Oct. 12, 2010

By Jeff White

CHARLOTTESVILLE — To his freshmen on the women’s cross country and track teams at UVa, head coach Jason Vigilante would offer this advice: Be careful about trying to emulate Stephanie Garcia.

Not everyone can do what Garcia can.

“A year ago, she said to me, ‘I want to be such a good team leader for our first-years,’ ” Vigilante recalled. “And I said to her, in a joking way, ‘Stephanie, I don’t want you to be a team leader, because nobody I’ve ever known can juggle as many different items at one time as you.’ She has a very special talent to be able to balance all those things.”

When she’s not running long distances these days — it’s cross country season — Garcia is pursuing a master’s degree in UVa’s acclaimed English department. (She earned her bachelor’s in English from the University last spring.)

Or she’s working at The Hook, the weekly newspaper for which Garcia is special sections editor.

Or she’s attending concerts and shows, such as Lady Gaga’s recent extravaganza at John Paul Jones Arena, and reviewing them for The Hook.

Or she’s assisting Jennifer Carroll, who specializes in event planning, a career that interests Garcia.

“We don’t think she sleeps,” Hawes Spencer said. “She’s a force of nature.”

Spencer is editor and publisher of The Hook, where Garcia, a Cavalier Daily veteran, started as an intern in the summer of 2008.

“The thing that first struck me was, she said she felt like she had a lot to learn,” Spencer recalled. “She’s always been really open to learning and to new experiences, and you can just see that in everything she does. She just sets a goal and accomplishes it.”

After her official internship ended, Garcia said, “I think I just kept bugging them so much that they let me keep staying around.” She began writing free-lance stories for The Hook and later joined the staff as assistant music editor.

In her current role, Garcia oversees about 15 special sections a year, focusing on such subjects as weddings, the Virginia Film Festival, the Virginia Festival of the Book, and the Charlottesville music scene. She tries to make it to The Hook’s office on the Downtown Mall three days a week, if only for a few hours each time.

“Each section that I do, I’ll write six to eight stories for, but I’ll do that over the course of a month or so,” Garcia said. “I do occasionally write music articles, concert reviews or interviews, so that’ll be a couple [more stories] a month.”

Garcia would have you believe there’s nothing remarkable about her newspaper work. Her boss would tell you otherwise.

“It’s extremely unusual” for a college student to hold such a position at The Hook, Spencer said, and Garcia “doesn’t get any special treatment from us.

“In fact, we’re always kind of amazed, because we’re aware that she has daily track practice and classes, and yet here she is in the office doing great things.”

It’s not a full-time gig, but “when you consider all the other things she’s juggling in her life, it defies comprehension how she can have such responsibilities simultaneously,” Spencer said.

As an undergraduate, Garcia specialized in modern and contemporary literature, and that’s the focus of her master’s program, too. She made the ACC honor roll in each of her first four years at UVa. She won the ACC steeplechase title in 2008 and ECAC steeplechase championships in ’08 and ’09. She won her first cross country meet as a Cavalier last month.

“I’m very impressed at how well she does everything,” Vigilante said. “Her writing always come out beautifully in The Hook. Her grades are always really strong. Socially, she knows everybody. Athletically, she’s an All-American.

“She does a terrific job, and I think that perhaps some of what she does outside her athletic realm allows her to not put so much stress on herself.”

Garcia agreed. “As much as I’m very ambitious on the track, and I plan on pursuing this after my eligibility is over, I also know that running’s not going to be my only career for the rest of my life. It’s important that I have other interests.”

Many of her fellow student-athletes at UVa “probably think I’m crazy,” Garcia said with a smile. “A lot of the girls on the team, I don’t know that they really know that there are a lot of opportunities out there that they can take advantage of without having it affect their career as an athlete.

“I’ve had teammates say to me that they don’t make it to regionals, or they don’t make it to nationals on the track, and they say, ‘I don’t get it. I go to sleep really early, I eat really well, I don’t do anything but train, and you’re at meetings and have things to do. How are you making it as an All-American, and I’m not?’

“And I say, ‘Well, I have other interests. I have things that take me away from the track, which is good sometimes.’ It’s not always healthy to be so single-minded on the track, because as a long-distance endurance athlete, it’s easy to take it too far, it’s easy to get hurt.”

In 2005, as a senior at Broad Run High in Loudoun County, Garcia placed sixth at the state Group AA cross country meet, 25 seconds behind the winner, Northside’s Catherine White, now a teammate at UVa.

Garcia was considered a solid college prospect, but nothing special. Virginia’s cross country coach then was Jason Dunn, who left for Stanford in July 2008. Had Vigilante been the Cavaliers’ coach when Garcia was in high school, he probably wouldn’t have recruited her.

“But once you get to know her, and once you get to know how she operates as an athlete, you would wish that every single kid that you coach would just take some of the grit and gumption that she has,” Vigilante said.

“I think that she just puts her shoulder into it and says, ‘OK, if that’s where the front is, that’s where I belong.’ She just wills her way through everything.”

At UVa, Garcia runs cross country in the fall, the mile and the 3k in indoor track, the steeplechase in outdoor track.

The steeplechase is a grueling 3,000-meter race in which runners must clear seven water barriers and 28 other hurdles. It wasn’t offered at Broad Run, so Garcia didn’t pick up the event until she arrived at UVa. And now?

“It’s my passion,” Garcia said.

Vigilante said: “It’s the perfect event for her, because it’s all about being tough. There’s no finesse, there’s no style. It’s all about me versus you, and that’s where she really excels.

“It’s a challenge. And what’s great about that event is that you need to have a little bit of everything. You need to have pretty good foot speed. You need to have pretty good endurance. You need to have good athleticism to get over the barriers, and then, in the end, if you have the first three requisites, and you’re not mentally strong, you’ll never be truly successful. And she’s enabled herself to be successful, because the final component is her best quality.”

As most freshmen did under Dunn, Garcia redshirted during her first season of cross country. As a senior, she redshirted in indoor and outdoor track because of a stress reaction.

And so she entered this academic year with three seasons — fall, winter and spring — of eligibility left. When her UVa career is over, Garcia plans to compete in the steeplechase at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Her master’s program runs for two years, so she hopes to train for the steeplechase in 2011-12 while serving as a volunteer assistant coach under Vigilante.

And when her track career ends?

“I would love to do feature writing for a big magazine,” said Garcia, who subscribes to such publications as Vanity Fair, GQ, Vogue and Bon Appetit.

For now, she’ll continue juggling school and running and work and music and, believe it or not, even some sleep.

“I’m just a very good multi-tasker,” Garcia said. “Vig has told me before: ‘A lot of girls can’t do what you do.’ I know that he would be much happier if I said, ‘Vig, I’m going to give everything up and just run.’ But I don’t know. I just can’t sit still.”

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