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UC CECH alumni wins 2008 Olympic gold medal, inspires dreams

Mary Weinberg

Mary Wineberg is most known for her Olympic gold win in the 2008 Bejing Olympics, running the first leg of a 4 X 400 relay race.

The 2002 University of Cincinnati College of Education, Criminal Justice, Human Services, and Information Technology graduate is just one of four UC Olympic Gold medalists, and the first African American woman from UC, to do so. She keeps good company with the likes of Oscar Robertson, who was a member of the 1960 Olympic basketball team and led the Bearcats to the Final Four twice.

But Wineberg's journey to winning her historic title had its obstacles. Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., she became a ward of New York at the age of four and later moved to Cincinnati with a woman who adopted her at the age of 12. Though Wineberg didn’t have trouble making friends with others, she did struggle with the questions of “Where my mother was, why was I being adopted, and where did I come from?”

Wineberg made friends and enjoyed her time at Cincinnati's Walnut Hills High School, but says, like many kids, she felt different. Very tall and with long and thin limbs, Wineberg felt that she stood out and says it took her time to “come into my own skin and be able to realize that I was beautiful and I could do anything that I could put my mind to.”

Despite now being a gold medalist, Wineberg didn’t start running competitively until high school. Her best friend tried to convince her to join the team, but Wineberg was afraid that her education-minded mother wouldn’t allow her. So, she had her friend’s mom talk to her mother about the benefits of playing a sport.

It did the trick. Wineberg was permitted to try out, and landed a spot on the team.

“I had a talent I didn’t know I had,” she said.

Wineberg worked hard to get better before making it to the state meet in 1998. She didn’t place in the finals and thought it was the end of the road for her, but coaches had been watching her and she was recruited by the University of Cincinnati. 

Mary Weinberg

Wineberg knew university competition would be tougher than high school. She was coming in with a signed letter of intent and scholarship, so she knew that it was something that needed to be taken seriously.

“I knew I had to make my mom proud, I had to make my coaches proud, I had to make my teammates proud,” she said.

Wineberg also needed to overcome a great deal of fear she had about competing with other universities and disappointing her teammates.

Wineberg recalls going to a conference meet her senior year and competing against a rival University of Huston athlete. She nearly had a panic attack because of her fear of not living up to the best of her abilities, and her coaches and roommates had to try and calm her down. It was then when she, “almost had an epiphany.”

Calming herself down, Wineberg gathered her thoughts and said to herself, “Look, the time is now. You can’t go back in time to change anything. You only have what you can work with now.” 

She then walked up to the line and ran, and ended up breaking the UC record for that meet. Even though Wineberg was overjoyed and surprised she was able to come out on top, she couldn’t help but think, “Wow, imagine if I had done that a few times earlier. Instead of letting the fear overcome me.”

While Wineberg was busy beating records and overcoming fear, she ended up studying early childhood education. She started out in athletic tTraining, then moved into health promotion and education before finally landing on what she always wanted to do, which was to educate.  

“I always wanted to be a teacher. When I was little, I used to play school. And I always wanted to be just like my teachers when I grew up," she explained. 

As Wineberg made her way through her studies, she credits her teachers for always pushing her to her best and helping her become the woman she is today. Wineberg also became a member of UC's chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., which is the oldest service sorority for African American women in the nation.

Mary Weinberg and the Cat in the Hat book

In 2002, after she graduated and two years before the next Summer Olympics, Wineberg had a thought: “I want to try out for the Olympics.”

This shocked her as it was never part of plan, and so she wasn't prepared for it.

Wineberg didn't make the 2004 team, but she  made it her goal to be in the 2008 Beijing Games. With the help of her husband, she worked harder than she ever did and even though she wasn’t considered amongst the top 100 athletes, she still became a team member.

After winning the gold, Wineberg came back to Cincinnati feeling on top of the world and, “taking things as they come.”

She took a few years off and got back into teaching, which she still does; she's a second-grade teacher at Hyde Park Elementary. And she realized she has a story to tell, one that could be amazing and inspirational to others.

Wineberg tells that story in her book "Unwavering Perseverance: An Olympic Gold Medalist Finds Peace." 

Wineberg now travels around the world using her story to give inspiration and power to those who may have a similar background or just need a bit of help and inspiration to chase after their goals. Even though she goes out of her way to teach others they can also achieve great things, she also participates in community volunteer work; and her first love, education.

“I love that I can put on different hats. I’m not just an Olympian. I’m an author, I’m a friend, and a sorority sister. I’m also a wife, I’m a mother and I’m a teacher," said Wineberg. "I can be different things to different people.”