Coming 'Round the Mountain
Oct. 3, 2001
Sabrina Monro is different.
Distance runners in general, willingly pushing their bodies to the extreme on a daily basis in a task considered punishment in many other sports, are a breed of their own, but Monro stands out even from that niche.
'We're all quirky,' the senior from Montana City, Mont. says. 'You have to be to do what we do. What makes me even more different, though, is that I do everything you're not supposed to do. I eat at McDonalds, I lay around and watch the Simpsons, I run out to the front of the pack when I should hang back and pace myself. I do everything wrong, but it works.'
Perhaps it works because when Monro isn't at McDonalds or watching The Simpsons, she runs - up to 70 miles most weeks, each individual mile at a breathtaking five-to-six-mile pace. Monro started running as a high-school sophomore - 'bored,' she says, during a long Montana summer, and didn't stop until she had earned a scholarship to the University of Montana, claiming All-American honors and a runner-up finish at the 2000 NCAA Championships.
'I had never really run before, and I always thought that people who did were crazy,' says Monro, who transferred to UW following her All-American campaign. 'That fall, I decided to try out for the team and ended up being their No. 2 runner. All of the other girls were like, who are you and where did you come from?'
Monro's Husky teammates may have been asking the same question as she shot through the 5,000-meter course at the Sundodger Invitational in September in a stunning 16 minutes and six seconds, bettering the meet record by a previously-unthinkable 48 seconds.
In fact, Monro grew up on a Montana mountainside, with plenty of room to run.
'Two churches, two bars, one stoplight,' she says. 'Blink and you'll miss it. That's pretty much Montana City in a nutshell.'
Monro was a splash of color and variety in a town where denim and flannel were the rule. Her spiky haircuts, varying dye jobs and stylish clothes set her apart even before she decided to further ostracize herself by entering the world of distance running.
Once she began to run, however, she never stopped. The self-proclaimed 'fish out of water' had her ticket to a bigger pond, and as with everything she does, she attacked the opportunity, running off her Montana mountainside, through the Montana girls' prep record books, and all the way out of Montana City to the brighter lights - in that there were two lights instead of one - of Missoula, and the University of Montana.
Still, though, she struggled to fit in.
'I am a very aggressive, hard-working person,' she says. 'At Montana, practices were optional - if you didn't want to come, you didn't have to. Also, the coaching staff there was from an older school of coaching, and were very set in their ways. I have my own ways of training, and I didn't feel like I could do the things I needed to do to be succesful.'
Monro pondered leaving her home state as a sophomore in 1999, but endured two more years, culminating with her second-place finish at last year's NCAA Championship meet in Iowa. In her three years at Montana, the girl who just four years prior thought distance runners were an odd breed, had captured All-American honors in cross-country and indoor track, taken two Big Sky Conference cross-country titles and five conference championships in indoor track. Many athletes would be satisfied. Monro was still hungry.
'I had accomplished a lot, but I wasn't really getting the level of competition that I desired,' she says. 'After the season, I sent out a letter to various schools detailing my release from Montana and my desire to transfer.'
Four of the region's top programs - Washington, Arizona, BYU and Oregon - each jumped at the chance to add the senior-to-be to their cross-country rosters, even if it would just be for a season. Needing to shed her small-town origins for a larger city where her quirks would be embraced as part of a larger university community, Monro chose the Huskies. She says it is the best decision she ever made.
'I am so absolutely, completely happy,' she says, beaming. 'Everything is so much better for me here. I love my teammates, I love my coaches, and I love being in Seattle. I feel like I really fit in here.'
Monro seems to have found whatever she has been running towards since first taking to the hills around Montana City. Distance runners are different, yes, but Monro is different even from them - she's special.