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Connie Prince Houlihan is running again, and trying to keep up with her daughter
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Connie Prince Houlihan is running again, and trying to keep up with her daughter


For decades, Connie (Prince) Houlihan was the fastest runner in her family -- and one of Sioux City's fastest ever, holding an East High School record for 31 years.

But when knee issues set in, she had to take off her running shoes, leaving her largely sidelined. It was at that time that daughter Shelby ramped up her own running career, winning countless titles at East and later Arizona State. 

Today, Shelby Houlihan is a thriving pro runner seeking to make her second Olympic team this summer and the American record-holder at 1,500 and 5,000 meters, and her mother, who now lives in Arizona, has her running shoes back on, at least a little.

SIOUXLAND LIFE: How were you able to return to running?

CONNIE HOULIHAN: “Back in 2010 is when I injured my leg. I didn’t run for a couple of years, then I had stem cells done in my right knee and I had success and I could run again. Your gait is still altered, I think it is because of my meniscus. I started to run again, and I’ve been running over the years outside and stuff, but just not very much at one time, maybe 30 minutes. I got to when we first moved out here about six years ago, I was actually running some pretty good mileage, and then just started to have pain again. I just had another stem cell set.”

2009 Drake Relays
2010 Drake Relays
Cross country
2011 Drake Relays
Drake Relays celebration

Emotionally, how has that return to normal helped you?

"Good for me. I have all this endurance from marathoning years ago, so I’ve just always been an athlete I think, ever since I was able to. That’s hard to just not be that way anymore. It was tough on me, but I think I handled it really well. I’ve always been busy doing things with Shelby, traveling with her, supporting her in every way I could, so that was tough when I couldn’t run with her anymore, and my older daughter Shayla."

How important is it for you to maintain a high level of fitness?

I’ve always been an athlete. Even when I was pregnant, carrying my kids, I still ran, still swam laps. I’ve never really known any other life, for so many years. I just continue to do that because it’s so easy to get caught up in that where you don’t do anything at all, and then it’s hard to come back. I guess I’ve always thought over the years, ‘It’s easier to stay in shape than to fall out of shape.’ That’s kind of what I’ve always done. That’s how my kids look at me: Mom’s always doing something.”

Connie Prince Houlihan

Connie Prince Houlihan leads the pack in the women's open 10,000 meter run during the Sioux City Relays at Olsen Stadium on Friday, April 18, 2008.


What's special about running to you?

“It just makes me feel good. I think it’s something I’ve had in me for so many years. I talk about Shelby, and I say she came out that way, and I think I did too. I think I was meant to run. Whatever fitness you like, and I like swimming, too – my dad was a really good swimmer. I just come by that naturally, but running is my first love. (Shelby) does that today. She runs professionally because she loves it. When she first started to run pro, she would look at me and said, ‘Mom, I’d do this even if they weren’t paying me.’"

How does it feel to watch your children compete and stay involved in track and field?

“It’s awesome. I was really fast when I was young, and I loved to run, and so did my brothers, and that’s the way it was. When it came time to having children, I never thought, ‘Oh, I’m going to have this really standout runner,’ so when Shelby came along – I never pushed her. I was always there. She would always say, ‘Mommy, can I go run with you?’ I think I was her mentor, and I lived by example for her. I didn’t ever have to talk her into it, which was awesome. I see people push their kids all the time, and I think, ‘That’s not how Olympians are made. That’s not how they get to where they’re at.’

US Championships Athletics

Shelby Houlihan runs ahead of Karissa Schweizer, right, during the women's 5,000-meter run at the U.S. Championships athletics meet in July 2019 in Des Moines, Iowa.

How much do you and Shelby talk about her training and race tactics?

“She’s kind of still at that age where she says, ‘Mom, you don’t know.’ She listens to Jerry Schumacher, her coach, and there have been certain times where I’m like, ‘You need to do this’ (laughs). I always tell her, ‘Don’t forget, I know how to run fast, too. And I did it. So don’t forget that.’ Her age, she’s still in her 20s, she thinks, my parents don’t know. As far as coaching her, the thing is, I’ve seen so many people not let go of their kids, when they’ve brought them up through high school, and they want them to excel so bad that they don’t let go. So it’s impossible for other people to coach them. She’s really coachable, and I want her to have trust in that person that I pass her off to.

How does her professional career look differently than yours?

"I didn’t really have the training she has. She has one of the best coaches in the country, and she runs on the Bowerman team; I never really ran on a team. There just wasn’t as much of that back then. It was tougher for me to trudge forward. I didn’t have any trouble getting in the races I wanted to get in even without an agent."

Houlihan and family

How does Sioux City remain a part of your life?

“I have a sister and a brother that live there. I have nieces and nephews galore. We still come back to Okoboji for the summer, so that’s kind of how we stay connected. We have a cabin up there on West Lake, and all my family comes up. Whenever I’m in Sioux City, if it’s just for a weekend or for a week, whatever brings me back to Sioux City. My sister-in-law, who’s a dentist, is still my dentist."

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

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