BELLINGHAM, Wash. --- -
WWU's finest female distance runner on quest to be nation's best
During her four-year career from 2007 to 2011 at Western Washington University, distance runner Sarah Crouch, whose last name was Porter when she ran for the Vikings, was a 13-time United States Track & Field and Cross Country All-American, broke seven school records and was a three-time selection as the school's Female Athlete of the Year.
Crouch competed at the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division II National Championships all four years in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track -- making 12 appearances in all. And she was the USTFCCCA DII West Region Female Athlete of the Year in all three sports, besides being a national champion and a three-time national runner-up.
WWU has had a number of outstanding women's distance runners, but none have posted those kind of results.
Today, the 27-year-old Crouch is running professionally and ranks among the top 10 women marathon runners in the country. She placed ninth (2:33.48) (second among U.S. competitors) at the 2016 Chicago Marathon after being sixth (personal best 2:32.44) (third among U.S. competitors) in 2014, and 11th (2:37.36) (second among U.S. competitors) at the 2016 Boston Marathon.
"I'm very happy," Crouch said. "I feel every single day that I'm focused on what I want to do ... Two years ago was a breakout year for me and since that time I've been waiting to make that next big jump which I hope comes in the year ahead. I feel really good that it will."
"I'd love to be among those in contention for an Olympic berth in 2020. That's the big goal. I'll be 30 years old and it will be kind of a perfect storm because that's the prime age for women marathoners. Between now and then I hope to break 2:30."
Top performance as Viking
The crowning achievement at WWU for the 5-foot-3, 105-pound Crouch came on May 26, 2011, at Turlock, Calif., when she won the 10,000 meters at nationals in a meet and stadium record time of 33:17.39, a personal best by 19 seconds. The clocking was the fourth fastest in NCAA II history, just 12 seconds off the all-time NCAA II standard of 33:05.80 set in 1987.
But her performance that night became one of epic proportions when all the behind the scenes drama was considered.
One week before the 2011 nationals, Porter competed in a run at Port Townsend. A coach from another school saw her on the podium receiving a check. Figuring this was a violation of NCAA rules, she reported it. What the coach hadn't seen was Porter looking around for someone to return the check to and then tearing it up.
That led to a phone call between Crouch and WWU Athletics Compliance Officer Dr. T.H. "Butch" Kamena. While discussing what had happened in Port Townsend, Crouch spoke of another situation that had occurred the previous summer.
In that instance, Crouch had done well in a road race and qualified for prize money. Knowing that she couldn't accept it per NCAA rules, she asked that the money be donated to a charity. What she didn't realize was that still broke NCAA amateurism regulations.
"I told her that we were obligated to report it to the NCAA and appeal her amateurism," said Kamena. "I told her to stay positive, but my sense after initial talks with the NCAA was that it didn't look good."
All this was happening at the worst possible time, right before Crouch was readying for nationals and her final competition at WWU. She got the news while in California, the day before the 10K race.
Kamena went about the laborious task of preparing a report and submitting it to the NCAA while being pressed by a tight timeline if Crouch was to compete.
"I got the report done around 4:30 that morning," said Kamena, who slept on the couch in his office that night. "I then called the NCAA, which had to determine the violation and what the penalty would be."
"Fortunately, the NCAA got right on it and decided she could run because there was no personal gain and us self-reporting," Kamena recalled. "And they also showed mercy for someone about to compete in her final races."
"It's probably the most amazing and rewarding story I've been involved in during my time here (30th year) ... Sarah is an amazing athlete and for her to go out and run the race she did after going through that was phenomenal."
Awaiting the decision had been torture for Crouch.
"I did not know until almost 3 p.m. on race day that I would be competing, and I was a mess," she said in an interview after the event. "You don't really realize how much you want something until it's ripped out from beneath your feet, and that was definitely the case ... I didn't want to look back on my collegiate career and have it tainted because of this. And when I finally got the call from Mr. Kamena, he just said `Yes, you're in,' and I just screamed and cried. I was just so happy."
"I was definitely motivated. In the last mile and a half, when things started to hurt in the 10,000 race, I just told myself `you almost didn't get to do this, so you better push right now, you better show them why you should be running today.'"
Crouch was grateful for the job Kamena did.
"In four years, I didn't really know him at all, and in the last week of my collegiate career, I got to know him really well. He was working so hard, and he said it was the biggest challenge of his career thus far. I'm so grateful for him. He's just an awesome guy."
