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Meet Lynn "Liberatore" Johnson

Though it has been 16 years since Lynn Liberatore – now Lynn Johnson – ran for North Attleboro, she's still considered the best distance runner to ever wear the red and white. She was twice named Hockomock League MVP in cross country, won the Brown Invitational Cross Country Championship in 1990, holds the outdoor school record in the two mile and anchored the 4 X mile team to a state record and eventually third place finish at the Eastern Championships at Columbia University.


She went on to star at Holy Cross and has never stopped running. Even those who don't know her can't help but notice Lynn running all over town.


Lynn currently treats many athletes in her busy schedule as a physical therapist, but still made time this fall to do a workout with NA's newest distance star, Stephanie McNamara. This spring Stephanie will be taking aim at Lynn's record, and might even follow in her footsteps to Holy Cross. I thought it would be a great time to reflect a little on Lynn's past, present and future.
Lynn in high school

northrunning : Thanks for taking time out of your day to talk to northrunning.


First, I'm interested in where your running ability surfaced. How active were you growing up – for example was your family involved in a lot of activities or the kids in your neighborhood always playing games?


Before high school, I followed in my brother's footsteps and played basketball and softball.   I remember never struggling with the running part of practice.   In Jr. High, we always started practice with running 10 laps around the perimeter of the gym.   I was always out front.   Soon coach made me dribble lefty just so I would not lap people multiple times.   Growing up the most popular games were chase and capture the flag.   Again keeping up with the older kids was never a problem.   I was usually sent as a diversion in capture the flag and told to just keep running to distract the other team,


northrunning : Did you ever run in races before high school?


Before high school I never ran in a race.   I did not have much interest in running just to run.  


northrunning : When did you start to think that you should focus on running?


Playing field hockey as a freshman, I remember doing a lot of running at captain's practice and being able to stay up front with the upperclassman.   I knew some of them as they were friends with my brother and they told me I should think about running track in the spring.   Also during field hockey season I would run after practice with senior Tanya Everton.   It came easy for me and seemed like it would help to stay in shape. We would usually run Spring Street, but one day she took me longer to Smith Street.   I got an awful cramp and had to stop and rest.   I was devastated and embarrassed. Well the next time we did it I was fine.  


I remember thinking I would try running the 800 in Spring Track.   That quickly changed after the time trial… was hard.   My first race as a freshman was the two-mile against Stoughton and they had an upperclassman that was pretty good.   I remember trying to stay with her as long as I could.   She beat me, but the race itself felt pretty easy.   I had a pretty successful season freshman year, qualifying for states in the 2-mile.   I debated all summer what to do in the fall.   I knew I enjoyed running, but knew no one on the XC team.   All my friends were playing field hockey.   I remember I did not make my decision until the last minute.   I went to captain's practice for field hockey, but also did some running on my own.   I finally decided the morning of the first practice to give XC a try.   That first day was very scary for me.   I did not know what I was getting into.   I don't think I was confident in my decision until after the first meet.   Running the first meet and winning was a great feeling and it made me think I could be good at this.   Also I recall my friends being so proud of me after the first meet.   They could not believe how well I did.

northrunning : When I talk about you with today's runners, I'm led to stories about your resilience, in each case showing how your attitude about each helped you to both grow as a person and become a better runner.


Would you like to give me your own story about any of these?


My battles with Lori Kelly over the years are still pretty fresh in my mind.   Sophomore year we were both undefeated going into the dual meet against each other.   I remember her absolutely crushing me.   It was not even close.   It was pretty hard to take on my home course. If I remember right a decent crowd came…..even Mr. Witty and Mr. Pickering, which was a big deal.   We continued to battle throughout sophomore year and she always won easily, even in track. The summer between sophomore and junior year I went to running camp for the first time.  It was a great experience for me and really opened my eyes up to the sport of running. I learned a lot about self-confidence and believing in yourself.  

A funny story about that summer is I broke my thumb playing basketball and was in a cast.   I also went to B-Ball camp with the cast on.   I would wake up before the camp day started and go for a run, cast and all, because running camp was two weeks later and I had to be ready.   Looking back, that summer was probably when I really became serious about running. I got the cast off before running camp and spent the week putting in miles.   Being surrounded by runners all week was pretty cool and very different at the same time.   Most of my friends at home were not true runners, but remained supportive.


