Uta became a world-renown runner as she won three consecutive Boston Marathons, the New York City Marathon, and three times in Berlin. In the process, she won the world over with her smile and the kisses she blew to the crowds on her way to the finish lines. No grimly-set, elite athlete’s face for the doctors’ daughter with a prescription for bridging the divide between athlete and fans.
“The joy of running always has inspired me, and I wanted to share my excitement and make the spectators a part of the joy I was feeling,” she explained. “It was my way of saying ‘Thank you,’ because I always felt that the energy I drew from the crowds helped me run to my limit.”
Now, Uta channels the joy, passion, and discipline she brought to world-class competition into Take The Magic Step®, the health and fitness programs she developed, coaching individuals and groups, and her charity foundation, as well as her speaking engagements and role as a broadcast analyst.
For her Take The Magic Step audience, Uta aims to provide another bridge to a healthier and happier life. “I hope I am able to inspire people whose lives may be on a downturn—because I’ve been there,” she said. “People, for me, are the highest form of art. Each of us is unique. I learn so much from every person I meet. I try to see beyond the expression on their faces, to catch a glimpse of their dreams—but also their struggles and worries. When someone in need asks me how to reach his or her goals it creates in me the desire to be part of a bridge that may help them to advance on their journey. I see their inner beauty and I am in awe.”
Uta has known heartbreak as well as triumph. Her potentially risky departure from the unstable Communist regime in East Germany… the victory in the “Reunification Marathon” in 1990 that spanned from West Berlin through the Brandenburg Gate into East Berlin… the then unknown pelvic stress fracture that forced her to drop out of the 1996 Olympic Marathon when she was confidently in the lead… and the challenges that come along with starting a business.
She used these life lessons when she designed Take The Magic Step® to be engaging and educational, shaping the content in a way that appeals to nonprofits, schools, companies, athletes and non-athletes alike. Uta shares what she has learned about living a healthy life. She works to help people learn key principles and apply them—joyfully and effectively with her motto “Intensity Meets Playfulness™.” Not everyone is a marathoner, of course, so she adapts the elements of inspiration, fitness, training, nutrition, stress management, and yoga to each individual’s needs.
Her broadcast work lends uncommon insight into running events, particularly the marathon coverage and news segments featuring fitness, training, and yoga.
Her partnerships with charitable organizations that promote education, fitness, and health enable her to help others—all possible through her Take The Magic Step Foundation. Uta was named to the Board of Advisors of the world-renown MIT AgeLab, which was created to “invent ideas and creatively translate technologies into practical solutions that improve people’s health and enable them to stay active throughout their lives.”
The Early Years
Uta was born on September 7, 1965 in Leipzig, East Germany. Once home to Bach and Goethe, it was also the site of the first mass demonstrations that ultimately led to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Uta lived there until she was four, when her parents, who were young doctors, moved the family to a town in the countryside outside Berlin. Her parents influenced her deeply, teaching her the value of approaching a task with purpose, persistence, and resilience—all characteristics that are invaluable, particularly to a marathoner.
When she was 13, a girlfriend invited her to join ”TSG Blau-Weiß Petershagen,” a youth sports club in her hometown. The elite clubs recruited from these “farm” clubs, making them the foundation of the East German sports system. Uta showed great promise, but running wasn’t yet a priority because her parents, intent on her becoming a doctor, insisted she concentrate on her studies. As Uta explained, “My parents did not see me as the Olympic athlete I dreamed of becoming.”
But she was a natural and she excelled. “The joy of running always has inspired me,” she said. Uta loved being part of the team and she loved being outside. She seldom focused on her pace, she remembered, except when she was being timed. It was more important to enjoy the experience. She ran on the streets, on hilly cross-country trails, on flat forest trails, and—her favorite—at the beach during summer vacation.
“It’s the same for anyone today,” she said. “You only need a pair of running shoes, somewhere to run, perhaps a friend to jog with, and a little love of being outside and in nature. With these in place, you only may have to give yourself a tiny push to get out the door and take the magic step outside but, within a few moments, you can start enjoying your run while feeling refreshed and liberated.”
Her training was varied and included running hurdles, and doing the high jump and the long jump. The coach also organized running games, which kept everyone motivated. “These were special days, when I reflect back,” Uta said. “I just went out and raced with my team mates—dressed in cotton shorts and shirts, and wearing canvas shoes. It was a world away from today’s high-tech gear. We ran for the love of it. I often call upon those times to remind myself of the special qualities of running and why I love it so much!”
