Maria Elena Calle, now an Olympian, was only nine years old when she started running at her elementary school in Cuenca, Ecuador. Although she usually finished first or second, Maria insists that the races were just for fun and she wasn’t thinking about winning. “At that age, it was just an after school activity mainly to spend time with friends,” she says.
Maria always loved running, which came naturally to her. At 17 she was selected to represent Ecuador in both the 1,500 and 3,000 meters at the Bolivian Games, which is like a mini-Olympics for South America, held every four years. Maria was one of the youngest competitors there and surprised everyone by finishing thid in both races (behind Janet Caizilitin who finished fourth in the 1992 World Cross Country Championships junior race and Martha Tenorio, a 2:27 marathoner). She recalls standing on the podium singing the Ecuadorian national anthem and realizing that, “maybe, just maybe, I could be good at running.”