I think my race against Lori junior year XC was a major highlight of my high school career.   I remember actually thinking I could beat her and stepping to the line and thinking I was capable of pulling it off.   It was great to come back and beat her on her course and to break Foxboro's course record.   I never really looked back after that race.   There was a color picture the next day in the Sun Chronicle of us racing….me slightly in front of her.   My dad got the 8 x 10 from the Chronicle and framed it for me.   That picture hung next to my bed throughout the rest of my high school and college career.  


northrunning : How about your battle with anemia?


Dealing with my iron issues in the beginning of junior year was hard to take.   After a great XC season, I was ready to hit the track hard.   Throughout the winter, I would run before or after b-ball practice to stay in shape. During the first few weeks of outdoor,   I remember going for runs and having trouble keeping up.   At that time, we would all run together guys & girls.   I would head out with the guys and in the middle of the run get very tired.   Workouts were not going as they should.   I think it was after almost fainting during a race that we finally figured out the problem.   Derek Herber still tells the story of how I was running the two mile one minute and then falling into the field the next.    That and the fainting episode in the shower told us something was not right.   After some blood work, the cause was found.   That was a huge relief to me as I thought I had just “lost” it.


My mom was extremely worried at that point and somehow got me an appt. with Nancy Clark. At the time, I had no idea who she was.   After meeting with her and seeing some pictures in her office, I knew she knew her stuff.    She was very helpful in educating me on the importance of eating well as fuel to run well.   She gave me advice on what to add to my diet to boost my iron levels and also to boost my calorie intake to sustain the demands of running. Carry through at home was made possible by my mom.   She stayed on top of me, reminding me to take my supplements and what I should be eating.  After a few weeks, I returned to running like I should and succeeded in having a great outdoor season.

Lynn (back row-left) helped lead NA to a first place finish at the South Shore meet in 1989. Coach Estey tapes Lynn's ankle before the state finals in 1989.

northrunning : Then of course came your senior year challenges.


Senior year was not without drama either.   I again trained hard over the summer and had a great XC season…..except for the state meet.   I just had a bad day.  I remember being very upset after the race and a coach from another school (Wish I could remember which school), came up to me and said not to let one race ruin a great career. At the time I did not want to hear it, but as I look back it was one of the best pieces of advice ever.   Again, wish I could remember who he was to thank him.


I did not play basketball senior year because I wanted to concentrate on college applications/visits and to get ready for outdoors.   I again was just running on my own…..trying to increase the miles.   That did not go as planned as I ended up with a stress fracture.   It was an awful time.   I was miserable.   Again Derek Herber will tell the story of how I just cried a lot.   He took me to school each day and had to listen to me.   Lucky him.   I could not run for about 4 weeks. I think I got clearance to run again just as Spring Track was starting.   Needless to say, I did not have a stellar end to my high school career.   I ran solid, but not great.   However our team did great.   We beat Franklin….I think.   I put my energy into being the best teammate and captain I could.    I ended my season slightly early not going on to all states by choice.   I knew I could not repeat the success I had junior year.

Note from Coach Estey : Prior to getting hurt entering the spring, Lynn had a single-minded purpose to be the best she could. When her injuries hampered her running, her focus diverted to her teammates. Though she couldn't match the times of her junior year, Lynn put on countless miles that spring, sprinting from event to event (running event -jumping event -throwing event, it didn't matter) to cheer on her teammates.


northrunning : What were your running “good luck” routines?


I had a lot of routines.   Too many probably.   I would always eat the same meal before a race.   Pasta and salad.


I listened to the same cassette tape in my walkman…..Rocky IV.


I wore the same shirt under my uniform top and they same long sleeve over it.   The long sleeve always had to be handed to Coach Estey before the race started.

Note from Coach Estey : and I had to tuck the shirt into my back, right-hand pocket. We were both superstitious.

I did not talk much before races.    My parents say I was miserable and I probably was!!

At one point I thought my parents watching me race was bad luck… I asked them not to come to a few races.   One in particular….the Brown Invite.   I either won (ed. - won!) or finished second I don't really remember, and they never saw it.   Looking back I regret that and they do not let me forgot it to this day.   I hurt them and failed to recognize how lucky I was to have their support.


Going to college most of those routines changed and you learn that the routines do not make or break the race…being prepared both physically and mentally does.


northrunning : You had a lot of good times in high school. Is it possible that you can give me your five top high school running experiences (ten if you want to).

