Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 25
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
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(Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

COMING ON STRONG: Princeton University distance running star Sarah Cummings heads to the finish line last fall in the NCAA Mid-Atlantic regional cross country meet. Earlier this month, Cummings, a rising junior, placed 12th in the 10,000 meters at the NCAA Division I Women’s Track Championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She earned All-American status for her effort which saw her clock a time of 34:29.77.

PU’s Cummings Continues Amazing Rise, Reaching All-American Status in 10,000m

Bill Alden

By the time Sarah Cummings had reached her teenage years, flying into an axel jump on the ice was second nature.

Having been a figure skater since age five, Cummings figured that any athletic success she would have during her time at Corona del Mar High in Newport Beach, Calif. would come on the ice.

But in the summer of 2003, Cummings’ rise up the figure skating ladder hit a snag.

“I kept falling when I was trying new moves,” recalled Cummings, who had just finished eighth grade. “I felt sharp stabbing pain in my back.”

After seeing various orthopedic doctors and trying acupuncture, Cummings had an MRI which revealed that she had Chiari Malfunction, a malformation of the brain which consists of a downward displacement of the cerebellar tonsils.

In the August before her freshman year, Cummings underwent an operation to correct the condition.

“They removed the top vertebrae in my spine and shaved the others,” said Cummings. “They went through the back of my head and into my neck because they had to drain spinal cord fluid.”

Although Cummings was able to start school on time that year, she had trouble reaching her previous level of success on the ice.

Looking for another athletic outlet, Cummings ran in a road race on Halloween of her junior year.

“I entered a 5k on a lark and I finished second,” said Cummings. “My high school coach saw it and asked me to come out for the team.”

Cummings decided to take the plunge into running and began a dizzying rise in the sport.

She won the Division III California cross country title as a senior and joined the Princeton University women’s cross country and track program in 2007.

After winning the 5,000 in the Indoor Ivy League Heptagonal championships, Cummings hit a new level in the sport last week as she placed 12th in the 10,000 meters at the NCAA Division I Women’s Track Championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

In reflecting on the NCAA meet, Cummings had trouble coming to terms with how much progress she has made in running.

“I couldn’t believe I was there; it was really exciting to be there running for Princeton against the big names,” said Cummings, who clocked a time of 34:29.77. “The sprinters were a little intimidating.”

Overcoming those nerves, Cummings produced a performance that earned her All-American honors.

“I haven’t always been at my sharpest at the end of the season; I felt pretty good at regionals,” added Cummings.

“I wanted to run close to my seed 16th and I came in 12th. I was very happy with that. It wasn’t one of those races where everything went right but I felt solid.”

For Cummings, Princeton felt right from the moment she set foot on campus.

“I visited Duke and Harvard and I considered Georgetown and Columbia,” said Cummings, who was the valedictorian of her high school class.

“Once I came on my visit to Princeton, I knew that was it. I liked the girls, the coach [Peter Farrell], and the campus.”

Although it took Cummings a little while to get used to the increased mileage that came with running at college, she adjusted quickly to Princeton with the help of the girls on the team.

“I am very glad I got to do cross country freshman year,” said Cummings.

“You got to campus two weeks early and you get a good idea of the campus. I had friends on the team right from the start. We are all really close, the team gets along really well.”

Cummings’ win in the 5,000 in the Indoor Heps helped her realize that she belonged at the college level.

“That race stands out; it was very motivational,” asserted Cummings.

“It gave me confidence that I could win a big race in college. It showed me that I was doing the right things in my training.”

Cummings did go through some frustration last fall as her training didn’t result in success in cross country.

“I wasn’t happy with my cross country season; things weren’t quite right,” said Cummings.

“I was in a little bit of a rut racing wise; I was working out well but not doing well in the races. It was frustrating; I needed a little break and that motivated me for the indoor season.”

Once again, a win in the 5,000 at the Indoor Heps got Cummings on the right track

“I won the 5000 again; that was really good,” added Cummings. “Indoors is really fun for me; we don’t have it in California. I think it may be my favorite season.”

Cummings had to wait most of the spring season to see her place in the 10,000 in the NCAA meet get confirmed.

“You have to run a time that puts you in the top 26; I had a really good time in the Mt. SAC relays,” explained Cummings, who clocked a time of 34:06.71 in finishing ninth in her race at Mt. SAC.

“Peter thought that would be good enough. I had to wait it out, watching times over the season.”

After her experience in Arkansas, Cummings hopes to be good enough to get back to the NCAA championship meet.

“I am hungry to get back,” said Cummings. “Once you get there, you realize this is it. It makes you hungry.”

Cummings’ hunger this summer will be devoted to preparing for a big junior cross country season.

“I will take a break from racing; I will be building my base,” said Cummings.

“I am looking to get up to 70 miles a week by July. I will then do some tempo runs. I feel like I need to redeem myself this cross country season. I am excited. We want to be players on the national scene again. I want to be an All-American.”

And with the progress Cummings has made in just five years of running, it won’t be surprising to see her reach that goal.

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