Spring Lake run dominant; runner humble

By BOB PADECKY, PRESS DEMOCRAT COLUMNIST


Sarah Sumpter was exceedingly polite, thankful and humble; I felt I should 
apologize for congratulating her. Her smile was shy, like she wanted me to 
talk to someone else. Her voice was soft, had to lean over to hear it. She's 
5-foot-1, just 98 pounds. Wow, I thought, she hid it well, being that rompin', 
stompin', get-out-of-my-way Big Foot in Wednesday's SCL cross country race 
at Spring Lake. 


Little feet, Big Foot. That's her all right, Big Foot Sumpter, can't miss 
her, can't stop staring, filling up the scene, owning the race, the people 
gawking in awe. How does a tiny little thing like that carry such a load, 
being labeled the next great Sonoma County female distance runner?

For one thing, the Healdsburg High runner has the zest for it.

"Sarah got tired of going around and around the track (when competing in the 
3,200 meters)," said Shawn, her mother. "So when the track season ended in 
May, she gave herself a little treat. She ran from Healdsburg to Cloverdale. 
That's 14.2 miles. You should have seen the smile on her face when we picked 
her up."

For another thing, Sumpter owns the necessary competitive genes.

At the end of Wednesday's race, with the much-touted battle with Casa 
Grande's Jacque Taylor having fizzled, Sumpter was sprinting to the finish 
line. Taylor, who was feeling queasy, was 44 seconds behind her. Why push 
it so hard with no one around?

"Some of my competitors have great finishing kicks," Sumpter said.

Uh, Sarah, unless your competitor is Secretariat, they aren't going to catch 
you.

"I guess it's that little paranoid thing inside me," she said.

For another, Sumpter doesn't burden herself with enemies, a distraction that 
saps energy, skill and preparation.

"I would have never run as fast as I did if you weren't in the race," Sumpter 
told Taylor after the race. "We are going to rock at Mount SAC."

And then they hugged.

Oh, Sumpter doesn't act like she invented the sport.

"You ran a 16:51 on this course," I told her. "You now are only one of four 
girls to go under 17 minutes here. Julia Stamps, Sara Bei and Amber Trotter 
are the others."

"I am?" Sumpter said. "Oh my . . ." She put her hand to her mouth in surprise. 
She was shocked and she kept saying she didn't know and she didn't know and, 
after a bit, I knew she really didn't know. She was so innocent about all of 
this. She just wants to run. The rest of it? Footnotes.

"Sarah didn't know until four months ago that the marathon was an Olympic sport," 
Shawn said.

So even though there was plenty of buildup for this race, Sumpter has never felt 
Taylor is her rival. It's the doing of it that matters to her. Sure, she 
admitted, she thinks how fabulous it would be to represent the United States one 
day in the Olympic marathon. Of course, things have to progress, her times 
improve, her body mature. But the Olympics are not a ludicrous thought.

"Sarah just loves miles," said Carlos Quiroga, her Healdsburg coach. "When my son, 
Tim, ran for me, he did 40-50 miles a week in the summer. Sarah does a hundred. 
She has an incredible mental makeup. She's tough."

Her face reveals all. In stride, whether it's the beginning of a race or the end 
of it, Sumpter puts on this iron mask of sorts. No grimacing. No sign of emotion. 
Not even one single twitch. Just this dogged, expressionless stare like an 
icebreaker plowing through the Arctic Circle. I'm coming through, folks, better move.

"When I'm running," she said, "I just love the scenery."

Oh, Sarah, that sounds so sweet and innocent. Like you went for a jog Wednesday 
around Spring Lake with 47 of your closest friends and you stopped a couple of 
times to take some pictures and gosh, those maple trees sure are colorful. I almost 
forgot you're Big Foot Sumpter.

Little feet. Big imprint.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5490 or at bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.