Running the two mile at NE's Junior Year.   That probably has to be #1.   After a tough start to the spring season and dealing with my iron issues, capping it off with a race like that was great.   If I remember right the Class Meet and All-States did not go great either.   The class meet was a hot day I think and I ran ok, but not an outstanding time.   At the state meet I almost did not get into the seeded heat.   They were going to run the fast heat with a smaller number and I was almost cut out.   Mike Redding was coaching the boys at the time and I think he helped save the day.   Of course I was upset and thrown off at the start of the race.   I believe I had a good day and finished fourth when all the drama was done…running a decent time.   The next week was NE's and the 2 mile was later in the day versus early on I think.   Lucky for me it started to rain lightly and cool off….just my kind of day.   I went to the line and ran great…..finishing in a PR and in second place.   It was one of those days that I could have run fast forever and never tire. 

Note from Coach Estey : I knew Lynn hated hot weather. She would train in short spandex in the middle of winter. At the New Englans I was worried about the heat. Lynn was in a holding area before the race and it suddenly started to rain. I looked over at her before the race and she was smiling. We could read each other's mind. I knew it would be a great day!

Lynn before placing second in the New England Championships junior year.
northrunning : And what are some of the others?

Pretty close to the top has to be running the 4xmile at Easterns in NY junior year.   We went to the race not knowing what to expect from the competition.   The teams were from NY, NJ, Conn, etc.   Our team was good….we had set a state record in the MA relays.   I remember Cheryl, Kristen, and Erin running strong legs.   It was very exciting.   I got the baton to anchor and took off, running a PR and getting a second place finish for the team…I think.   It was so fun to be a part of that relay team.   Being a distance runner you never really get the opportunity to be truly involved in a relay that matters.   Sometimes the 4 X 4 if the meet is not close….but never one that was made for distance runners.   The van ride home was great and to top it off…it was my birthday!!


Another great day was the day I set the course record at the Town Park in XC.   I am not sure if it was junior or senior year. (Ed. Senior year)  I just remember it was against a team that did not field a full girls team so we were going to run with the boys.   I thought this could be fun….   I flew across the field and into the woods running with the boys.   I decided to see how fast I could really go.   Again it was one of those days, where everything clicked.   Running fast was effortless and fun.   The guys were really supportive and helped me along.   I think I ran part of the race with Pete Violet and he cheered me along.  


Winning Hocks my junior year in XC was another great experience.   I had competition form Lori and Pam Barton from KP.   I went out hard and just tried to hold on.   It worked and I knew the hard work I had put in had paid off.   I loved running at Borderland…it was real cross-country.


My race at the Brown Invite was also one I will not forget.   I had told my parents not to go…..bad decision.    I had a great race.   Running against people from throughout NE and I finished pretty high. (Ed. Lynn placed 1st beating Carrie Hollingshead. Carrie went on to win the D2 state championship) Also it was senior year and I was looking to go to school at Brown…so it had to have helped to get the coaches attention.


Not a true running experience, but being able to speak as Valedictorian about running stands out.   I recall wondering what to write about and Ms. Bedard suggested using part of a poem I had written about running at the town park.   She told me to stick to what I knew and what I had passion about.   After that, writing the speech became easier… I wanted to tell my classmates, my parents and teachers about my experiences and how much I had learned about myself.   

Lynn at Holy Cross

northrunning : Perhaps you could give me a synopsis of your college running experience. I'm guessing it could be titled the good, the bad and the ugly, but maybe in reverse order. So take me from why you chose Holy Cross, including any part athletics played in the decision, to a Holy Cross 10K record and your Patriot League Scholar-Athlete Award


My college running experience was not without hardships.   First of all, deciding where to go to college was not an easy decision at all for me.   I applied to a ton of schools…10-12 I think.   Coaches called on the phone and I never knew what to say.   I went on my official visits to Brown, UPENN, UCONN, HC and UMASS.   I knew I wanted to try and run DI so I had narrowed it down to these schools… I really thought I wanted to go to Brown until I went for my visit……I hated it.   I just felt like I would not fit in.


UPENN I loved after my visit. The team was great, the school was great, the track was great…but it was far away.   UCONN was nice, but something did not seem right.   UMASS was big.   I went to HC for my visit and really liked the team.   I felt welcomed and after talking to the coach felt I could contribute to the program.   I hate to say it but I think running played more of a role in my final choice than it should have.   I wanted to go somewhere where I could run well for a team.   Once narrowed down, they were all good schools.   I wanted Pre-Med and they all had it.   I made my decision at the last minute and just hoped it was the right one.   Financially HC was offering me a great package and I felt comfortable there!


