Sarah MacPherson is an elite Canadian middle distance runner and a cancer researcher. While earning a BSc in Biochemistry, she competed for the University of Tulsa. In her early twenties she won the mile at the Conference USA Championship medaled at Canada Games. In 2013 she moved to Victoria to study and research at the BC Cancer Agency. While there, she joined the training group that would ultimately become Athletics Canada’s WestHub. In 2016 she qualified for the 1500m final at the Olympic Selection Trials.

Sarah MacPherson

Sarah grew up in Fredericton, New Brunswick. In grade three, she entered a cross-country race at New Marilyn Elementary. The vast and treacherous course circled the perimeter of the beige brick building, and Sarah won by a lot. She crossed the finish line, saw her mother’s tearful face, and knew she’d found something she was good at.

As a teenager Sarah was selected for a high performance basketball program, which targeted her as a future national team member. Though she loved basketball, her biggest dream was to sign a track scholarship to a Division One NCAA school. Juggling the two intensive sports, she joined the Fredericton Fast Tracks and learned to dig to the limits of her body. Her penchant for gutting through impossible workouts paid off—her fast times caught the eye of American coaches and she earned a full ride to the University of Tulsa.

While studying Biochemistry, Sarah entered a whole new world of competition and pressure. Frequently she trained through illness and injury, hoping to produce the results her coach anticipated. Throughout her collegiate career she managed anemia, three stress fractures, and a ruptured Achilles. Though she won titles and set records, Sarah began to feel like a machine, like a high-wired racehorse, like someone only ran because she had a job to do.

The wear on her body, mind, and heart led Sarah to resent track. Eventually, she hated it. Though she medaled at Canada Games, she no longer felt joy in racing. When the BC Cancer Agency hired her as a research intern, Sarah contemplated abandoning track. Finally, when her research blossomed into a full-fledged masters project, Sarah decided to leave elite sport behind.

A year later, she met Heather Hennigar.

Heather had just moved to Victoria to build Athletics Canada’s WestHub. She recruited talented but undeveloped athletes, and approached coaching with sagacity and zeal. Seeing someone radiate such incredible love of running inspired Sarah to return to training.

Coming back, however, proved far more difficult than Sarah had anticipated. In 2015, her poor mechanics and lack of fitness contributed to weak mental state. She still believed that it wasn’t worth competing if she couldn’t be the best. People began to know her as the girl who dropped out of races.

With Heather’s positive coaching style, Sarah slowly realized that true success comes from loving the pursuit, and never from results. With the help of her training partners, she learned to let go of her fear of failure and, instead, she relished the opportunity of a lifetime.

In the summer of 2016, she took flight as entirely new athlete, slicing eleven seconds off her 1500m time. Though she PB’d in every single event that year, the most important part of her comeback was how she learned to listen to her body, find joy in the process, and bring that genuine smile to the start line.

Sarah’s breakout season culminated in dramatic fashion when she qualified for the 1500m final at the 2016 Olympic Selection Trials. Now, she works on contract for the BC Cancer Agency, publishes nerdy science papers, tutors, cooks beef fondue, and, also, trains full bore. Where she once competed for the sake of winning, her adult athletic career taught her to love training, racing, and her life at a whole new level.