field World Championships this summer in Eugene for Oregon 22. Claudette resides in Santa Monica, California. Her son Alex graduated with an engineering degree from Northwestern University last summer. She still holds the family record in the 800 meters.
Claudette has four siblings. Brothers Rich and Ron now reside in Portland. Ron's twin Rob lives in Silver Springs, Maryland. All of her brothers were runners. Sister Christine currently resides in Gig Harbor, Washington.
Claudette Groenendaal went from a 9th grader in a Tillamook Invitational, unsure how she got to the front of the cross country pack and unsure just how far she had to go to an NCAA National Champion as both an individual and as a member of a team. She has performed across the state, across the nation, and around the world. She has set state records, national records, and world records. She has shown us what talent and hard work combined with passion can accomplish and that it doesn't have to end with age. And she just keeps on running! She is a Beacon.