For Sarah Fuller, the idea of leaving her comfort zone to compete in another extremely demanding sport is not exactly a new concept.
Fuller, 22, made history in 2020 when the then-Vanderbilt women’s soccer goalkeeper was asked to play for the football team as a placekicker. She became the first woman to play — and score points — for a Power 5 conference team.
Now, she’s ready for a new challenge. Having trained for months, Fuller is readying herself for the Boston Marathon.
“I’m feeling good,” said Fuller, whose training peaked with a 20-mile run in early April. Since then, she’s been putting the finishing touches on her preparation.
“After I completed the 20 miles, I felt like I was ready and could take on the marathon.”
Having done other build-up runs in her training — each one longer than the last — she said she felt improvement “with every step.”
20 miles done and two weeks left till Boston! pic.twitter.com/7Ju4F5en4e— Sarah Fuller (@SarahFuller_27) April 3, 2022
As a goalkeeper, distance running was never her focus.
“I mean, I signed up for a fun 5K one time in high school,” she said.
But when the Boston Athletic Association reached out about the possibility of running the marathon, Fuller had a similar reaction to when she was asked about playing football.
“I just kind of thought about it and was like, ‘Yeah, OK, let’s try this,’ ” she said. “It was the same thing with the football stuff. I just said, ‘All right, let’s do it.’ ”
Her football career began when Vanderbilt’s regular placekickers were unavailable because of COVID. The starting kicker opted out of the 2020 season, and other kickers had been temporarily ruled out because of contact tracing.
In the emergency circumstance, then-football coach Derek Mason eventually checked in with the women’s soccer team, which was only a day removed from upsetting top-seeded Arkansas, 3-1, to win the SEC tournament championship.
Fuller, then in her senior season, was known for her leg strength on goal kicks. She turned out to be a fine replacement, helping first with kickoffs and eventually on a pair of extra points in a game two weeks later. It was only afterward that she realized the magnitude of her milestone.
“People were sending me stuff from England and Germany and my name was popping up all over the world,” Fuller recalled. “I was thinking, ‘Oh OK, so I did something here.’ ”
Her place in this year’s marathon is meant to help honor the 50th anniversary of another historic event: the first official participation of women in the Boston Marathon. Just as eight women officially ran Boston in 1972, Fuller and seven other women will make up an honorary BAA team in 2022.
“I really want to give credit to the women that were fighting 50 years ago to make this possible,” said Fuller, who sees her own story as possible only thanks to earlier trailblazing women in sports.
“I know for a fact that the football coaches wouldn’t have been like, ‘Hey, let’s look at the women’s soccer team,’ if all those women before me hadn’t done what they did.”
Now a graduate student at North Texas, Fuller was recently the first signing made by Minnesota Aurora FC, a soccer team set to play this summer in the inaugural season of the USL W-League.
But before she returns to soccer, Fuller will put herself to the test in Boston. It’s a challenge she says she’s excited to face.
“I’m really just trying to enjoy every second of the race,” she said. “I’m not going to wear my headphones. I want to just experience the atmosphere.”