Fiona "Fi" Bayly '85

Year of Graduation: 
Fiona running in a marathon.

"I gave a lot to the running program, but Exeter gave much, much more back to me in terms of ... encouragement and love."

Fiona Bayly has not stopped running since 1982, when she joined Exeter’s cross-country team during her lower year. Nearly 30 years after helping to rewrite some of the school’s cross-country record books, Bayly hasn’t stopped winning, either.

Her post-Exeter career features a long list of accomplishments that includes a distinguished career at Dartmouth College, multiple USA Track and Field New York Masters Runner of the Month awards, and an ever-expanding list of 5k, 10k and half-marathon victories at venues that span the nation.

Last March, Bayly and five of her teammates from Urban Athletics took first place while setting a world-class record in masters running (a racing division for runners over 40) in the coed indoor marathon relay at the New Balance Track & Field Center at the Armory in New York City. That was a nice feat, but perhaps nothing compares to the achievement of becoming a world champion.

With swimming part of her racing repertoire since the early 2000s, Bayly earned a spot on Team USA in 2014 at the International Triathlon Union Aquathlon World Championships in Edmonton, Canada, where she won a gold medal and secured the world championship in her age group.

“Competing for and being part of Team USA is another branch of my athletic career,” Bayly says, “but at each stop along the way, I always trace it back to my time at Exeter. It seems like just yesterday, I was covering the [cross-country] course ... over roots of trees and through the grass. If you put me on the bridge that leads out to Phelps Stadium today, my feet would just go.”

Bayly arrived on campus as a soccer, ice hockey and lacrosse player. While she remained part of the ice hockey program throughout her tenure, she made the switch from soccer to cross-country in her lower year after finding success in local races over the summer. The transition paid immediate dividends; she was named team MVP for three straight years and served as team captain in her final two years, while going undefeated and becoming the Interschol champion in 1984.

Bayly (yellow shoes) and her teammates after setting a world-class record in NYC. 

“I gave a lot to the running program, but Exeter gave much, much more back to me in terms of participatory support, encouragement and love,” Bayly reflects. “In my lower year, coach Rick Parris very much became like a father figure. He knew how to make it fun. We always loved to be together as a team, and practices were always a wonderful, wonderful experience, but Rick also gave me every freedom to explore my strengths.”

Two of Bayly’s biggest strengths may be determination and stamina. She would log a couple of miles on her own before classes and follow that with a team practice in the afternoon, before capping many nights with a third run of the day along the banks of the Squamscott River.

“Exeter was perhaps the most intense portion of my life,” she says. “I recognized that I loved running, and those factors instilled in me the desire to keep pushing in order to handle the rigors that academics and athletics can put on you. The demand of very challenging classes makes you focus on something other than academics, and it’s the same for athletics. I graduated cum laude, but I don’t think I would’ve been able to do that without the spectacular challenges running gave me.”

Bayly still tries to manage her time equally between work and sports, fitting in her training alongside responsibilities at the American Museum of Natural History, where she serves as the assistant to the director for the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation. She did once attempt to put the balancing act behind her, leaving her job at the Wildlife Conservation Society to focus solely on her sport. She began competing in triathlons, and after winning her first race on the wheels of an aged road bike, Bayly secured a cycling sponsorship and set her sights on the 2008 Summer Olympics.

She quickly realized, however, that the lifestyle wasn’t for her.

“You eat, sleep and train, and I was not good at it,” she says. “I always tell people I was a professional athlete for all of about six months, but I got bored. I didn’t want to leave New York, a city that I love. I am glad I tried it, but I didn’t have the right mindset. I need to have a balancing act of a job. A job keeps me balanced.”

"Running is one of those sports where each person literally covers the same ground. ... We are all going through the same conditions whether it be mud, sleet or rain. ... Nobody gets an easy path when it comes to running."
Fiona Bayly '85

Bayly’s motivation and desire to compete still beckoned. She has been part of the Urban Athletics running club since 1992 — the year she moved to New York City — and cherishes the atmosphere the team brings to what is often thought of as an individual sport.

“Running is one of those sports where each person literally covers the same ground,” she says. “We are all going through the very same conditions whether it be mud, sleet or rain. Everyone experiences the same course and nobody gets an easy path when it comes to running.”

Just as she was on the leading edge of women’s running while at Exeter, she is now at the forefront of masters running, as the sport is gaining more and more popularity. Bayly is the best masters runner in the tri-state region, one of the best in the nation, and USA Track and Field consistently courts her to compete in race circuits around the country, where she is often found crossing the line ahead of her 22- and 23-year-old counterparts.

Those younger competitors whom she consistently strides by are eager to pick her brain for training tips, race strategy and nutrition regimens, but one thing she cannot teach is her thirst for competition.

“While I am running, I always feel as if I have something to prove,” Bayly says. “I had a couple rivalries with girls from NMH [Northfield Mount Hermon] and Andover, and I still get that aggressiveness when I race today. The only time in my life that I am aggressive is in my races: I feel as if I am 10 feet tall and I just push and push and push. As a masters runner now, knowing that I can become one of the best in the nation turns into motivation, and it gives me such satisfaction to know that I can still go up against top-tiered talent.”

Bayly is still leaning on some of the lessons coach Parris taught her three decades ago. She tries to mimic her running patterns and training from her time as a student, and she appreciates the lifelong mark that Exeter left on her.

“It was the running that allowed me to make a name for myself,” she concludes, “but it was the people at Exeter that helped me negotiate growing up as a teenager. Lessons from Exeter will last your entire lifetime.”

—Brian Muldoon

Editor's note: This profile first appeared in the summer 2017 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.

More to Explore

Bayly Interview

The athlete talks about her childhood, running and her connection to nature with interviewer Will Sanchez. 

Go to the page titled Bayly Interview