UC alumna and Olympian Mary Wineberg with students from her class at Hyde Park Elementary, a Cincinnati public school. photos/Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative Services


After the race is won




Olympic gold medalist and UC alumna Mary Wineberg has found meaning in her life as a mother, teacher, speaker and author after retiring from running.







By Ethan Rudd


Photos by Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative Services

Dec. 14, 2017


Mary Wineberg doesn’t always tell people she’s an Olympian. Her career as a world-class runner is quite the conversation starter, but it’s not the only thing that defines her. After all, Wineberg is a teacher and a mother as well. Now, she’s also an author.

Published in October, “Unwavering Perseverance: An Olympic Gold Medalist Finds Peace,” recounts her journey and her struggles, including being abandoned by her mother at a young age. Wineberg was eventually adopted, but she struggled to understand her situation. She had confidence issues and was an average runner in high school and even when she ran track at the University of Cincinnati.

Yet Wineberg went on to compete at her sport’s highest level. Now, she’s found more than enough reasons to be at peace with herself off the track by continuing to define herself in new ways.


Wineberg speaks in front of her class. She is still a leader off the track. Now, she leads a classroom.

Wineberg is still a leader off the track. Now, she leads a classroom.




A crazy dream

When Mary Wineberg graduated from UC, she wasn’t quite ready to walk away from track. She started to think about running in the Olympics. It was an idea that caught Chris Wineberg, her husband and former UC teammate, off guard.

“I know she enjoyed running track, but I didn’t know she was that passionate about it,” he says. Wineberg is a self-professed late bloomer. During her time at UC she was a good athlete, but not a great athlete. She never won a conference championship and never qualified for the NCAA championships — things an Olympic qualifier typically might have on their resumes.

“We thought it was the craziest idea ever,” she says. To train properly to qualify for the Olympic team, Wineberg quit her job as a teacher and moved to California. Still, she didn’t make the Olympic team during her first qualification in 2004.

“I didn’t think it was my time,” she says. “I wasn’t educated about what it took to become an Olympian. I just thought you could say it and do it.” Heartbroken, she returned to Cincinnati.

Four years later, she knew what it took. “I had to realize I didn’t fail,” she says. “It made me stronger.”

In 2008, she qualified to be on the U.S. Olympic team. “I struggled with believing in myself,” she says. “I struggled with thinking I wasn’t good enough to be on the track against the women I lined up with. All of the athletes I ended up being compared to in running — their resumes just knocked mine into the trash.”

Not only was Wineberg able to compete with and against those same women, but she was able to win a gold medal in Beijing with them as part of the 4x400 relay team.


Wineberg passes out an assignment during class.

Wineberg passes out an assignment during class.


Life past the finish line

There came a time when running became a chore. Then, there were the injuries. Wineberg was ready to hang up her spikes.

“I had no regrets,” she says. “I didn’t miss it.” Things after her running career were simple. She had a plan in place. Wineberg went back to teaching. “Teaching is an outlet for me because it allows [me] to take some of the things I did on the track, like applying myself as leader, in the classroom,” she says. She also has two daughters, which takes up a lot of her time. “I have no time to be worried about track,” she laughs.  

Husband Chris agrees. “She was satisfied with what she accomplished,” he says. “She has other abilities and other ambitions in life. It’s not like that’s the only thing she had.”

A picture of Wineberg’s Olympic team hangs behind her desk in the class she teaches at Hyde Park Elementary. All three of her relay teammates, including Allyson Felix, are still running. “I realize we all have our time, and we all have our moments,” Wineberg says as she passes out lesson packets in her class. “Now it’s somebody else’s moment.”

Wineberg teaches her students the meaning of the word “perseverance.” The lesson comes in handy. Whenever students feel like giving up on an assignment, she reminds them that she used to feel the same way about things growing up.


Wineberg poses with her class and her book, Unwavering Perseverance.

Wineberg poses with her class and her book, "Unwavering Perseverance."


“They realize they can win a gold medal in whatever they want to,” she says. Wineberg readily admits to her class that she stumbled at times, but points out where practice and perseverance got her. She was a long shot before she made the Olympic team. It’s a story she’s willing to share with anyone in the hopes that others can find meaning in her journey. She’s sharing that story in “Unwavering Perseverance.”

“I wanted to share and let people know I’m human,” she says. “I struggled with things and even though I struggled, I found answers, and I found peace.”


Ethan Rudd is a senior journalism student and a writing intern with UC Magazine.