By Ned Bekavac
Andrea Seccafien and her fleet feet are nearing the finish line.
The star runner is wrapping up her University of Guelph Gryphons athletics career at this week’s CIS track and field championships in Edmonton.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” says Seccafien.
“I’m really excited to be post-collegiate, and move on. But also, obviously, I’m going to really miss competing with the team and being part of Gryphon athletics.”
Seccafien, of Guelph, has ripped it up for her hometown Gryphons during the 2012-2013 season.
In the fall, she won the CIS cross-country championships.
More recently, she scored three gold medals at the OUA track and field championships.
She enters this week’s nationals as the top-ranked athlete in the women’s 3,000m run event.
Despite the weight of expectation that a No. 1-ranking might carry, Seccafien says she tries to keep it cool.
“I find if I put pressure on myself, it’s kind of negative. I just have to go in relaxed,” says Seccafien, a graduate of Bishop Macdonell high school.
After Bishop Mac, Seccafien competed for Samford University in Alabama on a scholarship, before eventually transferring to the University of Guelph. While at Samford, she earned the Southern Conference Freshman of the Year honour for cross-country running.
Asked what the continued appeal of running is, Seccafien says: “It’s hard to explain. The feeling of having a really good race is very different from other sports.”
Heading into nationals, Seccafien, who stresses how important the team mentality is for her and her fellow Gryphons, took part in a Tribune Q&A.
Q: What is a particularly neat story you recall about one of your first ever competitive races as a youngster?
A: When I was just 15, I competed in my first junior nationals in Sherbrooke. I was racing the 1,500m and 3,000m that weekend. I must have been one of the youngest competitors in the field as junior nationals includes girls aged up to 19. I didn’t make it out of the 1,500m heats, but my older teammates went on to win the race and qualify for world juniors.
That experience stands out as a defining moment, because it was after that I really dedicated myself to the sport and it made me want to one day come back and win a national title myself.
Q: The Trib’s paying the tab. What’s your tipple and where would you be having it?
A: Somersby Cider on the patio of the Wooly in the summer.
Q: You won the Canadian university cross-country gold medal in the fall. Where was your head at heading into such a big race, and what was your reaction after winning?
Where is that gold medal at today?
A: Surprisingly, that had been the most relaxed I had been going into a race all fall.
The day before the race, my coach, Dave (Scott-Thomas) and I sat down to talk race plan specifics and we decided I needed to “Stay cool” for the first half of the race. That became both a physical and mental race plan as I don’t perform well when I’m overly nervous or am putting too much pressure on myself.
A lot of that calmness and confidence came from knowing that my teammates and I had been training harder than most girls on that line, and we were all ready to execute. I had visualized running down the final straight of that course so many times that, at first, winning felt very surreal.
We had a lot of fans, alumni and other teammates there that day so winning was extremely exciting after it had begun to sink in.
It was also very fulfilling as I had set out at the beginning of the season in August to medal at the CIS championship and to put it all together on that day and achieve that goal was a really great feeling. That gold medal is tucked away with the team medal, race numbers and other medals I’ve won this year.
Q: What are the three most-played songs on your iPod?
A: Right now it’s Breezeblocks by alt-J, Drove Me Wild by Tegan and Sara, and How Come You Never Go There, by Feist.
Q: Alive or not, who are three famous people you’d like to have over for dinner and drinks?
A: Kara Goucher, an American Olympic marathon runner who I draw a lot of inspiration from.
Zooey Deschanel, an actress, singer and songwriter who I’m a big fan of.
Thom Yorke, the lead singer and guitarist of Radiohead.
Q: Runners strike us as being among the most disciplined athletes there are. How often do you allow yourself a “slack” day, and what might that entail?
A: Every two weeks I take a Saturday completely off to recover. I usually get to sleep in a little later than I would normally, and have a little more time to focus on things outside of running.
Q: It’s a random Sunday afternoon and you’re doing nothing running related. What might you be up to?
A: If I’m not trying to catch up on school work, Sunday afternoons are sometimes spent making a huge amount of pancakes and playing board games with some of the guys on the team.
Q: University athletes spend a lot of time on the road. Can you share a fun(ny) Gryphons “road trip” story you saw and/or were part of?
A: Last summer a few Gryphon teammates and I road-tripped to Indianapolis, about an eight-hour drive, for a race there.
We had planned before to leave right after our races and drive half way to Ohio. Because it’s incredibly hot there, the races weren’t until very late at night.
We all raced pretty poorly, which left us not only frustrated about the race but also about the fact that we had to drive four hours and it was about 1 a.m. at this point.
A few hours into the trip, we stop to get gas and at this point we’re pretty grumpy and feeling hopeless about this trip, until we spot a Waffle House. And so we ended up eating waffles in middle-of-nowhere Ohio at 4 a.m., talking to the most backwoods people you could imagine.
Q: The CIS track and field championship is your university swan song. What do you figure your “night before” will be like?
A: The night before a race for distance athletes is incredibly tame. I’ll probably have dinner with some teammates, get some therapy done like a massage if I need it, watch a movie or an episode of New Girl and paint my nails, a pre- race ritual of mine.
Q: Where do you see yourself life-wise and running-wise in, say, seven years?
A: I’m staying in Guelph to train with Speed River TFC for an undetermined amount of time, but I doubt it will last seven years. After that, I’m going to pursue a journalism career that will start with a masters in journalism at either Ryerson, Carleton or UBC.
After that, I’d love to work in print journalism for a news based, but creative magazine. I don’t think I’ll ever stop running, but by that time, I definitely won’t be running at the competitive level I do now. I would do the odd road race to stay connected with the running community, wherever I end up.
Q: Thanks Andrea. Can you pass us your favourite . . .
• Band or musician: Feist
• Actor: Johnny Depp
• Actress: Natalie Portman
• TV show: Mad Men or The Newsroom
• Movie: Ruby Sparks
• Food: Butternut squash soup or mint dark chocolate
• Drink: Americano
• Day of the week: Saturday
• Sport aside from running: Snowboarding
The Canadian Interuniversity Sport track and field championships run from today (Thursday) to Saturday in Edmonton.