Erla Gunnarsdóttir: a pioneer of road running for all | 31.01.2012
In 2011, Erla was one of 31 winners of the biennial European Athletics Women’s Leadership Award. She was selected by the Icelandic Athletics Federation (FRI) for her vision and dedication in setting up and managing a road running club, the first and so far only woman in the country to do so.
|Erla Gunnarsdóttir (l) is one of the 31 winners of the 2011 European Athletics
Women's Leadership Award for her dedication to the promotion of
recreational running in her country.
And for all the time she has put into the sport, Erla has always worked without payment.
“What Erla has done is amazing,” says Jonas Egilsson, FRI General Secretary, “she is a pioneer in promoting recreational running as a means to a better life, better health and better relationships.
“She has also demonstrated how to link recreational running and traditional athletics, which is vital to the future of our sport, and she has always been motivated by her own passion and belief in athletics, not by financial compensation.”
“Road running? What’s that?”
At the start, there was little enthusiasm. When Erla suggested a road running club in the Reykjavik suburb where she was living almost 20 years ago, the reaction was “Road running? What’s that?”
|Iceland’s Erla Gunnarsdóttir has worked on
building bridges between recreational running and
And so the Fjölnir Running Group was born in the district of Grafarvogur. Since then, thanks to her vision, it has thrived and consistently drawn about 80 members to take part in free training sessions offered four times a week, which Erla organises near her club member’s homes.
Everyone is welcome. Older runners help younger ones. The support for families helps parents adopt a healthy lifestyle, which in turn influences their children. And the shared interest improves relationships between children and parents.
Today, some of the original runners from 20 years ago still train with the club, now with their children alongside them.
As Erla says, kids’ interest grows when they see their teacher training their parents!
Erla has trained runners of all ages and all performance levels. There is no pressure: people choose their own path. While some run for fun, others go on to be successful in domestic and international road races.
Many members have taken part in half-marathons and marathons, at home in Reykjavik and in London, Paris, New York and Chicago and other cities as well.
The club’s website contains a variety of information for runners: weekly training schedules, useful articles, photographs and sports-related offers. There is also comprehensive help for beginners, such as showing how to avoid injury.
“We were really proud to give the Women’s Leadership Award to Erla. She is a true leader and we’re sure she will inspire others,” adds Egilsson.
The aim of the European Athletics Women’s Leadership Awards is to recognise the behind the scenes work and accomplishments that have helped to make the winners role models for other women in athletics. Coaching young athletes, officiating, setting up and managing club . . . their achievements are as varied as the individuals themselves.
In 2011, 31 women were selected for the award by their national athletics federation. For more information on the awards click here.
Erla Gunnarsdóttir was a well-known young swimmer, has run several marathons including the Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town, South Africa, and she won the Reykjavik marathon in 1998 and 2001.
- With special thanks to Liz Wilson