Running to Freedom
In March of 1983, Uta was recruited by one of the top sports clubs in East Germany, the Army Sports Club in Potsdam, known as ASK. There, in 1986, she met Dieter Hogen. He has been her coach and good friend ever since. Under his tutelage and with a great deal of hard work, she became one of the most successful long distance runners in East Germany. But, despite the successes, the oppressive political system, which didn’t allow her to travel together to the West for competition or pursue the training system she and Dieter envisioned, was preventing her from realizing her potential.
They contemplated defecting, but the risks were too great. Finally, in January 1990, they couldn’t wait any longer. The Berlin Wall had fallen in November, but the Communist Party was still in power, meaning that as a member of the Army Sports Club, Uta would be considered a military deserter if she left East Germany.
“The most challenging race of my life was the one that began in East Berlin on an early January morning in 1990 and ended in West Germany—where freedom and opportunity awaited,” she revealed. “Most runners have to worry about ‘the wall’ that stealthily appears somewhere around the 20-mile mark in a marathon. The wall I faced was 15 feet high, made of steel-reinforced concrete, and topped with barbed wire. It was still manned by troops stationed in watch towers, armed with machine guns, with guard dogs by their sides.”
On January 5, 1990, almost penniless, they drove a small car across the border between East and West Germany. They were not detained and left unscathed, albeit literally with not much more than the clothes on their backs. Three months later, the first free elections were held, and the people of East Germany voted out the Communist Party. As a result, a general amnesty was declared. Uta was no longer a deserter—she was free.
Making the transition to the West was easy, Uta said, because she had so often dreamed of freedom that “it felt as if I already had lived in this new world for a long time.”
Boston: The Holy Grail
From behind the Iron Curtain, Uta could only imagine the excitement and drama of the world’s oldest and most revered marathon—Boston. “I started dreaming of the Boston Marathon after I ran in my first World Championships in Rome in 1987,” she said. “I pictured it in my head, imagined over and over what it would be like to run there. But I was on the wrong side of ‘The Wall,’ and it was a dream I thought would never come true.”
But three months after she and Dieter drove into West Berlin her dream was realized. She stood on the starting line in Hopkinton along with the best women runners in the world. Uta finished second, behind the great Portuguese World and Olympic champion, Rosa Mota. But no one who witnessed her gutsy performance that Patriots Day doubted that a new star had been born.
Later that year Uta won the “Reunification Marathon” in Berlin, a race that served as a symbol of freedom to the millions of former East Germans who had dreamed of the day liberty would become a reality. Winning this prestigious race remains one of her most emotional and gratifying victories. Together with 25,000 other runners she had the extraordinary experience of running from the former West Berlin through the historic Brandenburg Gate into what had been East Berlin. “It’s a moment that I will cherish for as long as I live, and I feel fortunate to have shared that special occasion with so many,” she said.
Medical Student or #1 Marathoner?
Uta’s parents had a dream, too—that their daughter would become a doctor, like them. And from 1990 to 1994 Uta juggled both her medical studies at the Freie Universität Berlin (Free University in Berlin) and world-class running competition. “That’s when I gained an understanding of the lives of so many women who face the challenge every day of fitting in two jobs,” she explained. “They work 9 to 5, then come home to cook for their families and raise their children. It’s so hard. Finally, I knew I had to choose between medicine and running—but at least I was lucky enough to have a choice.” She decided to focus solely on running. That focus catapulted her to the kind of success that few athletes are able to achieve. It would lead to a headline-making string of victories achieved with the humble grace that made Uta a role model for a generation.
She had already won two Berlin Marathons and had set up home in Boulder, Colorado, when she went to New York City in the fall of 1993. There she became the only German to win the New York City Marathon. She controlled the race from Mile 11 and crossed the line in Central Park in 2:26:24 hours.
Five months later in Boston, Uta wiped out the memory of the defeat by Rosa Mota, winning the 1994 Boston Marathon in a course record time of 2:21:45. In 1995, she was crowned Queen of Boston again. And one year later—on the 100th anniversary of the venerable race—she joined the best in the world, becoming the first woman to officially win the Boston Marathon three consecutive times.
No one who witnessed her courage that day will ever forget it. Beset by embarrassingly visible problems and suffering severe intestinal pain, Uta considered dropping out as early as the fifth mile. Finally, at 7.5 miles, her body refused to go on, and she had to stop running and walked a few steps.
But that was not the end of the story that day in Boston.