Two days later, Crouch placed second in the 5,000 meters.
"I was probably more proud of that than the 10K," she said. "I came in knowing that the favorite was coming in fresh and, despite that, I felt like for the first time I was able to give her a race. I was really proud of that one."
Turning pro and running marathons
During the summer of 2011, Sarah married Michael Crouch, an accomplished runner himself. They have travelled across the country pursuing their mutual goal of running professionally and competing in the Olympic Games, making stops at Blowing Rock, N.C.; South Lake Tahoe, Calif.; Springfield, Mass., and most recently Moorehead, Kentucky.
Sarah Crouch made an immediate impact on the professional scene by placing fifth at the 2011 USA 10-Mile Championships and qualifying for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials in the 10K. She went on to place second at the New York City Emerald Nuts Midnight Run and followed that up with two straight runner-up performances in Ireland.
Over the last few years, Crouch has gravitated to the marathon. Running the 26-mile, 385-yard race is no small task, taking a huge level of commitment.
"The biggest draw of the marathon is that no matter who you are, how fast you've run or what you've overcome to reach the starting line, the marathon whittles away the unnecessary things in your life and forges you, mentally and physically, into the best version of yourself," said Crouch.
"There's a great quote I heard, `No one wins a marathon. They just survive it better than other people.'"
"It's in my blood ... So I would like to pursue that. I know some people like to do both (other distances races plus the marathon), but I don't think you can flirt with the marathon. You have to marry it."
t's in the genes
Crouch's grandmother, Maureen Hennessy, was a former competitive age-group marathoner and ultra-marathoner, who ran 90 miles in 24 hours when she was 63, making 360 laps around a track to accomplish it.
Mother Laurie Porter is a top age-group marathoner who has run two hours and 49 minutes, and aunt Alissa Tower is a former age-group 10K record holder.
Her father, George Porter, runs anywhere from 45 to 50 miles a week, and competes mostly in 5Ks. Younger sister Shannon is competing at Saint Martin's WA and older sister Georgia runs at Western State CO. Georgia was eighth and Shannon 24th at the 2016 NCAA II National Cross Country Championships. Younger brother Matthew attended Northwest WA and competed at the NAIA National Championships in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
How Sarah's career began
Crouch is a graduate of Hockinson High School in Hockinson, Wash., a town of 5,000 located in the southwest corner of the state. She ran cross country four years and track for three, going to the state meet every year in each sport.
Crouch initially tried out for cross country after receiving encouragement from her mother, who had recently begun running. As a junior in high school, she was a state champion in cross country with her sister placing second.
Crouch nearly competed collegiately at Eastern Washington. But just before she was planning on committing to EWU, Crouch came to visit a friend at Western. She talked with WWU head cross country and track and field coach Pee Wee Halsell, met some other team members, including Bennett Grimes, who took her on a 12-mile run around Bellingham.
Crouch said that following the run, she watched the sun set from the Performing Arts Center Plaza on campus and thought to herself, `I can't go anywhere else.'
Her Western experience
As a freshman at WWU, Crouch was the GNAC Women's Freshman of the Year in cross country, placing 45th at nationals and being named a conference and region all-star for the first of four straight years. She also went to nationals in indoor track, finishing 15th in the 5K, and outdoor track, crossing the finish line ninth in the 10K.
Following that season, Crouch made a big decision regarding her running career.
"I really dedicated myself to the sport during my sophomore year of college," she said. "I had no idea how good I would be but I came in and made nationals as a freshman in cross country, indoor, and outdoor track. I went and I got my butt kicked, basically, but I got to see improvement."
"One weekend, I totaled my car. It was a really bad accident and my ribs were banged up and everything was banged up. I went for a run; it was like three miles. In that moment, it was like "I need running, I need running in my life." For some reason, that was just a moment of clarity and I just decided consciously to completely commit my life to it."
As a sophomore at nationals, Crouch placed 13th at cross country, sixth in the indoor 5K and in outdoor was fifth in the 10K and seventh in the 5K.
During her final two seasons, Crouch was that national runner-up in cross country, being named the West Region and GNAC Female Athlete of the Year in 2010. She was fourth in the 5K and seventh in the distance medley relay at the 2010 indoor nationals and third in the 5K in 2011. Crouch was second in the 10K and third in the 5K at the 2010 outdoor nationals, then won the 10K and was second in the 5K as a senior.
"To have someone come into your program and right away make a big difference and then to see her do things we're never had done before and become a team player as well was very special," said Halsell, who is completing his 30th year coaching at the school.
