PaliHi Runner Gwendolen Twist Shares Love of Running with Kids

By Laurel Busby
Staff Writer

When Gwendolen Twist was 9 years old, she carried the Olympic torch for a kilometer of its relay journey to the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

The experience gave her insight into the sport of running. Marshals, who were professional runners, ran and chatted with her about the sport. Then a few years later, her brother took up cross country in high school, and she decided to run with him as a seventh grader. The sport was a natural fit.

“It was easy for me,” said Twist, who now runs with the Palisades High School cross-country and track teams as an assistant coach.“Other sports were tough.” She had worked with private coaches for basketball and various sports, but running clicked in a way those sports hadn’t. “With running, I could just go, and I was good at it. It was fun.”

Coach Gwendolen Twist (front) runs with the Palisades High School Cross Country team at an August training camp at Mammoth. Photo: Ben Hansen

Coach Gwendolen Twist (front) runs with the Palisades High School Cross Country team at an August training camp at Mammoth. Photo: Ben Hansen

She ran for both her Newport Harbor High School track and cross-country teams and then at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, although she drifted away from competing in her final years of college while she earned a film and communication degree in 1998.

However, running was still part of Twist’s life. She ran three marathons in 2000, and marathons also entered her work life when she took a job as a producer of Spirit of the Marathon, a movie about seven runners—five amateurs and two elites—training and running in the Chicago Marathon. Twist entered the project at the beginning of post-production, which involved condensing more than 150 hours of footage into an entertaining feature.

The project was a success. It premiered in conjunction with the 2008 Chicago Marathon as a special-event screening for one night in 650 theaters, and the theaters were packed. Because of this, they added a second night the following month, and a sequel project began that focused on runners participating in the Rome Marathon.

“The first film is about running and training, whereas the second one is more about the people,” Twist said. For example, in the sequel, one runner’s son had died and “through running he finds peace. Another runner plans to do 52 marathons for 52 weeks for charity. Most people really liked the first film, but they want to know more about the people.”

Gwendolen Twist, 9, carried the 1984 Olympic torch for one kilometer.

Gwendolen Twist, 9, carried the 1984 Olympic torch for one kilometer.

Twist’s skill as a runner also turned out to be a promotional tool. She ran marathons to promote the sequel. The 2013 world premiere was at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in San Diego, and the marathon was the following day.

“That was a lot of fun, because a lot of the runners had seen the film the night before; I was able to hang out with the community,” said Twist, who has twin 9-year-old sons, Wyler and Teyton, with her husband Jordan Harris, a computer animator.

Twist continues to enjoy running. For example, she’s part of Jane’s Elite Racing Team, a team for professional women runners, and in March, she was a pace leader for the L.A. Road Runners at the Los Angeles Marathon, which she ran in 3 hours and 43 minutes and 19 seconds. But she has expanded her repertoire to include coaching by first earning a level-one USA Track and Field coaching certificate, which she followed with a level-two certificate specializing in endurance.

Other coaches at the training told her, “If you were in my neighborhood, I would hire you because you’re fast enough and you can help the team while they’re running,” so last year as the cross-country season was starting, Twist called Bob Macias, the PaliHi coach, to see if she could assist by running with the girls for a day or two each week. He said, “Can you come every day, and can you start tomorrow?’” So, she did.

The Pali girls team has continued to prosper too, winning its fourth consecutive City Section title, qualifying for State and coming in 16th with a young team, including three freshmen and a sophomore. This summer, Twist and some of the team members also ran in the Palisades Will Rogers 10K.

“I’ve really been loving it more than I thought I would,” Twist said. “These kids have so much to offer and are so appreciative. They’re just good kids. They care about the sport. They care about getting better and trying to better themselves.”

Three of the seven competitors at State last year won’t be returning this fall, including two who graduated and one who transferred, but Sarah Bentley, Brittany Darrow, Kimia Samandi and Elisa Kim, who all placed in the top 10 among 78 competitors at the City finals, will be back.

In addition, incoming freshmen Miranda Schriver and Jennifer Karlan are expected to run well, while on the boys side, Ben Hamer, Brent Smith, Alec Steward, Finn Cawley, Brett Bailey and Schriver’s twin brother, Lucas, are expected to be strong team members.

Between 20-30 girls typically joined each practice last cross-country season, and Twist said her goal for the team, which is open to all Pali students, is not only to help them improve during the season, but also to make running a part of their lives.

“When I was in high school, I had some pretty amazing coaches who loved running and instilled a love of running,” Twist said. “That’s what I want to do for these kids—instill the love of running and make it fun. Cross country and track are not easy. You’re working hard. I’m trying to create runners for life. If in 20 years, they’re still running and enjoying it and are healthy and active, then I did my job.”

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