Leah Thorvilson brings running and reconstructing to Little Rock

July 21-27, 2014

By Molly Baltzer 

Leah Thorvilson is an Elite American Marathoner who made her way to Little Rock 15 years ago, when she had an opportunity to move here on a Track and Field and Cross-Country scholarship after graduating from Armstrong High School in Robbinsdale, Minnesota. Today Thorvilson continues to train for long distant marathons, including the 2016 Olympic Trials Marathon. In the midst of training, Thorvilson also maintains her career life working as the Director of Development for the Athletic Department at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR). 

Thorvilson has always been athletic, participating on the dance team and throwing discus in High School, but didn’t know how much success marathons would bring her until after gaining experience over different distances of running in college. Through mutual friends, Thorvilson got in touch with the coach of Track and Field and Cross-Country at UALR, Kirk Elias. Coach Elias saw the potential Thorvilson carried with her ability to run and offered her a scholarship to UALR. “It wasn’t an easy decision for me to make, moving across the country, but I thought I am not going to get an opportunity like this again,” Thorvilson said. 

Graduating from UALR in the fall of 2003, Thorvilson decided to try her first marathon in 2004, where she really found her passion. “I qualified for Boston, which is a big deal,” she said. “A lot of people train their whole life for that.” 

Some of her biggest marathon moments include being a four-time winner of the Little Rock Marathon, competing in the Olympic Trial Marathons of 2012 and running the fastest 50-mile time ever recorded for an American woman. Throughout her running career Thorvilson said, “Coach Elias became my biggest mentor and supporter. He was always encouraging me on how to get to where he believed I was capable of getting.”

Along with the many accomplishments that have come from running marathons, Thorvilson, as Athletic Director of Development, helps students get the college experience they want. “UALR appeals to students who are looking for a college experience, and who also want to run for a D1 university,” Thorvilson said.  

By coordinating fundraiser events, planning coaches luncheons and working with donor relations, Thorvilson works towards upgrading the athletic department. “It would be the type of mission that I would want to support at any university, but seeing it’s for the one I came from, that makes it personal to me. It’s very special and I am very fortunate to have this opportunity,” she said. 

Some of the big events the Athletic Department put on are the Live and Silent Auction and SpectacUALR.  “SpectacUALR is my big event, we are working on it now and formed a committee for it in February,” Thorvilson stated. “But the actual event is in October.” 

The event, which raises scholarship dollars and funds for facility upgrades, honors someone who has had a large impact on UALR in a variety of ways. This year’s honoree is Betty Jo Stephens, a pioneer in women’s athletics at UALR. 

Thorvilson is also working on the “second phase” of the track complex at UALR. She said, “they already built the track which is in use, but we would like to get the soccer team, runners and golfers into their own space, that is suitable to them.” The next step and goal for Thorvilson is to raise money to get locker rooms and update the coaches’ offices.

Balancing her running and career life, Thorvilson had to give up personal life and free time admitting, “It’s challenging. You have to know something is going to give and for me that’s personal life. But I have enough of a personal life for me.” She is willing to sacrifice in order to keep succeeding with marathons and building the athletic department. 

Thorvilson’s time commitment and hard work for the athletic department pays off, as the program is continually restructuring and growing for the better. In return Thorvilson said she gets a Little Rock family. “Little Rock continues to grow and develop but still has a small town feel to me. I have a family of people… everyone is supportive.” 

During her running career Thorvilson has suffered injuries, two of them forcing her to undergo surgery. “I never had to ask for anything (while recovering from reattaching her hamstring). People were constantly asking if I needed anything, which just enhanced my opinion on having a family of people in Little Rock.” 

Although her schedule is filled with training and finding sponsorships for UALR athletics, she still has time to enjoy her adopted hometown. Thorvilson said, “The city is growing and developing, especially with the river trail system and bridges. You can go for 30 or more miles without overlapping a trail.” This dedicated runner and worker has future goals that involve training for upcoming marathons, one being the 2016 Olympic Trial Marathons, and building the UALR Athletic Department into a strong program by updating the facilities and raising money for athlete scholarships.

For more information on the Live and Silent Auction and SpectacUALR or to donate to the Trojan Foundations visit www.ualrtrojans.com. Information on the events is located under the “Inside Athletics” tab.