My college career started off like most, I spent the fall of my freshman year adjusting to it all….new team, new school, being away from home etc.   XC went ok…I think I ran 4-5 for the team.   I was contributing, but not running what I was capable of.

At the beginning of indoor I came down with mono and then once I was cleared to run I developed 3 stress fractures…..trying to do too much too soon.   I missed most of indoor and all of outdoor track,   I spent the spring in the pool doing workouts.


northrunning : What was that like?


It was awful.   I was missing the opportunity to bond with teammates, I could not run, and I hated it.   It was not until the summer when I was given clearance to run again. I trained hard wanting to be ready for XC.   Sophomore year went decent.   I began to run better and stayed healthy throughout XC, indoor and outdoor.   I ran my first 10K on the track sophomore year.   I was hooked.


Junior year I had a great year.   I ran well in XC and had a great track season.   Running in ECACs   in the 5K indoors and 10K outdoors.   I got to run at PENN Relays in outdoors…the 10K.   It was awesome, because the college and Olympic dev. Race was run together.   I ran in the same heat with some amazing runners.   Junior year I also set the Patriot League record in the 10K.


Senior year went fairly well too.   I had a great cross country season…except I fell at our conference meet.   It was at Lehigh and it was pouring.   The course was wet and muddy.   I went down hard somewhere in the second mile, twisted my ankle and DNF.   What a way to end my career!!   Luckily we had one more race…NE's, which was also NCAA qualifiers back then.   I ran my PR at Franklin Park and just missed going to NCAAs by 2-3 places.   Much better ending.   Track went well too. I ran solid in the 5K and 10K.  


Senior year I was also selected as Crusader of Year at HC, which is given to the top athlete in the senior class.   It had never before been given to a female athlete….never mind a track athlete…all we do is run.   It was a great honor to receive.   I can remember the night it was announced.   All the senior athletes are recognized at an informal banquet….given nice watches and then the big awards are given.   I thought maybe I had a shot at one of the “smaller” awards not the big one.   Crusader of the Year was announced last and I remember our AD introducing it by explaining that the recipient was an athlete all year round….competing all year round.   I was so proud to represent my teammates with that award.   I think some of the other athletes finally got it…..we competed fall, winter, and spring.   Most of them just had to worry about one competition season.   I left that banquet with a huge smile, called my parents, called Steve and went to see my roommates. (who were not runners).   Everyone was so proud.    I remember I was supposed to be going to the library to study for an Evolution Exam…never got there.  


northrunning : That sounds like the fitting culmination to a college career. Can you give me one more memorable moment?


Probably running the 10K at our conference meet, winning back-to-back junior and senior year.   Junior year I lapped the field and came back later in the day to run the 5K for points.   We finished in the top three as a team that year, our highest ever.


northrunning : Talking about college in general, what part did XC and track have on your total college experience? Was there ever a time when you doubted you should do it?


I do not know what I would have done without running in college.   It kept me organized, it allowed me to meet some great friends, and to see some great places.   I never knew what to do with the free time we had when our coach would give us a week away from practice between seasons.    It drove me crazy.  


XC/Track allowed me to meet some of my dearest friends today.   Spending 3-4 hours a day together…you did not have a choice but to be close.   We ate dinner together every night after practice, we studied in the same section of the library, we ran through the scary streets of   Worcester together.  

I would say that I did sacrifice a little due to running in college, but only because I loved it.   Socially I did not “go out” as much, but I was not into that scene anyways.   Friday nights were spent in the library studying because meets were on Sat. mornings.   Most athletes were there.   We would sit together as a team a lot and take “breaks” together.   Most of the time I went to bed fairly early.   Getting up for morning runs was not easy on little sleep.   I never lived with teammates in college, but this was not really an issue.   I learned to sleep through a lot.   Sleep for me was important…. I did not run well tired.  


XC/Track was never a strain on my academics.   I just knew my priorities.   I would bring homework to meets.   Bus rides and track meets became good places to get work done.   It was pretty common to see athletes reading or doing work at meets before or after their events.


Being a Bio/Pre-Med major I tended to have long science labs that would sometimes interfere with practice.   I occasionally would get to practice late and have to run solo or meet my coach earlier for a workout.   You just had to be good at time management… which I learnt quickly.


