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In June Catalano set an American record for 15 km. (49:42) in Oregon's Cascade Run Off, and on Sept. 6, in Montreal, she ran the second-fastest marathon ever by a woman (2:30:57.1), in the process beating Gareau, who then had the fourth-best time on record. On Columbus Day Catalano set an American record for 10 km. (32:24) at the Bonne Bell race in Boston.
In the Montreal marathon, Catalano had started out last in a field of 68 runners, only four of whom were women. At five miles she caught her first glimpse of Gareau, and at approxmately 15 miles, she passed her. "From 17 to 23 miles I didn't see a soul," Catalano says. "There were no spectators, no cyclists. I never knew my times. I was trying to console myself the last five miles: 'You won. You're going to get a new PR [personal record], a 2:33 or 2:34.' Then I saw Joe with half a mile to go, and he told me, 'You can get under 2:31.' "
Her eyes were clamped shut, and her mouth was open in a grimace of both pain and joy as she literally grabbed the tape. Less than a minute later Gareau crossed the line and the two fell on each other's necks and laughed and hugged and cried as 6,000 spectators cheered. En route, Catalano had set a world record of 1:45:24 for 30 km. In fact, her pace up to 23 miles was faster than Waitz's had been when she set the marathon record, a fact that leads different jocks to different conclusions about Catalano's potential. Her husband says, "I think the day will come when Patti can race with Grete." Catalano herself says, "It may take me a year. It may take me two, but I'll get there." Others, like Guy Thomas, the director of the Maple Leaf Half Marathon in Manchester, Vt., are more cautious. Thomas concedes that Catalano can improve but points out that Waitz can, too. "Grete can run under 2:25 easily," he says. "Patti couldn't do it easily."
Johan Kaggestad, the Nike shoe representative for Norway and the Catalanos' host while they were in Oslo for the Norgeslopet, says, "It will be hard for Patti to beat Grete. Grete has been in constant training since she made the Norwegian National Team at 16. She has hardly missed a day of training in nine years."
It should be noted that no one who knows Catalano at all well is saying she can't do it. After all, she never even jogged until 4½ years ago and quit smoking for good only 2½ years ago, but she can now run 26 miles 385 yards faster than all but one woman in the world. So, who's to say what she might be able to do? There is obviously more at work in her than talent and slow-twitch fibers. These days Catalano is like a captive spirit that has been set free. "I'm having my childhood now," she says, her brown eyes shining with delight. "I've never had so much fun before."
Patti Lyons was the oldest of nine children in a working-class family in Quincy, Mass., an old town on the shore south of Boston Bay whose economy was dominated by a shipyard and wrecked when the shipyard closed in the early '70s. Her father, John, worked in the boiler room of the Food and Drug Administration building in Boston, and was also a caretaker of stray animals at the Boston Animal Rescue League. Her mother, Freda, now 48, is a Micmac Indian who ran away from her reservation in Nova Scotia when she was 11 years old and has been on her own, indomitably, ever since. "She made her living by baby-sitting," says Catalano. "She'd show up at the door and people took her in. She raised people's children when she was only a child herself."
Oddly, a similar fate became Patti's. John Lyons always held two jobs and, in addition, went to school at night. Freda Lyons never had fewer than two jobs, and sometimes three—hairdresser, florist, caterer, etc. Because her parents were seldom at home and because Patti was five years older than the second Lyons child, it fell to Patti to run the house-hold and look after the other children, the last of whom was born when Patti was 16.
Patti's sport at St. Ann's parochial school was swimming, which occupied her from the third to the eighth grade. "At my school you could only swim or bowl," she says. "I grew up on the water and I liked to swim, so I joined the team because they got to swim more times." At 12 she held a New England age-group record for the 100-yard breaststroke, but by 13 she had tired of swimming laps, and her interest in participating in athletics died. By lying about her age, soon thereafter she got a job as "salad girl" on the night shift in the Quincy shipyard commissary. Eventually she was promoted to coffee girl and worked from five to nine every evening. Beginning at 16 and continuing through her last two years as a reluctant student at Sacred Heart High in Weymouth Landing, Patti was an aide in a nursing home, a cheerleader until she could no longer find time to go to games, and mother and father to her eight brothers and sisters. Needless to say, she had little time to think about her future, or even about her present.
"I thought I wanted to be a nurse or a teacher, but I didn't really want to be either," she says, her face clouding over as it often does when she thinks of the past. "I had a good education, and I knew how to do a lot of things. I knew how to cook and how to clean and how to take care of children and how to deal with money, but I didn't know how to think. Parochial school didn't teach you how to think for yourself."
When she was 18, her adored father died and her world, such as it was, fell to pieces. Tensions that had always existed between mother and daughter now exploded in bitterness. The issue was usually the other children: "One of them would ask if he or she could sleep over somewhere, and I'd say, 'Are you kidding? It's a school night. Do your homework and go to bed.' And then whoever it was would ask my mother, and she'd say yes, and I'd argue, 'But it's a school night....' "