Archive for Thursday, May 10, 2007

Column: ‘Chilling’ mile was race to remember

May 10, 2007

She left me speechless ...again. She left me standing there smiling and excited, but speechless.

After gathering my thoughts, all I could muster out was a simple, three-letter word, "wow!"

It was the best individual race I've ever seen in my many years of watching high school track. I've watched some so-called legends run around the oval, but none better than Friday night's performance.

Baldwin High School junior Heather Garcia did it again. She left her mark on the Red Bud Classic with her 4:58.9 1,600-meter run.

BHS girls' coach Ted Zuzzio might have said it best.

"Heather's mile was chilling," Zuzzio said.

I know several Kansas girls have broken 5:00 before, but I've never seen the races. BHS coach Mike Spielman only saw it one other time. He saw Riley County's Amy Mortimer set the state record by running 4:42 during the late 1990s.

I've watched BHS grad Matt Noonan run countless races, but none of his ever shocked me like Friday's. I even had the privilege of watching Shawnee Heights' Trisa Nickoley run a 2:08.41 in the 800-meter run in 2003.

The other race that left a mark in my brain was Garcia's 3,200-meter run at state in 2005. It was her freshman year, but it wasn't her race that left the mark. It was Clearwater's Mallory Champa, who ran a 10:47 to shatter the old Class 4A record. Garcia did finish second, but nearly 30 seconds later.

On Friday, Garcia came into the race fresh. Usually, she has already finished one event before the mile, but not Friday. Her window of opportunity shined bright that night and boy did she ever, carpe diem, seize the day.

I thought her race was going to be just another one where she runs with the pack for a lap or two, then takes off and leaves them behind. But no, she left everybody behind on the first lap.

Garcia even left her rival, Eudora's Brittney Graff, in the dust on the first lap. I wasn't sure if Garcia was running too fast or everyone else was trotting along.

Then I soon realized she was not running too fast at all, she was holding her pace along just fine, while widening the margin of lead.

After she crossed the third lap at 3:45, I thought to myself she had a chance to set a personal record or even break 5:00. It took me three of the four laps to realize this much, and I was a distance runner. Yikes!

Time seemed to slow down on her final lap as everyone watched in anticipation. The public address announcer informed everyone she was on pace to break the 5:00 barrier with less than 200 meters left. Spectators rose and cheered her down the home stretch, knowing they were witnessing a race to remember.

She crossed the finish line and the scoreboard clock read 4:58.9. Once she finished, that's all Garcia wanted to know.

"The first thing I did was ask for my time," Garcia said. "Then I kind of fell over from being so tired. It was so nice."

Then exhaustion kicked in and she fell, but fell with a smile on her face. It was a joyous moment for every Baldwin fan that night.

Garcia is one resilient runner. She hasn't run that well all season and she'll be the first to admit that. She set her first PR Friday night.

She was on pace to break 11:00 in the 3,200 at the Kansas Relays, but collapsed after six of the eight laps. That was heartbreaking to see and no one knew how the rest of her season would pan out after that disappointment.

Her only other chance to set a PR might come in the 3,200 at state, but that depends on what other events she is running that weekend.

Hopefully, Friday's magical mile will give her some confidence heading into the three final meets. I believe she has the confidence in her, but sometimes nerves interfere with the confidence.

Garcia has no reason to be nervous anymore. She should be able to enjoy her races and have fun with her magnificent career that she has started. I know she is always nervous before each race.

Once she calms those nerves, her career will blossom. That may be the only thing holding her back ...well, besides the rainy weather.

I look forward to today's races between Garcia, Graff and Gardner-Edgerton's Cali George. The Frontier League meet should be fun to watch and you never know when you might see history.

Go get 'em Garcia.

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