For Vanessa Valentine it's the Effort that Counts
For Vanessa Valentine it's the Effort that Counts
With her final shot at her first state title after a stellar four-year distance-running career at Melbourne High School at hand, Vanessa Valentine believes she is prepared and is excited.
After all the Vanderbilt-bound senior knows how to win, her resume adorned with Cape Coast Conference, and FHSAA district and regional bling from her numerous cross country and track championships.
But the hardware that goes with a winning effort on the final day of the season has eluded her. And Friday’s Class 3A finals matchup with two-time defending 1,600-meter champion Lily Williams of Tallahassee Chiles promises to be a supreme challenge.
Valentine relishes it, especially since she and Williams, who will be classmates at Vanderbilt in the fall, have become friends.
But that friendship will be on hold once the gun fires to begin the race at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. Then it’s every girl for herself and may the best one win.
That’s been Valentine’s approach throughout her four years at Melbourne. Set your goals, give your pursuit of that goal everything you’ve got and take solace from the fact that did your best.
To that end, Valentine’s secret to her accomplishments and accolades lies in her work ethic.
Vanessa Valentine at the 2011 4A State 1600 (Sherri Enders)
"To be that good, you run,” said veteran mentor Bob Perry who has coached Valentine the past two seasons.
“You realize how hard and how intensely she takes practice. She’ll be out there at 7 o’clock on Sunday morning running intervals on Melbourne Avenue when there’s no one else out there.
“She’s got a world of talent but her work ethic is just incredible.”
And the work ethic is not limited to athletics. After all she’s bound for highly-regarded Vanderbilt University where she will major in engineering and where she will run.
“She’s in here (in school) for extra help on Sundays,” Perry said. “There’s a couple of teachers who do prep for advanced placement stuff. She’s one of the kids in here.
“You don’t get into Vanderbilt because you’re a lightweight.”
Valentine also has a believer in Doug Butler, head cross country and track coach at Melbourne’s Holy Trinity Academy.
“I honestly believe Vanessa has the potential to be as good at the collegiate level as any girl we have had come out of Brevard County,” Butler, whose teams have won a total of 15 state cross country and track team championships, wrote in an email.
“She is no where near the top of her ability and will flourish at Vanderbilt. After running with her this summer, it was clear that she is much stronger than most people think she is. She has flawless form and just needs to increase her miles to see her times drop sharply. When she gets put in a team environment with girls her own speed, her competitive drive will push her to the top.”
And that competitive drive has been a hallmark for Valentine since she first began to run.
T.J. Woodbury, who coached eight seasons of track and six of cross country at Melbourne and either directly coached or wrote workouts for Valentine through all four of her years, experienced that competitiveness first hand.
He credits it to Valentine - who came to running from a softball background - growing up within a competitive and supportive family. And while that drive has served her well over her high school career, don’t for a minute think Valentine is a stereotypical athlete who lives and dies over the outcome of her races and nothing else.
She also is a serious, top-notch thinker who more than a few times matched wits to a standoff with Woodbury who teaches among other things advanced placement psychology.
“She is an opinionated young lady,” Woodbury said. “All of her opinions are rational and logical. You don’t always agree with them. But from her perspective they are well thought out. She doesn’t take a stand without doing her homework.
“She comes to a debate - even if you didn’t know she was bringing a debate to you - she comes prepared and ready to go. Sometimes our debates were always productive but sometimes we couldn’t come to a consensus. We had to agree to disagree.”
That backbone - which Valentine credits to growing up in an intellectual family where opinions are frequently but lovingly challenged - has made her a model statewide. Especially after last fall’s FHSAA cross country championship meet where she ran and finished seventh in Class 3A, the most competitive grouping among the four.
Asked in an interview afterward if she ever had given thought to what might have been if she was in a different classification she dismissed the notion out of hand. After all, she wanted to race the best.
Now Friday she will do it once again, matching strides with Williams and others.
And no matter how things turn out, Woodbury knows which Valentine will show up at school on Monday morning.
“I’ll see a kid who’s getting ready for the AP calculus test on Wednesday,” he said. “She’ll have already switched gears mentally. She’ll have already come to terms with whatever happened and understand it’s not changeable.
“She’ll go out there and she’ll give her best,” Woodbury added. “She knows, she understands. Her main thing is ‘I’ve got a field that can take me sub-5, I hope they do.’
“She’s not going to beat herself up because she came up a little short when she did the best she could.”
Perry expects Valentine to be up to the challenge.
“She thrives on competition,” Perry said. “She loves competition. It’s part of who she is.”
That is especially true when the heat is on whether it be in competition or in the classroom.
“When I get in pressure situations I usually respond well,” Valentine said.
“I’m really excited to be in the classification with Lily and Olivia (Ortiz) and all those girls. It’s just going to be a lot of fun. I know they’re going to pull me along as well.”
And should she not win, Valentine certainly won’t be hanging her head.
“Honestly I would rather be in a tough classification in seventh place and run a PR (personal best),” she said.
“It makes me feel better to know that I truly earned the spot that I got. When I don’t do how I wanted to do, it just motivates me to work harder. When I PR and I get whatever place I get I couldn’t ask for anything more. I couldn’t ask for a better race.”
And if that race results in a sub 5-minute result, Valentine will be pleased.
“As corny as it sounds, it’s kind of like my school dream to go sub-5 in the mile,” she said.
“That’s something that would really send me off in a happy way. For me it’s always about finishing strong. I’m just hoping to do that. If that happens I’ll be the happiest person in the world and it will probably carry on to my two-mile (3,200).”
By Mark DeCotis
Contact DeCotis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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