Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 24
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
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HEALING POWER: Princeton University track star Mark Amirault powers to the finish line in a race during his Tiger running career. After dealing with injury woes that sidelined him as a freshman and slowed his progress as a sophomore, Amirault emerged as a standout. The Walpole, Mass. native won two titles at the Indoor Ivy League Heptagonal Championships and three at the Outdoor Heps. He also anchored the 4xMile relay team which won the Championship of America at this year’s Penn Relays. Last weekend, he finished his Princeton career by taking 12th in the 5,000 at the NCAA championship meet to earn second-team All American status.

PU Track Star Amirault Overcame Injury Woes Packing Titles, Awards Into Homestretch of Career

Bill Alden

Based on his high school resume, it looked like Mark Amirault would be a star distance runner from the day he arrived at Princeton University in 2007.

Competing for the Xaverian Brothers High School, the Walpole, Mass. native established himself as one of the top runners in New England. He won state titles in cross country and the mile and took second in the high school Millrose Mile at New York City in the winter of his senior year.

The Princeton track program reached out to Amirault on July 1 before his senior year at Xaverian Brothers, the first day it could make contact with him under NCAA recruiting rules. That early interest paid dividends as Amirault chose Princeton after considering Harvard, Stanford, and Dartmouth.

But Amirault never got to the starting line for Princeton as a freshman, getting sidelined for the whole year after having surgery on both of his knees weeks before arriving at campus.

“I took it slow freshman year, I just did rehab,” recalled Amirault. “I did a lot of elliptical training and exercises to break up the scar tissue. I didn’t run a step. It was really hard mentally. It was hard to relax. Sometimes I had to take a break but I knew I had to keep working.”

While Amirault got to run as a sophomore, he was still not back up to speed although he was around his high school times on half the training.

Making up for lost time, Amirault started to come on as a junior in 2009-10, helping the distance medley relay (DMR) to second in the indoor Ivy League Heptagonal Championships and then winning the 5,000 and taking second in the 1,500 at the Outdoor Heps.

This season, Amirault has fulfilled his potential, placing eighth in the Cross Country Heps before taking first in the mile and DMR in the Indoor Heps and first in both the 5,000 and 1,500 at the Outdoor Heps. He also helped the 4xmile relay to the Championship of America at the famed Penn Relays.

Last weekend, he ended his Princeton career in style, taking 12th in the 5,000 at the NCAA championship meet at Des Moines, Iowa to earn second-team All American status.

“Donn [Cabral] and I knew we were fit; we didn’t have to train through the regionals,” said Amirault, who clocked a time of 13:54.51 at the race with Cabral taking eighth in 13:40.62. “We had been shooting for the outdoor nationals since the end of cross country. It’s been a long time coming.”

It didn’t take Amirault long to realize that he had a gift for running when he got into the sport as a high school freshman.

“I took up cross country in the fall of my freshman year, mainly as a way to keep in shape for lacrosse which I thought I was going to be playing that spring,” said Amirault.

“I was second in the state freshman meet that fall and the coach said I was going to be much better in track than I ever would be in lacrosse.”

By the time he was a junior, Amirault had developed into an elite competitor on the track. “I had a breakthrough my junior year when I went from 9:32 in the 2-mile to 9:01 at the Hartford Invitational,” recalled Amirault.

“Running in the Millrose Games as a senior was really cool; that was one of my best experiences. At the Penn Relays, we didn’t do so well but I ran some good 1,600 legs.”

It was some good running at the Penn Relays in his junior year at Princeton that helped Amirault break through at the college level.

“In my junior cross country season, I had some good training but not great results,” said Amirault.

“The indoor season was also bumpy; I was still not really back. I ran a 14:05 5,000 at the Larry Ellis meet and then I did the 4xMile at the Penn Relays and ran a 4:02 split. At Heps, I won the 5,000. I hadn’t won a race in a long time; it is all about competing.”

Amirault’s big junior spring season set him up well for his final Princeton campaign.

“This past summer, I was running really well,” said Amirault. “I stayed in Princeton, starting work on my thesis. I did lots of 60-70 mile weeks.”

That training paid off in the Penn Relays in late April when the quartet of Chris Bendtsen, Kyle Soloff, Cabral, and Amirault won the 4xMile Championship of America, Princeton’s first national relay win at the event since 1931.

“We had no expectations; we knew anything could happen,” recalled Amirault, who ran an anchor leg of 4:02.8 in the victory.

“We had two newcomers; we brought in Chris Bendtsen and Kyle Soloff. The guys were all gamers, we are all racers. Being the anchor, I was going to compete wherever we were when I got the stick. We were third, the guy from Arkansas [Duncan Phillips] was out there and I got right behind the Indiana guy [Ben Hubers]. We went out fast and caught up to the Arkansas guy. It was a waiting game. With less than 150 meters to go, the Arkansas guy made a move; I stayed with him and then I made a move with 50 meters to go. I had one more gear.”

Weeks later at the Outdoor Heps, Amirault was again in high gear. “That was something special; it was a really good meet,” said Amirault. “The 1,500 was very close, it was like a 400 meter race. I started sprinting with 500 meters to go. In the 5,000, I followed the pack and made a kick with 100 meters to go.”

Getting ahead of the pack helped Amirault garner some special honors down the stretch of his Princeton career.

He won two awards from the men’s track program — the Bonthron Award which goes to the team member, who through sportsmanship, influence, and performance, has contributed to the sport at Princeton, and the Joseph Myers Award, given to the member of the team who has distinguished himself in scholarship, athletic performance, and character. Amirault later shared the school’s Roper Award, which goes to the top Princeton senior male athletes.

“It is awesome to be recognized by the track team; it is great to be among that group of students and runners,” said Amirault. “I found out about the Roper at the regional meet. It is the top award for senior athletes at the school; it really means a lot.”

It meant a lot for Amirault to end his Princeton career by getting to run in the 5,000 at the NCAA championships.

“There is no time goal, I just want to compete well,” said Amirault. “It is good to have Donn there; we train all year and I am never going to let him get away from me. It is a stacked event; it is the premier event in distance running right now. It is a fun opportunity.”

As Amirault leaves Princeton, he is going to have the opportunity to keep running.

“I am going to the University of Virginia next year; I have another year of eligibility so I am going to run there,” said Amirault, a molecular biology major at Princeton who will be studying for a masters in public health at Virginia.

“I am going to see how it goes. I would like to run professionally for a while and then hopefully go to medical school.”

And with the healing power Amirault has displayed in his Princeton running career, he would bring a special empathy into medicine.

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