From One Champion To Another
Oct. 28, 2009
Previous Cross Country Features
By Joe Darda
In the fall of 1982, the Pac-10 conference held its first women's cross country championships at Woodward Park in Fresno, California. Washington senior Regina Joyce ran away with the title, covering the 5-kilometer course 16-minutes and 14-seconds.
Joyce went on to finish second at the NCAA championships. She represented her native Ireland in the 1984 Olympic marathon (finishing 23rd). She married and raised two children in Lynwood, a suburb of Seattle. She became a U.S. citizen in 1993, and competed in the Olympic Trials in 1996 (finishing, again, 23rd). In all this time, Joyce remained the only Washington Pac-10 cross country champion--until 2008, that is.
Joyce was enshrined in the Husky Hall of Fame in 1990, the same year that current Husky sophomore Kendra Schaaf was born. At last year's Pac-10 Championships, Schaaf didn't just win UW's first individual title since Joyce in '82, she dominated the race, winning by 29-seconds, leading wire-to-wire, and setting a new course record. Her teammates followed suit, finishing an unprecedented first through sixth and winning in a rout over the No. 2 Oregon Ducks.
The significance of this feat, Schaaf admits, did not occur to her at the time. A year removed from her title run, however, her attitude has changed. "I didn't know going into the race that it had been that long since someone from UW had won. I would hear people talking about it afterwards, but I don't think it really sunk in until this year for me. It seems like a bigger deal now."
Joyce, who still lives in Lynnwood with her husband and former UW track coach Alan Bonney, closely followed her alma mater's championship run last season, checking results and reading the coverage in the local papers. At an awards banquet following NCAAs, she had an opportunity to meet Schaaf and her teammates and congratulate them on their success. "You just couldn't meet a nicer bunch of young women," Joyce says. "I was just thrilled to pieces for Coach Metcalf and the team."
She can certainly appreciate the challenge of collegiate athletics, as well as the degree to which they have changed since her decorated career. Joyce's daughter, Caitlin Bonney, played three years of soccer at Washington State as a letter-winning defender. What Joyce noticed: being a student-athlete has new perks, as well as new challenges.
"I came over here twenty-nine years ago and I was just thrilled to get a jersey," she says. "Everything is different now with all the equipment and TV coverage. It's just amazing. Of course, it's still very difficult. Being a student-athlete is like having a full-time job and school. And I think college athletes today are held to a higher standard off the field. If you slip up, everyone is going to know."
Despite an apparent lack of equipment, Joyce established herself as one of the top collegiate distance runners in the nation between 1981 and 1983, earning a pile of All-American trophies and anchoring her distance medley relay team to a national record. And although no longer Washington's lone conference champion, Joyce still holds most of the school distance records on the track, including the 5,000- and 10,000-meters. When asked if she thought someone on Metcalf's current star-studded roster would break her long-standing records, Joyce replied emphatically, "They should!" adding, "Kendra can definitely break those."
If Schaaf's performances this fall are any indicator, those records may be under attack come April. After season-opening wins at the Sundodger and Notre Dame Invitationals, Schaaf finished a close second to Illinois's NCAA 5,000-meter Champion Angela Bizzarri at the highly competitive Pre-National meet. And if not Schaaf, current All-Americans Anita Campbell, Katie Follett, and Mel Lawrence all came within 15-seconds of Joyce's 5k record last year. Schaaf, for one, is not fixated on records or times--though she is certainly aware of Joyce's.
"I know they [Joyce's records] are there, but you can't run for records. Those things come and go. You just need to put in the work and those things will come to you," Schaaf says. "Though it's cool they belong to her. I had known about her even before coming to Washington and finally met her last year after nationals. I see her out running sometimes too."
It should come as no surprise that Schaaf would encounter Joyce out running. The 52-year-old Olympian still logs some pretty substantial mileage. At the Portland Marathon earlier this month, she finished 12th in a time of 3:08:10. Not many 52-year-olds can click off 7:10 miles for over three hours. Joyce did it while working full-time and coaching for Chuckit Running in Kirkland.
"Portland was my first marathon in six years. It's not easy balancing running with everything else," she says. "I really enjoyed the training and the experience of the marathon and I'll be running cross country for Club Northwest next month, but what I'd really like is to get back out on the track. See if I can get these old wheels moving a little faster."
Twenty-seven years removed from her Pac-10 title and Joyce is still out on the cross country course. This life-long passion, she says, is partially due to the Seattle running community, which she describes as, "embracing but not obsessive, a perfect place to train." It was this environment that first attracted her to the University of Washington when she visited in April of 1980. The same is true for Schaaf, who was born in Regina, Saskatchewan (coincidental, maybe, but pronounced differently) and was drawn to Seattle by a close-knit team and mild climate.
Like Joyce three decades earlier, Schaaf has made an immediate impact on the UW distance program--winning five of her eight career races. And although it took 26 years for Schaaf to add a second conference championship to the Washington trophy case, it seems unlikely a third will take quite so long.