With fans providing water to clean herself and urged on by the adoring crowd, Uta started forward again, step by step, mentally drawing on her parents’ teachings of resilience and perseverance. Ever increasing her pace, she dramatically came from 220 yards behind in the final stages to pass Kenya’s Tegla Loroupe—and won the race in 2:27:12. Soon after making history she was hospitalized for days for treatment of ischemic colitis.
The Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy, a dean of sports writers, marveled, “She was Carlton Fisk after clanging a homer off the left-field foul pole. She was Larry Bird after stealing Isiah Thomas’ pass to beat the Pistons. She was Bobby Orr flying through the air after beating the St. Louis Blues to win the Stanley Cup.”
Uta was at the pinnacle of the sport and her career. She was voted Runner of the Year by the Association of International Marathons and Road Races (AIMS) in both 1995 and 1996. And she was ranked #1 in the world in 1994 and 1995 in both the marathon and the half marathon.
But just when she had the world at her feet—literally—fate intervened. Months after her Boston triumph she was the favorite to win the 1996 Olympic Marathon in Atlanta. And she was leading the race when pain increasingly shot through her legs. In agony from what was later diagnosed as a pelvic stress fracture, she fell back to 8th place. Later, she was forced to drop out for the first time in her life. The experience was devastating. “It was a nightmare to have to drop out of a race for the first time—especially at the Olympics. At first when the pain hit me, I thought I could still run well enough to win a medal. But, I was wrong. I ran with my heart and not my head—which made the injury worse.”
Suddenly, Uta, always a champion at heart, found herself dealing with illness and injury that would keep her from training properly and competing effectively. In summer 1997, another injury surfaced, and she finally was forced to have complicated foot surgery. She is thankful to have worked with a great team of experts, who gave her the ability to continue to run and train. However, the extended and very long exercise needed for top marathon training was no longer possible due to her weakened foot.
In 1998 as Uta recovered from her medical problems and was on the road back to running, a random non-competition drug test found that her Testosterone/Epitestosterone (T/E) level was slightly above that allowed at the time. Although the tests found no banned substances in her system, the German Track and Field Federation (DLV), was forced to enact a suspension and the matter went to review and arbitration, where it ultimately was dropped. Read more
Despite doctors attributing the T/E ratio to Uta’s low levels of epitestosterone caused by active bowel disease, the ordeal was deeply troubling to Uta and triggered bouts of depression. They were only conquered with medical help and the ardent and unwavering support of her family, friends, fans, sponsors, and the media.
Returning to Running
Between 1999 and 2002, Uta returned to good health, good spirits, and a renewed zest for running. In 1999, she was accepted as a member of USA Track and Field, which gives her the privilege of representing the USA in competition. And her joy was made complete when she was sworn in as a United States citizen on July 3, 2004 in a special ceremony—fittingly close to the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
Uta also continued to realize her potential as a competitive athlete as she turned her attention to shorter distance Masters races in 2005. Today, she enjoys participating in running and biking events, most of them for charitable causes. She also participates in training runs and bike tours with her friends and clients, often using the events as part of her seminars.
Sharing the Dream
In 2004, during a new chapter of her athletic career and life, Uta has formulated a program that allows her to share her love for the sport and her joy of running and fitness. “I saw people struggling with what came naturally to me and I became convinced I could help them.” she said. “I formulated a concept, the fundamental aspects for the philosophy of Take The Magic Step®, through which I hope to share my love of exercise, the outdoors, and healthy nutrition. What I had been through gave me the vision to help others as I continue to learn from people who inspire us.”
Thus Take The Magic Step® was born.
Of great importance to her as she shifted her focus away from that of a full-time professional athlete was the freedom to spend more time helping others and to be involved in charity work. In early 2008, together with Michael Reger, she established the Take The Magic Step Foundation™ to expand the ability to help children and adults facing health or economic hardships.
Ultimately it is her life’s goal to have a positive impact on others. She said: “I have always believed, and still do, that love, a warm-hearted touch, sensitive empathy, and light words of understanding, combined with the right interest and knowledge, can move mountains. I hope to gracefully share a common goal with others who seek a happier, more satisfying, and healthier lifestyle. Thankfully, my blessings as an athlete have granted me opportunities that will have benefits that last long after my competitive days are over.”
For example, she expresses her passion for running and fitness, and strengthens her bond with her fans through charity affiliations that are very special to her. They include the Dana Farber Cancer Research Program (Jimmy Fund) in Boston, where she visits with the children and gives motivational talks, and the initiatives of the SOS Outreach Programs as well as the Louisa May Alcott Orchard House. She is coaching the runners of the Hoyt Foundation for each year’s Boston Marathon and is supporting the “Kinderhilfe” in her hometown in Germany. Throughout the year, she enjoys giving speeches at schools and universities, as well as serving as a keynote speaker for corporations, charities, and sporting events.
