Meet rising star Heather MacLean
“Running with this group, she’s taken it up a level. She knows she belongs. She knows with a lap to go she’s going to be there."
By Sarah Lorge Butler, Runner's World
Ask Heather MacLean, who is an 800 meter / 1500 meter / Mile specialist, which event is her favorite, and she’ll tell you it’s neither. Her favorite is actually a relay, the 4x400 meters, which she hardly ever gets to race.
But the choice makes sense. She loves being around her teammates, her family, her coaches, everyone who has helped her get where she is.
These days, MacLean, 25, is part of Team New Balance Boston, holding a job—pro runner—that 10 years ago she didn’t know existed. She’s won two out of her last three races with ease. On February 13 in Staten Island, New York, she won the 1500 meters at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in 4:06.32, blazing past Cory McGee by running the final 200 meters in 30.92 seconds. Many in the running world think MacLean has a solid chance at making the Olympic team for Tokyo this summer.
But her route to professional running has been highly unusual.
If there’s a typical path to going pro, it might look something like this: the fast kids, who start running freshman year of high school, go to top college programs at Oregon or Colorado or Georgetown. There, they travel around the country gaining experience at high-level meets. They get even faster in college, and upon graduating, sign a contract with a running shoe company, encouraged by parents who are very involved in their children’s lives.
In contrast, MacLean didn’t start running until indoor track during the winter of her junior year of high school. She had immediate success in the 300 meters, and even though she didn’t own spikes, she made it to the all-state meet her first season. But she knew very little about the process of getting to college.
The fourth of eight siblings in Peabody, Massachusetts, north of Boston, she didn’t get much encouragement from the adults closest to her. No one in her family had a college degree. Her father, who died in 2017, was mostly out of the picture. Her mom, Michele Maurice, struggled to keep the kids housed and fed. The extras were scarce.
“Luckily Massachusetts has really great services for low-income families,” MacLean told Runner’s World. “We had food, and we had a roof over our head. It was very hard for my mom to get by with so many children. I really respect her for that. Maybe sometimes we didn’t have the nicest places we were living in, but all of us got by.”
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Photo credit: Kevin Morris