George Pincock and Shanna Sparks have seen their respective running careers follow two distinct paths since leaving Carson High School for the University of Colorado in 2003.
Pincock went to Colorado as a recruited walk-on and has emerged as one of the top sprinters for the Buffaloes and was maybe one second away from qualifying as part of a 4x400 relay team for last week's NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Sacramento. However, Sparks has experienced distance runner's frustration from three different season-ending injuries since she signed a letter of intent two years ago.
While the past has been different, both are optimistic about their future in Boulder.
"I have no complaints. I love it here," Pincock said. "I just happy to be here and to have a chance to run in this (Big 12) conference. That's only going to help me run faster."
Pincock was fast at Carson, where he set school records in the 100, 200 and 400 meters and ran on a state runner-up 4x400 relay team. He has taken his game to a new level at Colorado, starting with a freshman season in 2004 when he placed eighth in the 200 (21.31) at the Big 12 outdoor championships.
"I p.r.'d at the end of my season, then came back and trained for another five weeks for the USA junior nationals," he said. "I ended up pulling my hamstring, but at that time, I felt I was at a level where I could run low 47s or high 46s."
Pincock was solid again this spring, running 21.38 in the 200 and 47.33 in the 400 outdoors. He ran a 47.2 leadoff leg in the 4x400 relay at the Midwest Regionals on May 28 to help the Buffaloes finish sixth in a season best time of 3:08.86.
"We were just a few spots away from qualifying (for NCAA finals) - about one second," Pincock said. "We were happy with that. Everyone on the team is either a freshman or a sophomore. I think we can be a lot faster next year."
Pincock also narrowly missed reaching the 200 finals at the Big 12 meet on May 14 when he ran 21.39. "I missed by .07 ... that's about as close as you can get, and that's in one of the fastest conferences," he said.
Sparks was in Sacramento for the NCAA finals, but she was there as a spectator watching from a seat near the finish line. She obviously wanted to be running on the track, but a foot stress fracture diagnosed toward the end of the indoor season in February ended any chance of that happening. It was just the latest in a string of mishaps for Sparks, who saw her 2003 and 2004 cross country and 2004 track seasons pretty much wiped out by a lingering stress fracture of her left femur. In two years, she has run two races.
When you consider a series of injuries that plagued her final two years of running at Carson, Sparks is clearly anxious to get back on track.
Right now, she involved in a slow and calculated comeback designed to prevent any more injuries.
"I began by running five minutes, then eight, and now I'm up to 30 minutes every other day. Eventually, I'll get to a point where I'm running every day," Sparks said.
Sparks watched with special interest as the women's 10,000 meter final unfolded Sacramento State's Hornet Stadium last Thursday night. She knew how hard Colorado teammate Sara Slattery had worked to overcome injuries the last couple of years in order to compete for a national title just as she had done in 2003. The work paid off on a calm evening when Slattery closed out her collegiate career by winning the 10K in a personal record time of 33:02.21.
"We were definitely excited," Sparks said. "She's been through a lot of injuries and downfalls and she's worked really hard to get back."
Slattery, who won the NCAA 5,000 title in 2003, offered words of encouragement to Sparks when the two ran together during a short run on Friday morning.
"She knows what I'm going through and she's offered me encouraging words on how to get to where I want to be," Sparks said. "I won't be in the shape I want to be when cross country starts, but I'll just be building for my spring season.
"I tend to be too enthusiastic and rush things, but that's what got me hurt. It's hard right now, but as long as I'm healthy, that's the only place I want to be. I just have to put my trust in God and know He's taking care of me. And I'm learning to communicate better and to let the coaches know how I'm feeling so I don't push myself too fast too soon."
By the way, Sparks is majoring in communications and made the dean's list with a 3.6 grade point average during the fall semester. Pincock is majoring in Integrative Physiology and was named to the Big 12 second-team all-academic list this spring.
The paths have been separate, but the two young Carson runners appear to be doing well for themselves in Boulder.
"To go to college with your best friend, not too many people get a chance to do that," Sparks said. "And being at Colorado, that has been a great experience."
n Contact Dave Price at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 881-1220.