KOOYRIG TO KNOW: SARAH FOUNTAIN

Sarah is showing the world just how much endurance Armenian women have. She’s a marathon runner, and a phenomenal one at that. Over the past couple years, Sarah’s been paving her own way into Armenian history books. She’s the first person to represent Armenia in the Boston Marathon and is currently training with the hopes of representing Armenia in the 2020 Olympic Marathon (another first for the country).

Sarah’s drive for running is exemplified by the passion she has for her culture as she breaks glass ceilings and out-runs anyone who tries to stop her. In this interview, Sarah opens up about her career, culture, and passes on some words of wisdom that she’s picked up along the way.

 
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I never believed that “runner Sarah” and “Armenian Sarah” could be the same person, but the two have come together and given so much meaning to my career as a runner.

CAREER

How did you first get involved with running?

SARAH: I have been running since I could walk, but really started to take racing seriously after watching my mom finish the New York City Marathon. We went to cheer her on, and I was totally taken back by the energy of the marathon. Everyone was in it together, from mile 1-26.2, in the race and on the sidelines.

What is your ultimate goal in your journey, besides running top in races and getting to the Olympics?

SARAH: Ultimately, I want to help break the narrative that physical strength is inaccessible, or even undesirable for women. I have heard from so many women that they don’t want to run too much because they don’t want to look muscular, that they would only run to lose weight. In my experience, when people discover a love for running, it comes from a love of feeling healthy, strong and capable of achieving even the wildest goals. My ultimate goal is to try and spark that feeling.

You’ve run all over the world, yet you’ve chosen Armenia as your home base. What made you want to run for Armenia?

SARAH: I didn’t plan on running for Armenia when I came to Yerevan. Honestly, I just came with Birthright Armenia to try and learn more about the country. I ran along the Hrazdan Gorge every morning and was soon introduced to TriClub Yerevan, a group of endurance athletes in Armenia doing incredible things.

Seeing a community of runners growing and falling in love with the sport was so inspiring and reminded me why I fell in love with running in the first place. I started placing in races in the region, and was so proud to carry the flag with me onto the podium. Armenia is so full of ideas and change makers, that I thought, you know what? This is my something great. Let’s shoot for the moon.


CULTURAL CONTEXT

How much does the Armenian culture play into your daily life?

SARAH: My Armenian culture has become such a significant part of who I am on a daily basis. I am half-Armenian, and I think there were times where I diminished the role my culture played in my life. But being Armenian has always been an important part of who I am, connected me to my family, my community and ultimately, to Armenia.

Do you think your Armenian culture has influenced your career goals?

SARAH: Growing up, my career goals followed a pretty straight line--go to school, find a job in the field that you studied, and continue advancing from there. My Armenian culture gave me the ability to think outside the box and ultimately pursue a dream that didn’t fit on that straight line. It made me think about the bigger picture, and what I was giving back to my community in pursuing my career.

 
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My Armenian culture gave me the ability to think outside the box and ultimately pursue a dream that didn’t fit on that straight line. It made me think about the bigger picture, and what I was giving back to my community in pursuing my career.

As an Armenian woman or as a woman in general, have you found it difficult for people to take your goals seriously?

 SARAH: At times, yes. When I first announced this goal [to run the Olympic marathon] and that nobody from Armenia has ever run it, the response was almost always the same: “No woman has ever run it, or nobody?”

It’s not hard to go back and find a list of Armenians in athletics, but even that statement was questioned for the first few months. It can be hard at times and feel overwhelming to take on a goal of this size, but that forced me to seek out the individuals and groups ready to support my dreams in Armenia. It takes a village, and like any big goal, it is just about finding the right people ready to help you get there.


WORDS OF WISDOM

If you could give your 10-year-old self advice, what would it be?

SARAH: Be patient, and stay true to yourself. My 10-year-old self was incredibly confused about my Armenian identity. I didn’t grow up incredibly involved in the community, but still found an attachment to my culture. I thought that the only way to participate was by going to church events and speaking Armenian at home. I never believed that “runner Sarah” and “Armenian Sarah” could be the same person, but the two have come together and given so much meaning to my career as a runner.

What do you hope other Armenian women and girls achieve from watching your career?

SARAH: I hope other Armenian women and girls watch my running career and remember that there are no set paths in their lives, or their careers. That even something as simple as running can be transformed into an engine for change. I hope they watch my successes and are inspired to reach for great heights, but I also hope they watch my shortcomings and remember that failure is ok. That nothing is achieved without falling a few times, and that they realize how important it is to form a sisterhood ready to catch you when that happens.

How do you think running can be used to empower women in Armenia?

SARA: When it comes down to it, running is about how fast you can get from point A to point B. Even if you are running for fun, you notice the progress and the ease that comes with time and consistency. That time between point A and point B is yours. Nobody can tell you it’s wrong or take it away. I have always found the raw nature of running empowering.

What advice do you have for others who want to help out Armenia, but haven’t found their way of “running for their country” yet?

SARAH: Look within, don’t worry about what other people are doing. When I first came to Armenia, it seemed like everyone had an idea of how they wanted to create change or give back. Most of the time, the greatest forces for change come from the things that make us who we are, the things we couldn’t imagine living without. There is nothing more powerful than sharing passion.


Interview Questions by Nareh Vartanian

Post by Karine Eurdekian