Shruti Mungi
Ellen Raffio, Tom Raffio and Erika Cohen at the 2023 Delta Dental Mount Washington Road Race.
Left to right: Ellen Raffio, Tom Raffio and Erika Cohen at the 2023 Delta Dental Mount Washington Road Race. 

Adjunct Professor of Communication Arts Erika Cohen recently co-authored “Stories from the Starting Line” with Tom and Ellen Raffio. The book tells stories about the diverse world of runners in New Hampshire and New England.  

The authors interviewed 61 runners of all ages and abilities who have run a number of local routes and races. The book provides multiple perspectives on running and creates a space where all kinds of runners can find themselves represented.  

"The chapters reflect the different perspectives and include stories of trail running, coaching, marathons, community road races, racing as people get older, running with children, the challenges runners face, the data runners collect and how many people see running as a gift," Professor Cohen says.  

The book also features the professional journeys of runners like 1984 Olympic Marathon Winner Joan Benoit Samuelson; real winner of the controversial 1980 Boston Marathon Jacqueline Gareau; and mountain running champion Joseph Gray.  

“We also wanted to highlight the challenges some elite runners faced to get to the top echelons of the sport, be it acceptance because of their race or challenges because of their gender,” she says. “But when runners get to talking, the line between elite and everyday fades, and it’s just runners swapping stories about what they love to do.” 

Runners often turn to each other for support and form communities at races including the nationally recognized Delta Dental Mount Washington Road Race and The Capital Area Race Series. The book also highlights local racing companies and the way communities come together during hardships like the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“When you wear a T-shirt from the race, someone who ran the race before will take note and start a conversation,” Professor Cohen says. “Knowing you will see familiar friendly faces is as much a reason to run as the running itself.” 

Professor Cohen has co-written and edited five books, and often shares the challenges she has faced as an author with her students. In the classroom, she also teaches with an emphasis on professional growth and hands-on learning. 

“When done right, a college education prepares students for the professional world,” she says. “Students need as much real-world practice as possible for their confidence and for their resumes.” 

The CA 500 Media Writing course is an elective course in the communication arts department which covers marketing writing, magazine writing, blogs and narrative nonfiction. It also features a longstanding partnership with Business New Hampshire magazine’s Young Reporters’ Project, where students learn to report and write for the magazine.  

“I can grade a paper and give someone an A, but it’s much more rewarding to have their story run in Business NH Magazine and read by tens of thousands of people,” says Professor Cohen, who founded the project while working for the magazine.   

This partnership not only equips students with practical skills and exposure to the media industry but also serves as a stepping stone to fulfilling careers. After writing for the magazine, some students have gone on to intern at the magazine while others chose graduate school or other writing related jobs.  

“By partnering with colleges, the magazine gets stories from students, students get clips for their resume and the program introduces more students to a potential career path,” Professor Cohen says. “My class is media writing, but it really is also a writing class to prepare students for the professional world, whatever job they choose.”