I never doubted running throughout my college career.   It was part of who I was at HC….a student athlete.  

Lynn after college

northrunning : In what ways if any did running guide your career choices?

I think running opened my eyes up to what the profession of PT was all about.   Dealing with my stress fractures, I was seen in PT a few times.   It seemed pretty cool and interesting.   It was not until I did some volunteer/observation time that I made my final decision.


northrunning : Did you have running goals after college and to what extent have you fulfilled them?


I would say my running goals after college are both general and specific.   One thing I keep saying is that once I don't enjoy it anymore I am done.   No such luck yet.   So I guess you could say that one goal is not to lose the love and so far that is being fulfilled.

More specific goals center around the marathon-   First I wanted to break three hours…which went as planned.   Then the thought of 2:50's enters the mind….which is still out there.   At one point I wanted to get an Olympic Trials qualifier…..I think I have moved on from that.   If only I could just run . . .


northrunning : Can you give some of the post college highlights?


I have had some great races post college.   My race at the Chicago Marathon in 2001 stands out.   I was still new to the marathon distance and ran a break through race.  

Having the opportunity to continue to compete in road races, track races.


XC races with a team is one of the biggest highlights.  


northrunning : What are your running club affiliations? How have they been helpful for you?


Running with GBTC has been great.   Back in 2001…I started running with them and have enjoyed the ride.    Having a great group of women running hard together is great.   I have had the opportunity to go to some Big Time races over the years…toeing the line with the best.   The friends I have made are priceless.   We are all runners who also have jobs and lives……


northrunning : Everyone in North Attleboro sees you running – “all the time”.   What type of mileage do you maintain and how does it fit into a busy career schedule?


I tend to stick in the 6o miles/week range regularly, but with marathon training that goes up to 75-80/week.   Trying to get it in along with working 45+ hours a week is tough at times.   Getting up in the morning is best for me.   Sometimes that means doubles as well.  

I am lucky because I have a husband who had only known me a “runner” and is extremely supportive.   Weekends are sometimes planned around long runs/races and he understands and continues to even after 7 years!!



northrunning : Every Friday morning I see you running, most often with Cheryl Lyons. How does it feel to still be able to keep high school track contacts?


Being able to run weekly with Cheryl is awesome.   Thinking back to HS, we never did run together often.   I tended to hammer distance runs too much.   Connecting back up with her after she moved back from CA, has been great.   We spend our Friday runs catching up, complaining about work and our busy lives.    Strange but I do not really get to see her outside our runs, but I consider her one of my closer friends.   It will be sad the day we stop meeting….I hope it is no time soon.


Also running with Jess over the years has been great.   We were not in school at the same time, but knew of each other.   Again we tend to meet up for runs often and it is a great time to catch up.   Over the years, she has had to listen to me vent a lot and I do not know what I would have done without that opportunity.   Again I do not get to see her as much as I would like outside of running, but the bond we have is great.

Running becomes a time to be social!!

Lynn and Cheryl at the XC State Finals in Gardner, Mass '89. At left is Kristen Hanley and behind is Coach Estey.

northrunning : Do you have any races in the near future?


Well….I am going to run Boston if all the training goes well and if the weather is cool.   I have a deal with my coach that if it is hot…..I will run elsewhere.

So…leading up to Boston.   I will run the Hyannis Half, New Bedford Half, and probably Eastern States 20.   But that could change depending on training.


northrunning : If there are any other subject you'd like to expound on, such as your brother's running, family support etc. here is your opportunity.


I think having a great support system has helped me along the way.   My parents stuck by me…even when I told them not to come to races.   One thing that sticks out is when I was injured freshman year in college, my brother kept an eye on me.   He was in Worcester at the time as a senior at Clark.   He knew not being able to run was tough for me so he would check up on me.   It helped to know he cared.


Having some great friends over the years both runners and non-runners helps too.   Non-runner friends put up with my craziness….needing to run on vacation, needing to get to bed early, and cheering for me often.   Runner friends make runs so make easier!!

Being known in the community helps too.   Sometimes while out on a run, having a familiar face drive by and wave or beep makes you feel good.


Lastly, having a husband who puts up with my running means the world.   He continues to be supportive after all these years.   He is the best bag holder ever!!  


northrunning : Thanks Lynn, for giving us a huge insight into your career. I hope your training goes well and if you run Boston I'll cheer for you in Newton.