Cross Country Co-Captain Sarah King ’21 Leads By Example
By Tracy Seipel
Inspired by her dad, she sets records on the track—and hopes to design medical devices outside it.
Throughout everything in 2020, Sarah King ’21 has kept running. During the COVID-19 shutdown and the summer fires. On Election Day and in the bone chilling weather since. King runs six days a week, no excuses, mile after grueling mile.
As co-captain of SCU’s women’s cross country team, King doesn’t just set the pace, she’s constantly encouraging her teammates along the way. From training, to studying, to ensuring they follow their off-campus house rules to stay virus-free, she leads by example.
“I’m grateful to have their support, and to run at Santa Clara,” says the 21-year-old bioengineering major. “We’re all just really committed to working hard and not taking any of this for granted.”
As of Sept. 20, the team is scheduled for events early next year after the NCAA board of directors approved recommendations for competition and championship dates for fall sports that were postponed in August because of the virus.
Barring pandemic uncertainties, both women’s and men’s cross country teams will begin competition Jan. 23, with NCAA Championships slated to begin March 15.
“Everyone is doing a really good job of focusing, paying attention to the things we can control, and not stressing about the things that are out of our control,” says Pete Cushman, SCU’s associate head coach of the 28-member women’s cross country/track and field team. “It’s a challenging time for them,” he adds, “and I depend on the captains a lot to help.”
Focusing on the future
Keeping the runners’ minds fixated on training as well as their studies during the pandemic has been tough, he says. But King and co-captain Emma McCurry ’21 are in constant contact with teammates, offering support and motivation.
“If they are communicating and bonding,” says Cushman, “they will run for each other, and run better.”
For King, who lives with other runners in a rental house near campus, bonding means establishing a pact to not socialize with many others. Because if one contracts the virus, the whole team could be jeopardized.
“Young people often treat themselves as being immune to this, but in fact science and the news has shown that’s not the case,” says King. “We don’t know what this virus does, and it impacts a lot more people than yourself, which should make it a bigger deal.”
That kind of level-headedness, coupled with an athletic discipline, surfaced early on in life, according to her father Dan King, who flies out from the family home in Boulder, Colo., to watch his daughter run in track meets.
It’s a world the University of Colorado Boulder grad, who ran track and cross country at CU, knows well.
Like father, like daughter
On Aug. 29, Dan King made history at the South Carolina TrackFest by breaking the world record in the 60-64 age group in the mile. King ran the mile in 4:49.08, breaking the 2012 record set by New Zealander Tony McManus’s 4:51.85 record.
“I think running teaches you life lessons about overcoming adversity,” says the 61-year-old retired businessman who with his brother founded ReadyTalk, an audio and web conferencing company they sold in 2017.
“It’s about goal-setting, and validating the hard work you put into it, and those are things that translate to all walks of life,” he observes. “I expect that will be the same for Sarah, too.”
His daughter is equally proud of her dad.
“It’s cool that he continues to be so passionate about this sport and to work so hard to win that,” she says of his world-record. “That’s really inspired me.”
Never say quit
Dan King remembers the first time he noticed his oldest daughter’s stick-to-itiveness as an 11-year-old youngster playing on a girl’s club soccer team.
“She has a no-quit attitude about sports,” he says, recalling one of her early soccer coaches telling him how, during a tournament match the team was badly losing, she continued to be the only kid who refused to stop trying.
“Sarah ran down every loose ball that the other kids had sort of given up on,” says Dan King of a mindset he says she has never lost—and something he believes has made her the committed runner she is today.
“As a parent,” he says, “that makes you feel great about your kid.”
Over the years, Sarah King’s dedication to sports continued; as a high school freshman, she joined her high school women’s soccer team, but by sophomore year she decided to devote herself to the school’s cross country team.
“I was in training for the first time in my life, and I loved that team,” she recalls. “It hooked me.”
In 2017, she chose Santa Clara, drawn by its smaller class sizes and renowned engineering school. Inspired by the possibility of improving a person’s quality of life, she headed into bioengineering and a career designing medical devices.
King also came to SCU to run cross country, first as a recruited walk-on, then with a partial scholarship. Over her years of SCU training—and running four to 15 miles a day—she has evolved into one of the team’s best athletes, says Cushman.
Hard work, patience, pay off
He points to her steady rise over the last four years, from her best 6K race time of 24:22 in 2017 to her most recent 6K time of 21:37, making her “one of our Top 10 all-time runners in Santa Clara history,” says Cushman.
“She got a lot better—almost three minutes faster, or 40 seconds a mile faster,” he says. “That is really phenomenal.”
Last year, along with McCurry, King was voted co-captain by her teammates, which she found both humbling and rewarding.
“It’s proved to me that always showing up, and investing a lot of energy into being on the team—whether on the running side or the social side—is really worth it,” says King.
At the same time, she says, the experience has helped her develop leadership skills, something she underscored in her recent Fulbright Scholarship application. If accepted, she hopes to work that year in Cambodia, where two-thirds of all citizens carry the tuberculosis bacterium, one of the highest rates in the world, killing 13,000 annually.
“It’s treatable and preventable, but incredibly widespread because of socio-economic factors,” says King of the disease. “I want to help them understand how it’s spreading, and how to prevent it.”
Meanwhile, as King continues to hope—for a quick end to the pandemic, the dream of a Fulbright, and an engaging career in biotech—she runs, on Bellomy Field, through SCU neighborhoods, from the hills of Cupertino’s Rancho San Antonio County Park, to the forested trails of the Santa Cruz Mountains.“Most of the top runners did not come into the program expecting to be highly competitive, top runners,” says King. “But they all have the same motivation and commitment. They work very hard.”
Nov 16, 2020
King sets the pace during a meet.