"Her best trait was her willingness to put in the hard work. She was very focused and to witness her accomplishments, that was fun to watch. And it's been special to watch her continue to grow as a runner. It's a great testament to her determination and talent."
Crouch feels that the Pacific Northwest made her a better runner. She believes that she could not have chosen a better school from a runner's standpoint.
"I don't think you appreciate a place like Western and Bellingham until you leave," said Crouch. "Having grown up in Washington, I used to think that the whole world was like that with the pine trees and it's green and it's a runner's paradise. But after leaving and running in 41 states and six countries, I realized that wasn't the case."
"I think about Bellingham often, and I realize, too, that despite training there for four years, I probably didn't touch 50 per cent of the trails. I can't believe that it's not a bigger hub for running. I don't think there's any place else that I think is better for running. Someday I may end up returning because it has a very special place in my heart and I wouldn't be surprised if I end up back there before my running is over to finish out my training there."
A final note
Porter says that despite her success at running, winning races is not what motivates her. What she likes most is competing against herself and always trying to do better than her previous time.
By Paul Madison who served 48 years as sports information director at WWU from 1966 to 2015
SARAH (PORTER) CROUCH -- WWU FILE
13-time USTFCCCA All-American
2010-11 WWU Female Athlete of the Year
2009-10 WWU Female Athlete of the Year
2008-09 WWU co-Female Athlete of the Year
WOMEN'S CROSS COUNTRY
Placed 2nd at 2010 NCAA II National Championships - USTFCCCA All-America
Placed 2nd at 2009 NCAA II National Championships - USTFCCCA All-American
Placed 13th at 2008 NCAA II National Championships - USTFCCCA All-American
Great Northwest Athletic Conference - 2010 Women's XC Athlete of the Year
2010 West Regional - Individual champion
2010 USTFCCCA West Region Female Athlete of the Year
Four-time West Region all-star (determined by placing among top 15) 1st in 2010, 2nd in 2009, 3rd in 2008 and 13th in 2007)
Four-time GNAC all-star (determined by placing among the top 10) 1st in 2010, 2nd in 2009, 2nd in 2008, 9th in 2007
GNAC - 2007 Women's XC Freshman of the Year
WOMEN'S OUTDOOR TRACK AND FIELD
Placed 1st in 10,000 at 2011 NCAA II National Championships - USTFCCCA All-American (Set meet record with time of 33:17.39, fourth fastest in NCAA II history)
Placed 2nd in 5,000 at 2011 NCAA II National Championships - USTFCCCA All-American
Placed 2nd in 10,000 at 2010 NCAA II National Championships -- USTFCCCA All-American
Placed 3rd in 5,000 at 2010 NCAA II National Championships - USTFCCCA All-American - school record 16:23.52
2011 USTFCCCA West Region Female Athlete of the Year
2010 GNAC champion in 10,000
2010 GNAC champion in 5,000 - meet record time
2008 GNAC champion in 10,000
Holds four school records - 1,500 (4:30.32 - 2011), 3,000 (9:35.75 - 2011), 5,000 (15:57.02 - 2011) and 10,000 (33:17.39 - 2011)
Placed 5th in 10,000 at 2009 NCAA II National Championships - USTFCCCA All-American
Placed 7th in 5,000 at 2009 NCAA II National Championships - USTFCCCA All-American
Placed 9th in 10,000 at 2008 NCAA II National Championships
Representing Team USA, won 10,000 at NACAC Under 23 Championships on July 9, 2010
Became first Viking to compete at USA Championships in June of 2010
WOMEN'S INDOOR TRACK AND FIELD
Placed 3rd in 5,000 at 2011 NCAA II National Championships - USTFCCCA All-American
Placed 4th in 5,000 at 2010 NCAA II National Championships - USTFCCCA All-American
Placed 7th in distance medley relay at 2010 NCAA II National Championships - USTFCCCA All-American
2010 GNAC champion in 5,000
Holds three school records, 3,000 (9:44.31) and 5,000 (16:11.98) in 2011 and mile (4:56.37) in 2009
Placed 6th in 5,000 at 2009 NCAA II National Championships - USTFCCCA All-American
Placed 15th in 5,000 at 2008 NCAA II National Championships
2011 USTFCCCA West Region Track Athlete of the Year
2011 GNAC co-Female Athlete of the Year
2011 USTFCCCA West Region all-star
2011 GNAC 5,000 champion
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