Friendships Bind Siblings to Their Passion for Running

 Janie Crawford wins the 800 at the Godinez dual meet while Coach Steve Lalim looks on with stopwatch in hand.

Janie Crawford wins the 800 at the Godinez dual meet while Coach Steve Lalim looks on with stopwatch in hand.

Janie and Jack Crawford arrived in Laguna with their parents two years ago. For the freshman Janie, the move from Redmond, Wash., marked a new beginning. For Jack, a junior, it became a refreshing reminder of old beginnings past.

Jack already trained with two cross-country teams, one as a middle-schooler in Texas and the other at his former high school in Redmond. His first task upon arrival in Laguna was to contact the cross-country coach at his new high school. “Every where you go, the cross country teams are the best group of people, I think,” said the self-described extrovert who was hoping to make some new friends fast.

Coach Scott Wittkop invited him to a team practice at El Morro Elementary. By the end of the team’s training run, Jack had become part of a new family. “This is a group that I really want to be a part of,” he thought at the time.

He turned his attention to his kid sister, telling her about the social side benefits of his favorite sport. “I just wanted her to go out and run, so that she would meet some people that were really nice and really cool and make some friends,” he said.

Janie was all ready an accomplished middle distance runner at her Redmond middle school.

Now, she looks back with fond memories on her first year in cross country. How Natasha Strickland and Marissa Merchant, the two seniors on that team, pushed Janie and her teammates to give everything they had to make it to state finals. How no one could sleep on the eve of the big race in Fresno. And how sad she was when it was over, because two of her new friends would not be back next season. “I will always remember that night,” Janie said. “My team is like my family.”

Jack was a varsity runner in Redmond at a school more than twice the size of Laguna. But the competition in Orange County is much tougher. “I’d say that my team here is a much faster team than my Redmond team,” he said.

Jack became close friends with then sophomore Casey Koprowski and freshman Grant Barton. At the time, the three of them were “on the boarder line of okay and good,” said Jack. Through hard work and dedication, the trio rose to the top of the ranks and became three of the team’s top runners.

After an exciting and memorable finish to the cross-country season, Janie really to began to make a name for herself when she took to the soccer field and tied for third on the team in goals scored with four. That 2012 squad, led by senior Marina Paul, went on to win its first Orange Coast league title.

Both Crawfords turned out for their first season of track in spring of 2012. Each has a special routine when preparing for a race. Janie likes to listen to music. For Jack, it’s cereal. “I try to have my Honey Bunches of Oats before every race in the morning,” he said.

Jack’s specialty is the 3200, although he also competes in the 1600 and the 800. He had some success in the 3200 at the California Relays, where he finished fifth with a personal record of 10:15.06. He went on to finish seventh at Orange Coast League finals with a time of 10:19.36.

Janie competed in four main events her first year: the 200, 800, 4×400 and triple jump. She even moonlighted as a member of the 4×800 and distance medley relays at the Arcadia Invitational.

She won her first ever high school triple jump competition at the Irvine Invitational, jumping 34′ 4” to break the school record. She also won league titles in the 800, and as a member of the 4×400 relay. “She has a unique combination of speed and endurance that allows her to be successful in pretty much any event we put her in,” said her coach Steve Lalim.

Both runners had breakthrough seasons last fall in cross-country. Jack lowered his three-mile time by nearly a minute, and Janie sliced more than two minutes off of her best. Their PRs came at the same event, the 32nd Annual Woodbridge Invitational.

Jack seems surprised by his cross-country accomplishments. “Honestly, I’ve completely surpassed any goals I ever had,” he said. “I’m at least a minute ahead of where I ever thought I’d be.”

Jack Crawford wins the 1600 at the Godinez dual meet

Jack Crawford wins the 1600 at the Godinez dual meet

Jack has always known how to run, but it was Wittkop’s instruction and strategy that helped him shave off that last minute. “Senior year was a big drop just because I learned how to run a race,” he said. “I would be no where near where I am right now without him.”

Janie has two more years to reach her goal of becoming only the fourth girl to break the 18-minute barrier in cross-country. “I seem to be improving. I’m really hoping to get there, but I’m not sure if I will,” she said.

With the 2013 track season winding down, both Crawfords are trying to turn things up a notch.

Jack wants to bring his time in the 1600 below 4:30. He also wants to make a good showing in the 3200 at CIF.

He all ready has a win this season in the 3200 at the Irvine/Asics Distance Carnival. And he set a new PR of 9:54.19 on his home track at the Laguna Beach Trophy Invitational last March. “I believe he can run in the 4:20’s in the 1600 and low 9:40’s in the 3200, said Wittkop. “But it would not surprise me if he goes faster than that.”

One of Lalim’s assistants, Jeff Harris, has been working with Janie on her 200 starts. The following day at last Saturday’s Orange County Championships at Mission Viejo High, Janie ran a personal best 26.44 in the 200, only .35 shy of the 26.09 Holden Penney ran in 2009. Janie also soared nearly two feet past her own triple jump record when she flew 35’ 7” at the same meet. “She is the single most talented individual I’ve seen come through the track program,” said Harris, now in his seventh year at Laguna.

Janie added the 400 to her repertoire of races this season. Like everything else she tries, she quickly showed great prowess in the event, winning at the Irvine Invitational and Irvine/Asics Distance Carnival. And she set her 400 PR of 59.39 at the Laguna Beach Trophy Invite. “What do you say about someone like that?” said Harris, himself a former 400 runner. “There’s pain involved in that race. But certain people rise above that, and she’s one of those people.”

Jack considered some colleges where he would have the opportunity to keep running. But he committed to Montana State because of its mechanical engineering school. The coach there doesn’t think his times are fast enough yet, so “I’m not sure if I’m going to run next year,” Jack said.

Janie is looking forward to two more years as a three-sport athlete. All that after-school activity helps calm her mind so she can focus on her schoolwork when she gets home. It must be working. She has a 4.2 GPA. “I couldn’t image life without sports,” she said.

Photos by Robert Campbell

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