by Randy Pascal
It's not as though Sydney Tarini was above giving each and ever sport a fair and fighting chance.
A dancer in her youth, she would grow up with an equestrian background, learning to ride horses at a very young age. “I broke my leg when I was seven, falling off a horse,” she recalled.
How about a pool sport?
“I tried swimming, but I discovered that I don't like putting my head under the water.”
Through her elementary years at R.L. Beattie Public School, the spectrum was widened. Basketball, soccer and volleyball were all part of the experience. And then came track and field, followed soon thereafter by the fall cross-country season.
Combine that with a life-changing affiliation with coach Meghan Juuti and the Track North Bobcats program, and a runner is born.
“I really loved the Bobcats program, so I started doing private training on the side with Meghan,” recalled Tarini, now competing for the very same team that her former coach once mentored at Cambrian College. “I found that the Bobcats gave me a really good exposure, kind of right between not training at all and high school training.”
“It was a fun program, so it made me love the sport that much more,” added the graduate of Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School, currently in her first year of Pre-Health at Cambrian. “She (Juuti) introduced games into running, but at the same time, you would still have races at practices. It showed us how to take it more serious without taking it too serious.”
After placing fifth in the Rainbow Elementary Cross-Country Championships in 2012, the youngest (by far) of three siblings in the family claimed top spot in the senior girls race the following October. “Between grades seven and eight, my training totally changed,” said Tarini. “I started taking it a lot more seriously, taking less days off. It obviously wasn't as serious as high school, but for grade eight, it was intense.”
The natural transition, of course, was to move forward with a Knights team that was already well-established, but ready to climb a few more steps up the ladder. “Our team in grade nine was a lot smaller than grade twelve,” recalled Tarini of her time at Lo-Ellen. “Seeing the team grow so much over the four years was just insane.”
The talkative teenager was remained right in the thick of the mix, whether the Knights were competing in the fall cross-country circuit, or had shifted their focus to the track in the spring. If there was team growth, in numbers, it would be accompanied by personal growth for Tarini, living with the ebbs and flows that come with entering the high-school athletic realm having already established herself as an athlete to watch.
“Grade nine was a year of nerves,” she confessed. “I had some expectations, but really, I didn't know exactly what to expect. NOSSA was traumatizing, but making it to OFSAA was the best feeling ever.”
“After that, every year, I knew that I had to make it.”
In a sense, that sentence captures the greatest challenge Tarini would endure, understanding the potential that lie within, but rarely certain that the talent would all come together completely on race day.
“Honestly, I would say that I am more of a practice runner,” she said. “I really am trying to work on it. For me, it's mental. I put way too much stress and expectations on myself.” That said, she is hardly alone in this department. “I see so many of my friends and teammates struggle with it, letting the pressure of the race get to them.”
“It was kind of a learning curve, that whole high school experience,” Tarini added. “In practice, I seemed to always maintain paces that I could not maintain in races. Well, it did depend a little on the race. There are some races where I go out and feel like my training had really paid off.”
In fact, the reality for Sydney Tarini is that she graduated from Lo-Ellen as a highly decorated runner, a multi-medal winner at both SDSSAA and NOSSA events, and a regular visitor to OFSAA over the course of her four years of secondary schooling. Yet the personal tug of war persisted.
“Once I got to grade 12, I found that I didn't love running as much as I did in grade nine, ten and eleven,” she said. “I was kind of at that “over it” stage. I was at that point where I wanted to stop, but thanks to my parents and “Wardo” (coach Colin Ward) and my whole team, I didn't. Once I got to NOSSA and OFSSA, I was fine.”
Still, one final refresher would come in handy as Tarini prepared for her first year of OCAA competition. “In the summer, I took some time off, didn't run all that much,” she said. “It was nice to get a little time away from the sport, because by September, I was ready to roll. This is a new experience, I don't know any of the girls.”
“I'm motivated. This fall, I came into the sport with less pressure, less stress.” The results speak for themselves. Competing on the same course that will host the provincial championships this coming Saturday, Tarini finished 18th in the women's field in a race at Centennial College on October 13th, covering the 6 km distance in a time of 26:45. Of note, the top 25 runners at the OCAA showdown advance to nationals.
Beyond that, some uncertainty remains. Tarini is still contemplating the possibility of shifting her studies across to the university stream, though she is adamant she would remain in Sudbury. For as much as her sport can be the source of some inner anxiety, she is also not prepared to let it go.
“I don't really want to stop, because I don't really feel yet that I am where I should be at,” stated Tarini. “I feel like I have more in me. I've been doing it for so long, but I still want to see myself progress.”
“I just know that wherever running takes me, I will pursue it.”
Joining Tarini at the OCAA championships, this weekend, and representing the Golden Shield are Erich Mundt, Shawn Belanger, Aurel Fox, Marc-André Maisoneuve and Jamie Ricci.