Sarah Porter ready for pro debut after tumultuous collegiate ending
June 6, 2011
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
By Joe Battaglia, Universal Sports
This weekend, Sarah Porter will make the leap from collegiate athlete to professional runner when she competes in the New York Road Runners Mini 10-K, the oldest all-female road race in America.
These transitions are never easy.
For Porter, it has been a profoundly difficult experience.
Two weeks ago, she headed to Turlock, Calif. for the NCAA Division 2 track and field championships, focused on putting a cherry on top of her All-America collegiate career at Western Washington University.
One day before the meet, here is where she wound up.
"I sat, fully clothed, in my hotel bathtub, weeping like a small child," she said.
It had come to light that last summer, Porter had placed well enough in a road race to receive prize money. Knowing full well that she couldn't accept it, she decided to do something good with the money and asked the race officials to donate the money to a specific charity. Related to this article Video
The NCAA, the same governing body that has until very recently turned a blind eye when star players in its revenue sports have accepted cars and all sorts of luxuries from boosters, deemed this equivalent to accepting the prize money and thus a violation of its amateur rules.
"I definitely understand the rule," Porter said. "Somebody could start up their own non-profit and then give the money to themselves. But that was clearly not the case, and I felt like someone who was innocent and put on death row. I felt like there wasn't a whole lot of justice in ruling me ineligible.
"I just cried and cried and cried. You don't realize how badly you want something until it's swept off from under your feet."
Fortunately for Porter, through some tireless work by the compliance officer at Western Washington, the brain trust at the NCAA had a change of heart and granted Porter a waiver to compete.
"All day, I kept getting calls from our compliance officer about forms we needed to fill out or people we needed to talk to, and it was so emotional," Porter said. "I got fed up, and at one point, I told one of my teammates, `I can't do it. I can't answer it.' Eventually he called at 2:30 and I knew it was going to be the answer. I was so scared to answer the phone, but I picked it up. When he gave me the news, I started screaming and running around the room."
Porter was left with just six hours to compose herself and get ready to race, no easy task considering the ordeal of the previous 24 hours. But Porter was never worried about regaining the proper frame of mind, and it showed. She went out and won the 10,000m in 33:17.39, breaking her school record, and the meet record of 33:24.24 set in Roby Root of Cal-Poly SLO in 1985.
"I told our compliance officer earlier in the day that if they (the NCAA) let me run, I'm going to fly tonight," she said. "I knew that my mind and my body would be on autopilot because I ran that race through my head more times than I could count."
Two days later, Porter finished second in the 5000m in 16:23.08, finishing behind Neely Spence of Shippensburg who won her third career NCAA title.
"I know I didn't win the 5-K but I am actually prouder of how I did in that race than winning the 10-K," Porter said. "I had absolutely nothing to lose going into that race. I already had my national championship so all I wanted was to make it a race.
"Neely Spence, I respect her so much. I'd never really had the chance to kick with her. Whenever I race Neely, there is always 1000 meters or 1200 meters where she makes a move and I don't respond. All I wanted was to be able to be with her when she made that final kick and see what I have left. When she went on the last lap I could feel that I didn't have that pop in my legs. She was fresh and that I wasn't."
As terrific as Porter has been on the track and in cross-country - she earned a school-record 12 All-American honors in her career - it's on the roads where she thinks she will eventually make her biggest impact, and she is excited to begin that pursuit this week in the Big Apple.
"I am absolutely stoked," she said. "It is absolutely my passion. I like cross-country. I survive track. I love road racing. It's definitely my passion. It's insane to enjoy something that hurts that bad but I totally enjoy that kind of pain."
Her first road race as a pro will not be easy. The field boasts a depth of talent rarely seen in American road races. Porter will have to contend with 11 Olympians (including two medalists), 11 women with global or continental championships medals (including six gold medalists), and a total of 14 women who have broken 32 minutes for 10 kilometers on either the track or road (including five who have gone sub-31:00).
If that wasn't enough, Porter said that in order to compete she had to move a few of her finals to this week, meaning she will not be arriving to New York until the day before the race, leaving little, if any, opportunity to view the course.
But, when you've endured what Porter has recently, you just roll with the punches.
"I'm looking forward to the experience," she said. "I have never been to New York, have never seen Central Park, so it should be exciting. I am going in not setting any kind of expectations on myself. I just want to come out knowing that I gave everything. I'm not too worried about not seeing the course. I'm sure I will have women to follow."
Olympians Ready to Race at Historic 40th NYRR New York Mini 10K
It's fitting that for the 40th running of the world's original women-only road race, New York Road Runners has organized the best professional athlete field in NYRR New York Mini 10K history, featuring key athletes from the race's past, its present, and even its future.
Leading the field is defending champion and reigning world 10,000m champion Linet Masai of Kenya. Arguably the finest female distance runner in the world at the moment, Masai picked up her third consecutive silver medal at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships this spring and is a favorite to defend her 10,000-meter title at the World Championships in Korea later this summer.
A formidable opponent for Masai will be reigning World Marathon Majors champion Liliya Shobukhova of Russia. Shobukhova's marathon strength will obviously be an asset on the rolling hills of Central Park, and her unmatched finishing speed--she is the fourth-fastest woman in history over 5000 meters--makes her a dangerous threat no matter how the race plays out. Also expected to contend are last year's runner-up and 2010 World Cross Country champion Emily Chebet and ING New York City Marathon 2010 champion Edna Kiplagat, both of Kenya; Kim Smith, holder of 12 New Zealand distance-running records; 2009 World Championships marathon silver medalist Yoshimi Ozaki and 2010 Nagoya Marathon winner Yuri Kano, both of Japan; 2011 Carlsbad 5000 champion Aheza Kiros of Ethiopia, and a slew of European Olympians: marathoners Alessandra Aguilar of Spain and Anna Incerti of Italy (both making their United States debuts), Olympic medalist and former World Champion Lidia Simon of Romania, four-time Mini champion Lornah Kiplagat of the Netherlands, and Jo Pavey, holder of two British indoor distance records. 2012 Olympic hopefuls Eloise Wellings of Australia and Irvette Van Blerk of South Africa represent the Southern Hemisphere.
