EUGENE, Ore. — Former Nike running star Kara Goucher returned to Oregon this month as an NBC commentator for the World Athletics Championships in Eugene. The two-time Olympian and former world championships silver medalist is providing on-air analysis of the distance running events during the competition.
Goucher was once one of the state's top runners, having been coached by Alberto Salazar on the Nike Oregon Project team from 2004 to 2011.
The last time KGW spoke to Goucher was in 2012 at her home in Portland's West Hills. She was 34 years old, raising a toddler with her husband, and had just received her gear for the Olympic Games in London.
"I was still running a lot at that time and training ... It was a long time ago, or it feels like a long time," said Goucher, who now lives in Boulder, Colo., with her family.
Being back in Oregon brings mixed emotions for Goucher.
About a year and a half ago, she started having strange symptoms that made it harder for her to run. She started seeing multiple neurologists and eventually, she was diagnosed with a rare condition called repetitive exercise dystonia.
"It's caused me to fall on runs. I feel like I'm slipping, I drift to the left side of the road. And so now I'm just sort of in this phase of treatment," she said.
Goucher said a drug that's used to treat Parkinson's disease is helping with the symptoms, and the two conditions appear to be related.
"So I'm basically a few months into trying to reclaim some of my running. I'll never run another marathon, which has been hard to accept, but I'd like to be able to run more than I can right now," she said.
Running has always been a passion and an outlet for Goucher. She came in 11th in the marathon at the Summer Olympics back in 2012.
"It feels really unfair, if I'm totally honest. It feels super unfair," Goucher said. "I love running. I fell in love with running, running with my grandpa when I was 6 years old."
Up until a year and a half ago, she said she was still running a lot.
"I would go out, tell my husband I'll be back in an hour and come back three hours later. I just really love running and it gives me so much peace and comfort. And so it's been hard to learn what my new boundaries are."
Her entire life has involved running, from high school to college and the elite professional level that brought her into the Nike fold. She said therapy and leaning into other passions, like her family and weightlifting, have helped her cope with her new reality.
"Running has always sort of been my therapy, so when I don't have it, I feel like I don't have a way to get out my frustrations or just life stuff."
When Goucher's leg problems began, she wondered if it might be stress-related.
Her life had changed dramatically when she became one of the first athletes to blow the whistle on her former coach Alberto Salazar. She went to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in 2015 and claimed he promoted doping.
Salazar was first suspended from the sport, then banned for life after additional allegations that, according to The New York Times, included sexual assault of an athlete. Salazar denied the allegations but lost an appeal to try to overturn the ban.
"I believe that it wasn't a gray area. I believe lines had been crossed as far as anti-doping rules, and I felt really strongly about that," Goucher said.
She said the alleged violations prompted her to leave the Nike Oregon Project in 2011, and that she was shunned from the sport after she came forward with the allegations.
"It was horrible. I don't think people realized how close we were, and there were feelings for me like I betrayed someone who I cared about deeply. That's been a really hard part of my life," she said.
In the end, Goucher said she believes she did the right thing, but that being back in Eugene — where Nike is everywhere and Salazar remains a hero to many — is not easy.
"It's tough to be in Eugene. I feel like I've carved out a new experience here being with NBC, but it is a big-time Nike town and the University of Oregon is obviously really tied to people that I used to be very close with, who I'm not with anymore. So it is tricky for me to be here.
"The first job I did last year was really hard. I got a tour of the new facility, which is absolutely stunning. And I went back to my hotel room and started crying on the phone to my husband. I was like, I don't know if I can do this, you know?
"But I feel like I'm overcoming that and I'm finding, I have so much joy calling these races and telling the stories of the athletes. And so I feel like it's helped me sort of work through a lot of stuff and realize that there's still a lot of good to be had and good times to enjoy."
Goucher said lending her insights during the distance events at the world championships is one way she stays connected to the sport she loves.