In conjunction with these labors of love, Uta actively broadens her knowledge about the correlation between health, fitness, athletics, and one’s spiritual being. Consequently, she is constantly furthering what is already a profound comprehension of inspiration, fitness, nutrition, natural medicine, and yoga.
Her understanding of the complex and intriguing relationship between one’s physical and mental being enables her to share her ideas and theories with others at her clinics, seminars, and speaking engagements. The foundation of her presentations was inspired by this quote from the Roman poet Juvenal: “Mens sana in corpore sano”—A healthy mind in a healthy body.”
Through Take The Magic Step®, Uta shares her experience and her ongoing research with people in corporations, non-profit organizations, and other groups, as well as athletes and students. And by giving participants clear and succinct information, she saves them from having to navigate the jungle of often-conflicting health facts found in articles, news stories, books, and other online resources. The program emphasizes inspiration, nutrition, exercise, yoga, and health management, and its goal is to provide people with a gentle, tailored, and practical path toward a healthy lifestyle. The educational process is sometimes challenging, often joyful, and always rewarding. She likes to call it “Intensity Meets Playfulness™—all done one small step at a time!”
Uta says, “I feel fortunate to have had a career filled with excitement and joy, but what pleases me most is that it has given me a forum for sharing what I’ve learned.” Uta has always brought her message to a broad audience, from running with President Clinton, and appearing on programs like “The Late Show with David Letterman,” to giving motivational speeches at the Boston Marathon, at the Marathon of the Palm Beaches, or coaching Team Hoyt, and appearing at charities in support of children and fitness.
As a speaker, when leading clinics or holding workshops in conjunction with other people who simply want to live a healthy, balanced life, she discusses how she developed her abilities, the role of exercise, and how state of mind factors in. But it is more than reviewing what has worked for her. It is about examining her hardships and failures, since they taught the most important lessons. In this way, she hopes to help others overcome obstacles and find fulfillment in running—and life.
In formats that range from formal presentations to interactive sessions with groups or individuals, Uta reflects on her life in the hopes of prompting audience members and participants to do the same. “It is important to assess one’s being and challenge one’s life direction by asking difficult questions and then sincerely answering them with an open heart,” she says. For instance:
- Do you live a happy life?
- Are you satisfied with your daily nutrition?
- Do you exercise or enjoy a walk or run or some type of outdoor activity?
It is Uta’s belief that such honesty and reflection can allow a person to overcome fear, develop the confidence to confront life’s tests, and dare to explore new territory. Take The Magic Step® is the vehicle she created to listen to people and to mentor them. It incorporates who she is, what she has learned, and what she hopes to share.
Some of Uta’s Career Highlights
- Winner of the Berlin Marathon—1990, 1992, and 1995
- Winner of the Boston Marathon—1994, 1995, and 1996; the first woman to win three consecutive Boston Marathon championships
- Winner of the New York City Marathon—1993; the only German ever to win
- Runner of the Year by the Association of International Marathon and Road Races (AIMS) 1995 and 1996
- Ranked #1 in the world 1994 and 1995 in both the marathon and the half marathon
- German (female) record holder in the marathon: 2:21:45 (2 hours, 21 minutes, and 45 seconds). Recorded at the 1994 Boston Marathon. It was the third-fastest marathon time ever by a woman.
- German record holder in the half marathon: 67:58 (67 minutes and 58 seconds). Recorded at the 1995 Kyoto Half Marathon.
- Olympic Games: 7th in the 10,000 meters, Barcelona, 1992; pelvic stress fracture and DNF in the marathon, Atlanta, 1996
- World Championships: 6th in the 10,000 meters, Tokyo, 1991; 3rd in the 15K, Nieuwegein (NED), 1991; winner with the German team in this event
- Indoor World Record in the 5,000 meters, Stuttgart, 1991 (15:13.72—15 minutes and 13.72 seconds)
- Winner of numerous road and cross-country races, and Masters competitions (40+) worldwide
- Founder, Take The Magic Step, LLC (2004)
- Co-Founder, Take The Magic Step Foundation (2008)
- Broadcast analyst, Boston Marathon; Berlin Marathon
- ReBrand 100 Award, 2006, Take The Magic Step
- Member, Board of Advisors, MIT AgeLab 2005-2010
© Copyright by Uta Pippig and Take The Magic Step®. All Rights Reserved.