Bay to Breakers to Bears
Sept. 20, 2004
BERKELEY, Calif. - Amidst the centipedes, nuns and Elvis impersonators running across the streets of San Francisco, an All-American was born.
The year was 1997. The event was the annual 12K race and festival known as the Bay to Breakers. The future All-American was Bridget Duffy.
Duffy, then a seventh-grader who entered the event with a classmate, was a competitor even in the early stages of her running career.
'We got near the end and I said, `Come on, let's pick it up. We're almost to the end,'' said Duffy. 'And she said, `No, I'm tired.' I had to stay with her because there were so many people, and we already left her parents. We ended up getting lost afterwards before meeting up with her parents, so we were stuck in San Francisco for an hour and a half, freezing.'
Now a Golden Bear junior, Duffy rarely gets lost in any race. In fact, the Oakland product has been impressive since arriving on campus in August 2002, leading Cal in 12 of 13 cross country competitions and winning two team MVP awards.
Duffy's 2003 sophomore cross country season culminated in a memorable November, beginning with a 13th-place showing at the Pac-10 championships in Pullman, Wash. After improving by 22 places from the 2002 conference meet, the Cal co-captain received second team All-Pac-10 recognition and later garnered Pac-10 All-Academic honorable mention.
The month continued with Duffy grabbing eighth at the NCAA West Regional in Gresham, Ore., becoming the first Cal woman to qualify for cross country nationals since Elissa Riedy did so in 1997 and 1998. Duffy's strong regional showing left Cal head coach Tony Sandoval pondering her chances at the NCAA championships in Waterloo, Iowa.
'On the plane back from regionals, Tony said, `It's kind of a stretch, but you could be an All-American,'' said Duffy. 'I was like, `Are you crazy? I don't think so. Fortieth? No way!' I was hoping to get experience and thinking top 60 the whole time.'
Sandoval closely predicted his harrier's fate at NCAAs. Duffy placed 42nd on the 6000-meter course, good enough to become the Golden Bears' eighth cross country All-American and the first since Riedy in '98.
'When I finished, I was blown away,' said Duffy. 'I said, `Oh, really? Me? No way!' I feel like now I have to go back and prove that I belong there.'
While Duffy strives to surpass her cross country exploits in 2004, she also eyes her first track and field All-America award. As a freshman in Berkeley, Duffy took fifth in the 1500 meters at the 2003 USA Junior Track and Field Championships and excelled during the first half of her sophomore season before an illness thwarted her postseason dreams.
Despite being a standout on Cal's cross country and track and field squads, team goals are just as important to Duffy as her individual ones. She gladly assists the Cal coaching staff with fundraising and recruiting, with an emphasis on local talent.
'I'd love to see our team move up in the Pac-10, especially in cross country, because we've never had a dominant presence there,' said Duffy. 'When I came in, Tony and I talked about starting Cal on its way to becoming a powerhouse for cross country and for track and field.'
Sandoval appreciates Duffy's extra efforts to help the Bears.
'She's more valuable to our program than just as a runner,' said Sandoval. 'She brings leadership and cohesiveness to our team. She's an ambassador and helps with recruiting. For a young woman to have such poise and presence is special.'
Cal is also fortunate that Duffy is a better runner than volleyball player. As a freshman at St. Mary's High School in Berkeley, the 5-3 Duffy tried out for the volleyball team, but her performance in the conditioning runs led the volleyball coach to contact the cross country coach.
In four years, Duffy elevated St. Mary's once unheralded track and field and cross country reputations. In cross country, she won two individual state titles, three North Coast Section championships and three league titles.
Duffy also enjoyed success on the track, setting school records in the 800m (2:11), 1600m (4:51), 3200m (10:48) and 5000m (18:15). The middlechild of William and Mara Duffy made four state meet appearances, including a fourth-place finish in the 1600m in 2001. In 1999, she led St. Mary's to the NCS team championship.
Surprisingly, a college recruiting frenzy didn't follow Duffy's high school accomplishments.
'I was overlooked by a lot of people because the year I was running we had the best runners in the nation from California and from Northern California,' said Duffy, whose work ethic led to the nickname of Tuffy as a prep.
An early sign that Duffy was destined to be a Bear might have been one of her regular training runs - from her house next to Zachary's Pizza on College Avenue to the Berkeley campus. However, Cal's proximity to her childhood home wasn't the deciding factor in her college choice.
'I loved everyone that I met from the track program - people thatgraduated, the coaches and the current students on the team,' said Duffy. 'And felt it was the best fit for me academically and athletically.'
Between working at Transports, a running store on College Avenue, and taking economics in summer school, Duffy has logged 50-55 miles per week and lifted weights two days a week to prepare for her junior year. She sometimes ran with her 14-year-old brother, Matt, who is a freshman on the St. Mary's cross country squad.
Matt has joked with Bridget that he plans on breaking all of her high school records; Bridget has replied that his times should be faster because he is male. Beyond the light-hearted sibling rivalry, Matt looks up to his big sister.
'Bridget has taught me to work hard and that nothing comes easy, but in the end, it's rewarding,' said Matt. 'Her dedication is amazing. Running is something she loves to do. If I stick with it, she thinks I can be competitive.'
Matt may admire Bridget's success now, but his feelings were different years ago.
'I didn't think she had a chance to do well,' said Matt. 'But she's proven me wrong many times.'
Bridget looks to prove any lingering local doubters wrong at the 2004 Pac-10 championships, which Cal will host Oct. 30 at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.
Further down the road, she plans to return to The City for another attempt at the Bay to Breakers race that started it all for her seven years ago.
'I would love to run the Bay to Breakers again,' said Duffy. 'I might even dress up.'