With cross country behind her, the UO senior awaits the Pac-10 track season
EUGENE Ñ Don't be fooled by her fascination with quilting. Carrie Zografos ain't ready for the rockin' chair. She still has some very fast running to do.
'I took up knitting last year, too,' she says. 'And I've always been into sewing.'
Zografos, 23, has woven together a pretty decent distance-running career, which started at Central Catholic High School and continues at the University of Oregon, where she has become an All-American.
In her finest season, the senior finished 33rd last fall in the NCAA cross country championships . The performance followed a sixth-place finish in the Pacific-10 Conference meet and a fifth in the NCAA regionals.
'She made a huge jump last fall,' says Tom Heinonen, the retiring UO women's coach. 'I wasn't sure she'd be our No. 1 runner, but she quickly established herself as our fittest and fastest runner.'
This spring, Zografos has another shot at nationals, as she will enter the track season ranked third in the Pac-10 in the steeplechase. She set the Oregon women's record last year at 10 minutes, 42.02 seconds and later placed fifth in the Pac-10 meet.
Zografos has become one of the Pac-10's most versatile runners, able to score team points anywhere from 800 meters to 5,000 meters. The steeplechase just happens to combine the two disciplines of track and field that have forged her career: the hurdles and distance running.
Zografos competed in mostly sprints and hurdles at Central Catholic. 'In high school, I was just fast enough,' she says. 'I had the speed and strength to get by in the 400 and 300 hurdles.'
Zografos was always 'the rabbit,' and certainly not the typical distance runner, at 5-9 and with broad shoulders.
Most sprinters can't stand running miles and miles. Zografos estimates that she ran no more than 30 minutes at any one time during high school. 'I just had no inclination to run,' she says.
These days, 70 miles a week isn't uncommon.
She has kept her sprinting form, running barely off the heel and mostly on the balls of her feet, rather than heel-toe, heel-toe. 'It's a unique form, and it surprises me that she can do as much running as she can,' Heinonen says.
Heinonen had never heard of Zografos when the transfer from Colorado arrived in Eugene in the fall of 2000. She mostly ran sixth or seventh on the UO cross country team. She redshirted during the track and field season.
'It didn't seem like she competed very hard,' Heinonen says. 'It was kind of like a deer in the headlights.'
It wasn't until last year that Zografos started to shine, making her way to No. 1 in cross country, figuring out the steeplechase and posting a 4:26.98 in the 1,500 meters.
Zografos led the UO harriers in nine of the last 10 cross country meets last fall. 'It's a terrific growth,' Heinonen says.
Zografos has had plenty of time to quilt, knit and sew lately. She's had to rest from running because of a strained muscle in the hip area underneath the gluteus maximus. It's a 'runner's injury,' she says. 'Overuse.'
Zografos also works at Sacred Heart Medical Center one day a week, hoping to be a nurse someday, and she serves as a Spanish interpreter.
Heinonen says Zografos has some catching up to do this spring, but he expects her to be healthy for track and field season. The coach really admires her disposition.
'I don't know of any runner who, the more they hurt, the more they smile,' he says.