Jennifer Lazuta '07 never expected to become a media star. She simply thought it would be "cool to run a marathon in Africa."
Lazuta is a Peace Corps volunteer in Burkina Faso, a landlocked country on the cusp of the Sahara that is one of the poorest in the world. It's also culturally conservative and maintains extremely traditional gender roles - which meant that when Lazuta heard about the 2009 Ouaga-Laye Marathon and went to sign up, she was at first told she couldn't participate.
"The reason: I was white. I was American. I was a girl," Lazuta said. Only after much checking around did the officials decide she could compete.
Although Lazuta had never run a race longer than 10 km, she managed the first half without too much difficulty. "But then the heat and the fatigue and the pain started to kick in," she said.
Lazuta persevered, however, inspired by the enthusiastic calls of "nasara" ("white girl") and a running buddy she picked up along the way who urged her to cross the finish line together with him - which they did, after four hours.
The finish was a "bit hazy" for Lazuta. "I remember lots of cheering," she said, "and I know some army guys escorted me through the crowd since I could barely stand. Then all of the sudden there were microphones and cameras in my face. I thought all the hype was because I was the white girl, but then I realized they were asking what it was like to be the 2009 female champion."
That night Lazuta was featured as headline news on multiple TV stations, and on Monday morning she was on the front page of all the local papers.
Lazuta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.