Marathoner Lori Mann crossed a lot of hurdles to chase her Olympic dream

A not-so-funny thing happened to Lori Mann on her way to the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials this weekend in Atlanta.

Or, more precisely, a couple of disconcerting things.

Last December in Sacramento, when the 37-year-old Long Beach-based psychologist and licensed therapist joyfully reached a lifetime goal of qualifying to make the Olympic Trials’ field during the California International Marathon, the plan was to keep her husband, Dr. Adam Sandahl, at her side.

Sandahl had put Mann’s career back on track. The one-time UCLA standout suffered a torn Achilles tendon and drove in twice a week from Orange County to put in some four years of therapy at Sandahl’s PCH Chiro chiropractic offices at the Long Beach Marketplace.

The two eventually married, last October.

But as Saturday’s Olympic Trial got closer, Mann had to make two unexpected doctor visits. Late Monday, an ultrasound was needed on Sandahl’s swollen leg, and it revealed a blood clot in his femoral artery. A hospital visit was planned for Tuesday morning.

As they were getting coffee to go, Mann noticed that Toby, her 18-month old miniature Australian Shepherd who has become the office mascot and comfort dog at her TIER Adventure Therapy office, was tremoring and unable to flip off his back. Toby was rushed to the veterinary ER to discover he had ingested some macadamia nuts in the middle of the night.

After taking Toby home to recover from his poison episode, Sandahl had his own ER trip, an eight-hour procedure to dissolve the clot. Doctors advised him not to fly.

“I guess that dramatic things must happen before a dramatic event,” Mann said Thursday morning from Atlanta. “One thing I know for sure is that life is not always easy. You get thrown roadblocks all the time and have to find a way to press on. If everything was easy, how would we challenge ourselves and tap into an inner strength?”

Toby, Mann’s Australian Shepherd, ended up in the ER from eating nuts. Toby’s condition was just one of several hurdles Lori Mann had to get over, this week, on her way to compete in Atlanta. Photo courtesy Lori Mann.

Not one to run away from another challenge, Mann said going alone to Atlanta was nonetheless traumatic—concern for Sandahl’s health, missing his company during what she described as a “joint victory” to this point, and then without his experience aligning her body and extremities before the race.

“I have never run a race without his care, especially after carrying luggage and sitting on a cross-country flight,” Mann said. “Tears were shed by both of us.”

Mann’s mother and father and one of her sisters were flying into Atlanta, Friday, for support. So is her coach, Andrew Kastor of Mammoth Track Club, the husband of NBC course reporter and former marathon standout (and Mann’s running idol) Deena Kastor. NBC is televising the race live from the 1996 Olympics route from 9 a.m. to noon PDT.

“I’m lucky to have a support team onsite, as well as tons of supportive family and friends sending their love,” Mann said.

Getting to this point is a whole other long and winding road.

As a senior at Santa Margarita High, Mann set the girls’ 3,200-meter record (10 minutes, 45.10 seconds) during the CIF-Southern Section prelims during her senior year. She was runner-up in the California state cross country championship as a sophomore.

She continued running competitively at UCLA but dealt with bursitis in the knees that made walking difficult. Moving to New York and veering toward a career in public relations, she considered running again a few years later after moving back to Orange County.

Getting her doctorate in Marriage & Family Therapy from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology in 2016, Mann always kept in mind the Olympic dream, knowing the leading runners in the country—Shalane Flanagan, Desiree Linden and Molly Huddle—were in her age range of the mid-30s.

A return to running led to the Achilles issue and seeking out Sandahl. But that only happened because Mann was once on a flight back home to Orange County and started talking to the stranger next to her about her ailments. The person was Sandahl’s then-wife, who recommended her husband’s treatment.

Mann eventually did so. A while after Sandahl’s marriage ended, the two began dating. Sandahl ended up proposing to Mann after they both ran the 2018 New York City Marathon, his finish was a bit behind her.

Mann credits the support and expertise of her husband, and chiropractor, Adam Sandahl in helping her achieve her dream of competing in the Olympic Marathon. Photo courtesy of Lori Mann.

As part of the training for the U.S. Olympic qualifying meet in Atlanta, Mann won the women’s division of the Conquer The Bridge 5.3 mile race in San Pedro last Labor Day in 33:01. She said afterward that “winning this race lets me know that the work I’m putting in is producing results.”

At the California International Marathon, the “B” standard qualifying time was 2:45.00. When she crossed the finish line, her chip showed 2:44.08. Some 99 women hit that mark, but about 30 did in the 2:44 to 2:45 range.

“CIM was the most magical sports moment of my life,” said Mann. “Women from all over the country flew in to make this time goal happen. We were not racing each other, we were running with each other, racing the clock. The camaraderie and support amongst each other was palpable.”

Mann recalls taking until mile 16 to catch to reach a pack runners “all in a rhythm together. You could hear women encouraging each other in between breaths.”

Mann left the pack with four miles to go, feeling the cutoff time was just too close for comfort. Three others went with her and drew off each other’s energy.

“When I saw the finish line, I saw women who had just finished jumping and cheering on each other to get there before 2:45,” said Mann. “I crossed and screamed like I never have before, breaking down into tears and hugging these other women. I turned around and saw the pack of women from earlier in the race. I cheered with the others, and we were in a giant bear hug when the final girl of that pack crossed in 2:44:58.

“I still get chills and teary-eyed thinking about that finish line. One thing I know about women is that we support each other.”

Some 511 women qualified for Saturday’s race, but only the top three move on to the Summer Games. Mann, who now has two stepkids aged 13 and 10, said she and everyone else knows “the odds are stacked against them because we work full-time jobs, balance relationships and motherhood, and many are former college athletes who took up this goal years later.”

Amy Cragg, the Long Beach-born runner who was ninth at the 2016 Summer Olympics marathon, won’t compete Saturday because of her bout with the Epstein-Barr virus. The field has many elite runners with personal best times in the 2:20.00 range. The Olympic qualifying time is 2:29.30 for the women, but the top three here will advance regardless of besting that mark.

“The fact that I was going to retire from running seven years ago and am here competing on the national stage at age 37, four months after my wedding and right in the thick of launching a business, is a celebration in of itself,” said Mann, who has lived in Marina Pacifica for the last four years and has her practice as part of Sandahl’s chiropractic office space. “I reached the next tier, and that inspires me to reach new heights in other areas of my life.”

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