Forerunner: CSU track pioneer receives national tribute

Lillian Greene-Chamberlain

CSU alumna Lillian Greene-Chamberlain set national and international records in long sprints and middle-distance running events in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Now 81, she’s highlighted among four dozen older Black Americans in a national storytelling initiative backed by Oprah Winfrey. Photo: Erin Douglas / Lift Every Voice

Lillian Greene-Chamberlain is an honored Colorado State University alumna from 1963 and a trailblazer in elite women’s track and field who is back on a podium this summer, when she is highlighted as part of a new national initiative called “Lift Every Voice.”

The project is led by Hearst media and promoted by Oprah Winfrey.

“Lift Every Voice” pairs young Black journalists with an older generation of about 50 Black Americans, who have shared their inspiring stories so that audiences may learn from and celebrate their experiences and achievements. Those featured include civil rights activists, hometown heroes, and celebrities living across the country.

Greene-Chamberlain’s story was published in Runner’s World in mid-June and is permanently available on the website of Oprah Daily.

Lillian Greene-Chamberlain running for CSU
Greene-Chamberlain was a pacesetter who came to CSU in 1960 to help start the university’s first intercollegiate women’s track team.

Groundbreaking achievements

Now 81 years old and living in Silver Spring, Maryland, Greene-Chamberlain was a standout student-athlete who grew up in the neighborhood of Harlem, in New York City, and streaked to a series of firsts as a runner and educator.

A specialist in long sprints and middle-distance running events, she came to CSU in Fall 1960 to help establish the University’s first intercollegiate women’s track team. She was lured by the opportunity to make a significant impact – and because she wanted to learn to ski and ride horses while studying physical education, she said in a “Lift Every Voice” interview.

Greene-Chamberlain set records and became the first U.S. national champion in the 440-yard run indoors, as well as the first African American woman to represent the United States in 400-meter and 800-meter races in international competition. She was a champion in the Pan American Games and a three-time U.S. All-American national team member.

At CSU, Greene-Chamberlain was the first African American female athlete. She earned the University’s first women’s athletic scholarship, known as the Lillian Greene Scholarship, funded by The Denver Post and other donors.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in physical education and a teaching certificate at Colorado State, Greene-Chamberlain gained master’s and doctoral degrees at Fordham University.

Lillian Greene-Chamberlain
After earning degrees at CSU and Fordham University, Greene-Chamberlain became an UNESCO leader. Photo: CSU Libraries, Archives & Special Collections

UNESCO leader

She then became the first director of the Physical Education and Sports Program for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization in Paris, France. In the UNESCO role, which she held for a decade, she developed physical education curricula for more than 160 nations around the world.

She later ran part of the torch relay preceding the 2002 Winter Olympics and, in 2007, was named one of the 100 Most Influential Sports Educators in America by Business Wire. She remains active in leadership roles in the sphere of education and athletics; for instance, serving as a trustee of the Women’s Sports Foundation.

In an interview with CSU Athletics in 2012, she said: “Participating in sports gave me confidence, self-esteem, and a sense of empowerment that I could be successful in anything that I attempted, through strategic thinking, realistic goal-setting, hard work, persistence, and courage. It prepared me for the serious competition of life.”

She told “Lift Every Voice” that she has worked through her life to use stumbling blocks as steppingstones.

Greene-Chamberlain is a member of the CSU Athletics Hall of Fame and accepted the 1994 William E. Morgan Alumni Achievement Award, the Alumni Association’s highest honor, for alumni who have excelled nationally and internationally.