The competition may have had a head start on Tessni Carruthers, but if scholarships were medals, the Vernon athlete would already be on the podium.
The VSS Panthers grad, who trains with the Vernon Triple A Track & Field Club, recently secured a NCAA Division 1 ride with the Nicholls State University Colonels of Louisiana.
The remarkable part is, it is only in the last year that Carruthers started to take track seriously. Before that, it was more or less a hobby.
“I’ve always been a runner and everyone in my family runs,” said Carruthers, whose parents, Alison and Phil, ran the Boston Marathon last year.
“I’ve always thought about trying to get a scholarship, and last season I decided to really try so I started running with Brent (Helland, Vernon Triple A middle-distance coach).”
What she might be lacking in experience, Carruthers more than makes up for with her tremendous fitness base. A former competitive swimmer with the Vernon Kokanee Swim Club, and cross-country skier with Sovereign Lake Nordic Club, she has the stamina and mental toughness to excel on the track, said Helland.
“She started very late and just did phenomenal. She just believed in our program and kept setting personal best after personal best.
“I think with her background in cross-country and swimming, it made for an easier transition. It was mainly fine-tuning because she already had the cardio.”
Even with Carruthers’ rapid progress, Helland was both surprised and impressed when she received the offer from Nicholls State.
“I’m fairly new to the whole scholarship thing myself, but I’ve never heard of that. Typically, you need two years under your belt before you experience a maturity in the process.”
The 18-year-old Carruthers holds a personal best four minutes and 53 seconds in the 1,500-metre and a 10:15 in the 3,000-m, which earned her fifth overall at last year’s junior nationals. With her relatively late start, she admits having doubts getting into the sport.
“I did last year, I felt like a rookie. After a few races and I got into the season, I could run with the faster girls.”
By training with Fulton track star Sarah Bailey and Kelowna’s Sasha Schock, following Helland’s guidance, and running away from the odd bear in Kalamalka Provincial Park, her progress has been spectacular.
“When I came into running I was a newbie, but he (Helland) knew I had a lot of potential. He started me off slow, but he knew when to push me. He really believes in you and gives you tools to work with and lots of advice.”
Carruthers went on a flydown last February to the Nicholls State campus in Thibodaux, La., which is about 80 kilometres southwest of New Orleans. She confirms southern hospitality is alive and well in Louisiana.
“It was a shock, but it was pretty cool. Everybody was really nice and everybody was just easy-going and slow-paced. They weren’t rushed like in a big city,” smiled Carruthers, who had other offers but none as good as what the Colonels tabled.
Carruthers, who plans to puruse a science degree, will spend the summer lifeguarding at local outdoor pools.