Sept. 29, 2005
By Wes Todd
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Lady Vol freshman Sarah Bowman first knew that she was fast in elementary school gym class.
"I always beat the boys," Bowman said. "I was the fast girl."
She also played soccer for 10 years, where she gained a reputation as the one that you couldn't let get away.
"I had more endurance than anyone else," she said.
But the beginning of her running career was, shall we say, rather unconventional.
"My parents took me to AAU track, and at first I didn't want to run at all," she said. "My first meet I ran in my cheerleading shoes and my soccer jersey.
"The cheerleading shoes were lightweight. At that time I was too nervous and scared to even care. I just wanted to get out there, run, and get it over with."
Luckily for Lady Vol track/cross country coach J.J. Clark, she quickly shed the cheerleading shoes and soccer jersey for more conventional track attire.
Since those early days of running scared, Bowman developed into arguably the nation's best prep distance runner in 2005 and has her sights set on blossoming into a championship runner at the collegiate level with the University of Tennessee. Thus far, the gifted rookie is off to a great start with UT's cross country program.
"The first two races, she was our top runner, so she has made a quick impact to our program," Clark said.
Bowman, who became the first true freshman in 20 years to win her first two collegiate cross country races with her wins at the Belmont Opener on Sept. 2 and the Tennessee Invitational on Sept. 16, has quickly burst onto the scene as an elite athlete in Big Orange Country.
And she has her soccer coaches to thank for turning her to track.
"I played soccer on a travel team up until the beginning of 11th grade," the Warrenton, Va., native said. "I loved playing soccer. But by that time, I was getting so busy with track that I would only be able to play the games.
"But there were so many girls tearing their ACL. My coach changed my position because he was afraid -- they were all afraid -- because they knew I was a runner.
"I knew the day was coming when I would eventually have to pick a sport and stick with it."
If her high school accolades are any indicator, she definitely made the right choice.
While at Fauquier High School, she was a three-time member of the All-USA Today Track and Field team, a three-time Gatorade Female Track Athlete of the Year in Virginia, and tallied 15 state track titles in her four years.
She also set the national high school record with her time in the indoor 1,000 meters with a time of 2 minutes, 43.40 seconds in 2005.
But probably the most amazing thing about her recent accomplishments is that she did not run a full season of cross country her last three years of high school.
She originally viewed cross country as more or less off-season training for track. But that mindset has changed in recent weeks.
"I'm really getting into it with the team doing well," she said. "So I'm still going to have fun with it."
Making the decision to come to Tennessee was easy for her after meeting the team.
"To me, most colleges are pretty similar," she said. "I was looking for the best track program."
Clark said that once she visited campus, she knew immediately that she was home.
"She was recruited by everyone," the coach said. "But once she came to Tennessee, she knew what she was looking for, and she canceled all the rest of her visits."
And while her priority right now is running, she still loves soccer and said it was hard to give it up.
As for playing intramural soccer in the off-season?
"I'm not even going to go there with that," she said. "It would probably give (Clark) a heart attack."