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More than good grades, awards motivate Stargel

The Seminole cross-country and track star pushes herself because she wants to do well in life.

By BOB PUTNAM, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 23, 2002

Whether navigating through a path in the woods or laboring around an asphalt track, Sarah Stargel usually found a way to crawl out of the pack and burst into the lead.

But even though Stargel was ahead, there never really was a homestretch. The 2002 Seminole graduate always had miles to go before she could sleep.

Besides running cross county and track, Stargel also had labs, seminars, student meetings and homework. Lots of homework.

Once she finished running in a meet, Stargel would head home and study for hours, often going to bed as late as 1 a.m.

"This year was easier," Stargel said. "Most of the time I only had three hours of homework a night."

"She's being a little modest," said her mother, Lori Stargel. "She's worked even harder than that. And I've never had to push her. She's always been self-motivated."

With boundless energy and minimal sleep, Stargel ended up with a lengthy honor roll of academic and athletic accomplishments. She was class valedictorian, a three-time state qualifier in cross country and track, scored 1,530 on the SAT and 34 on the ACT, and had straight A's her entire life.

Although Stargel is proud of what she achieved, she never measured herself by SAT scores, class rankings or stopwatches.

"I didn't do the work or go to practice because I wanted to get a certain grade or a certain time," Stargel said. "I did it because I wanted to try my best and because I want to do well in life."

Determination was a tool Stargel learned early. Cut from the track team in middle school, Stargel tried out as a freshman at Seminole after she found out coach John Bordeaux would keep everyone.

In four years, Stargel did more than stay. She added cross country to her list the following year and became a textbook example of an unknown who trained her body and coaxed her mind to become one of the county's best distance runners. This season, she was a district champion in cross country and in the 1,600 meters in track.

"I like running because it helps me balance academics and athletics," Stargel said. "It is a mental sport that involves a lot of discipline. You have to concentrate if you're going to do well."

For Stargel to do well as a student and an athlete, she could only concentrate on one at a time. That meant homework had to wait until late at night.

"I'm sure there were times I could have picked up a book and studied at a cross-country or track meet," Stargel said. "But I was too nervous before a race to think about anything else."

About the only thing Stargel did not earn was a ton of scholarship money. Enrolling at the University of North Carolina, Stargel received $2,500 as a National Merit finalist, another $2,000 from the West Florida Y Runners Club and $1,000 from the Education Foundation. But those scholarships run out in a year.

Nevertheless, Stargel has a plan. She said she is going to try out for the Tar Heels' cross-country and track teams.

"I have incentive to run to earn a scholarship," Stargel said. "But I'm not going to run just for that. I want to do it because I like it. I wouldn't do it if I didn't like it anymore."

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