A life filled with perseverance and positivity, Magda considers what brought her to this moment and what being a leader means now.
Like the rest of us, Magdalena Boulet has long known that that life, as with running, is a never-ending personal journey.
Boulet has approached the long, winding trail of life as an enchanting expedition, adapting to the many twists and turns, preconceived obstacles, limitations and messiness while also appreciating the possibilities, silver linings and blessings along the way.
For anyone who has spent time with Magda, it’s easy to see how she approaches every day with good intent, a kind heart, relentless tenacity and enthusiasm and, perhaps most importantly, the ability to continually evolve and persevere.
“What am I training for? That’s a really good question,” she remarks with a laugh during a recent phone conversation after a morning workout and before a business meeting. “My answer has always been that I’m training for life.”
Magda was born in communist Poland, but she and her family fled to West Germany in the ‘80s with just a few duffles of clothes when she was a young teenager. She never had a chance to say goodbye to her swimming club teammates. Magda’s family eventually relocated to the U.S. with little money and few possessions. That disruptive life lesson of determination and survival forged her character of resolve and provided a foundation from which she has pursued her own, modern version of the American dream. Magda famously took the oath of citizenship in San Francisco as a 28-year-old on the fateful morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
Boulet’s steadfast approach helped her become a standout collegiate track athlete at Cal-Berkeley, where she also earned a degree in human biodynamics. Later, she became a professional runner, initially for Saucony and now for HOKA since 2014. She earned success as an Olympic marathoner and eventually became a Western States, Leadville 100 and Marathon des Sables champion.
“Being an immigrant coming to this country as a teenager, I was already facing some of my own barriers that I needed to break in order to make it in this country,” says Boulet, 48. “The fact that I was able to break through in my athletics and my professional career and had the opportunity to be on the U.S. Olympic team have all been connected. It wasn’t just one thing, it was a collection of all of these experiences and put me in this position later in life to be brave enough to chase something else.
Boulet sees possibility in what most people consider challenges. She’s gratefully taken advantage of the opportunities she’s been offered, but her unflinching resolve and zeal for hard work has also allowed her to make plenty of her own.
Extremely humble and seemingly unflappable in the face of adversity, Boulet effuses a contagious mix of positivity and tenacity, says good friend Julia Stamps Mallon.
“She’s got this amazing capacity for perseverance like no other,” says Mallon, who met Boulet when she competed against her in track and cross country for Stanford in the late ’90s. “She approaches things in a very, very humble way, but with a huge amount of grit. She’s incredibly wired in that respect. It’s not a sense of competitiveness that drives her, it’s just grit.”
Just as Boulet’s running career evolved from the track to marathons to ultras, so, too, has her professional career. Last fall, Magda was named President of GU Energy Labs, one of the world’s leading sports nutrition companies that she’s played a role in shaping since 1999.
In her twenties, as a newly minted professional runner, Magda literally knocked on GUs door looking for sports nutrition advice from founder Dr. Bill Vaughan. She was working toward a master’s in exercise physiology and Vaughn recognized her intelligence and ambition and hired her as a research assistant. Vaughan mentored and encouraged her to work not just harder, but smarter both in business and as an athlete. That would lead to her driving the company’s innovation process over the past two decades. But most important, she says, was the model Vaughn set of showing care and respect for his employees, especially as GU has continued to grow and become a successful, international brand.
Now that she’s at the helm of GU, co-leading with CEO Brian Vaughan, Boulet is one of only a handful of top women executives in the endurance and outdoor industry. She hopes to carry on the hard-working and encouraging ethos the elder Vaughan set, while also putting a premium on celebrating and inspiring a diverse range of voices, ideas, and backgrounds that continue to break through barriers.
“There are a lot of people who are smart and thoughtful leaders, but we just need different people to be at the table, different people to come in and contribute,” she says. “The strength is in bringing different perspectives to a team or an organization. I learned that from some of my mentors, even in athletics. There’s not just one way to get from Point A to Point B. The results are a lot more fruitful and meaningful when you have perspectives from more diverse groups of people. Just bringing a collective thinking approach results in better outcomes.”
One amazing thing about Boulet is that she experienced most of her athletic success after becoming a mother in 2005. Before and after making the 2008 U.S. Olympic marathon team, she was logging 130-mile weeks while she and her husband, Richie, juggled their busy lives and care of their little one. There were countless times when she’d log a few miles on a treadmill while their toddler ate breakfast, played with toys on the living room floor or watched cartoons on the adjacent couch.
Bringing more women into ultrarunning is dear to her heart, but she’s personally aware that there are numerous limitations and obstacles that many women must maneuver through. Having been there herself, her aim is to respect and support women where they are — in running, in business, in life — while also trying to inspire them to persevere.
“Ultrarunning definitely needs more women,” Boulet says “I always try to understand the many limitations — making sure they have the support at home with their families, making sure they can balance their work and passion for running, not to mention just feeling safe on the trails. It’s not one thing, it’s pretty complex.”
She’ll be the first to admit that, even though she’s an immigrant, she’s been privileged because she’s white. She admits she’s lived in her own bubble until fairly recently, but knows she needs to show up in places she hasn’t in the past, in addition to inviting a wider range of people into her own circle. In her role at GU, as a Western States Endurance Run Foundation board member, as a running coach, as the Miwok 100 volunteer coordinator, and as an occasional volunteer with Running for a Better Oakland — a local organization that encourages Oakland students to develop healthy lifestyles through running — she’s striving to be an advocate for greater diversity, equity, inclusion and representation in trail ultrarunning.
“The last few years have been an awakening,” she admits. “But if you recognize it and you don’t do anything about it, then it’s ‘shame on you’ basically. You have to take a step back and create that space and support people who have devoted their lives for making a change. There is a lot of effort that we can put into creating spaces that are a lot more inclusive, welcoming and making people feel like they belong when they show up. It’s one thing to open the door to someone, but the next level is making someone feel like they belong in that place.”
And, while she remains passionate about the evolution of sports nutrition, Boulet is deeply invested in empowering people, both professionally and in sport.
“I feel very fortunate to lead a company that has such strong core values. That’s about compassion for yourself, but also compassion for other people,” she says. “Over the years, we’ve been involved in our community, but it goes beyond just fueling the performance and adventures of our athletes. It’s really three-fold. It’s fueling people when they’re out there, inspiring them to move and contributing to people having more knowledge about how it’s important to take care of their bodies. That’s what really excites me. It’s more than just us putting a product out there. We feel like we have a role to contribute to something bigger than that.”
Wow. Just wow. I’ve always admired her, but this article really cemented that admiration.
Reading your story felt very familiar & comforting! Thank you for being a leader that embodies what it means to be a leader- servant heart and gritty soul/sole????!
Thank you for this story. The inspiration is real and grounded in Magda’s genuine humility and compassion. I will draw on this with every GU Energy Gel infusion! As a father of two daughters, I am thankful for the Magda’s who are blazing trails (literally and figuratively) for women everywhere. Blessings.