Many eyes will be on the 2004 champion of the Mini, Olympic bronze medalist Deena Kastor, returning to competition after the birth of her first child in February. Kastor leads a contingent of North Americans that includes fellow U.S. Olympian Magdalena Lewy Boulet, 2011 USA 25K champion Molly Pritz, former USA champion Annie Bersagel, newly minted U.S. citizen Adriana Nelson, and Sarah Porter, fresh off her first NCAA II title two weeks ago. Up-and-coming Canadian Dayna Pidhoresky will look to continue her arc of rapid improvement in her first trip to New York City.
The Mini 10K is a huge priority for the best of NYRR's membership, featuring dedicated NYRR member prize money and a scoring opportunity in NYRR's ultra-competitive team-points series. Hirut Mandefro and Aziza Aliyu have topped the member battle at the Mini before, and 2012 Olympic Trials qualifier Reilly Kiernan is improving with almost every race. Misiker Mekonnin Demissie and Buzunesh Deba have already notched major road race victories this spring, at Spokane's Lilac Bloomsday 12K and the Honda Los Angeles Marathon, respectively.
Stellar Field Including 12 Olympians Will Run the 40th NYRR New York Mini 10K
New York, June 2, 2011--The "Mini" is always a special race on the NYRR annual calendar, and the 40th running this year will be an extra-special celebration of the history and legacy of the original women-only road race. The race will be dedicated to the legendary Grete Waitz, a five-time Mini champion, who died April 19 after a long battle with cancer.
This year's field reads like a Who's Who of world-class distance running:
American marathon record-holder and 2004 Olympic marathon bronze medalist Deena Kastor will make her return to racing on June 11 following the birth of daughter, Piper Bloom, in February. Kastor, of Mammoth Lakes, CA, is the most recent American Mini champion, having won in 2004 in 31:44.
"I am so excited to make my post-pregnancy racing debut at this year's New York Mini. This race is a perfect fit to celebrate women and running, so it's a great pleasure to return to the racing scene in New York City," said Kastor.
Defending champion and reigning world 10,000-meter champion Linet Masai of Kenya raced to the title last year in 30:48, the fourth-fastest time in race history. Masai won the 10,000 meters at the 2009 IAAF World Championships in Berlin.
Reigning World Marathon Majors champion Liliya Shobukhova of Russia won the Bank of America Chicago Marathon in 2009 and 2010 and the 2010 Virgin London Marathon. She finished second in London this past April in a Russian national-record time of 2:20:15, and she has a 10,000-meter personal best time of 30:29.36, set in 2009.
Lornah Kiplagat of the Netherlands, a four-time Mini champion (2003, 2005-07), will also be back to take part in the day. Kiplagat is third on the all-time victories list for this event, behind Waitz and Tegla Loroupe. A two-time Olympian, Kiplagat is a four-time World Champion and the former holder of world road records in the 5K, 20K, and half-marathon.
Edna Kiplagat of Kenya (who is unrelated to Lornah Kiplagat) had third-place finishes at both the AJC Peachtree 10K and the TD Bank Beach to Beacon 10K in 2010, in her buildup to her win in November's ING New York City Marathon. In her most recent visit to New York, she was the runner-up at the NYC Half in March.
Jo Pavey, a three-time Olympian and one of the top British track athletes of all time, is the national indoor record-holder at 3000 meters (8:31.50) and two miles (9:32.00) and set her 10,000-meter personal best at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where she ran 31:12.30 to finish 12th.
New Zealand's Kim Smith finished fifth in the ING New York City Marathon 2010 in 2:29:28. In April, a calf injury forced her to drop out of the Boston Marathon after leading for more than 17 miles. Smith, who placed fifth in last year's Mini, holds 12 New Zealand records at distances from the mile to the marathon.
Yoshimi Ozaki of Japan, the silver medalist at the 2009 World Championships marathon, set her 10,000-meter personal best, 31:47.23, in 2005.
"This will be one of the strongest women's fields at any race this year, and fittingly so, as a tribute to Grete and her legacy at the Mini's 40th running," said New York Road Runners president and CEO Mary Wittenberg. "We know this race will truly be one of the best we've ever seen."
Other top contenders are:
Magdalena Lewy Boulet, of Oakland, CA, will be competing in her seventh Mini; she finished 11th in 33:25 last year. Lewy Boulet's best Mini finish to date is fourth (2008). A native of Poland, she finished second in the 2008 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.
Dayna Pidhoresky of Canada, will take part in her first NYRR New York Mini 10K. Her 10K personal best, set this year, is 33:02.
Molly Pritz of Williamsport, PA, is a graduate of Bucknell University, where she was on the cycling team. Pritz is the reigning USA 25K champion and finished 16th in the Mini in 2010.
Eloise Wellings of Australia earned the Olympic 10,000-meter "A" standard earlier this year when she ran 31:41.31 at the Payton Jordan Invitational in Palo Alto, CA.
Lidia Simon of Romania is a four-time Olympian in the marathon and took the silver medal at the 2000 Sydney Games. She was also the 2001 world marathon champion.
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