Thursday, December 13

26 and still kicking


Thursday, November 14, 1996

CROSS COUNTRY:

Hampson hopes to qualify for NCAAs at end of running careerBy
Vytas Mazeika

Daily Bruin Contributor

Githa Hampson’s day of reckoning is about to arrive.

After four years at UCLA, her eligibility will end at the
conclusion of this cross country season. But Hampson, 26, UCLA’s
No. 2 women’s cross country runner all season long, is even more
experienced than your average fifth-year student.

Hampson’s story begins after her high school graduation. She
accepted a scholarship to run at Auburn because she liked the
program, and the coach was from Oregon ­ just like her.

But Hampson never enjoyed herself at Auburn. She was immediately
turned off by the cultural differences and found life away from
home too hard to handle.

Less than three months after enrolling at Auburn, Hampson
decided to drop out of school. She didn’t even run a single race
for them before she moved out to Birmingham with some friends. By
Christmas she was back in Oregon with her family.

"When I came home I just felt horrible," Hampson said. "I had to
deal with everyone being so disappointed, including myself."

She felt the need for a fresh start, and decided to go to Los
Angeles ­ where her sister lived. She spent the next few years
wandering, travelling and working different jobs in Santa
Monica.

Hampson decided to start a new life without running, leaving
Auburn in the past.

"I was such a serious runner in high school," Hampson said. "I
felt my entire life (was running) and I felt like it didn’t leave
room for a normal life. I think that wigging out at Auburn was kind
of a reaction to being so serious in high school."

At 22, after taking a few years off from school, Hampson decided
to attend Santa Monica City College and try out for the track team.
She just wanted to get into shape and at the time it did not occur
to her that anything more would come out of the experience.

As time passed she decided to go back to a four-year university
and had narrowed her choices down to USC and UCLA. To her the
choice was a no-brainer, as both the environment at UCLA and the
proximity to Santa Monica made the decision to be a Bruin an easy
one.

Starting at UCLA with three years of eligibility left in both
track and cross country, Hampson began training hard to become the
best runner she could be.

This devotion to running began at a very early age for her. Her
father, Scott Hampson, remembers how when she was a fourth grader
she could run three or four miles with him ­ no problem.

It was no surprise to her father that she would take up running
as a sport. In high school she trained under Bill Willard, who
taught her that if something was wrong, then more training was the
answer. That philosophy eventually took its toll on her.

When Hampson began running for UCLA, she was shocked at the
level of competition existing at the collegiate level. She didn’t
know what to do other than train more and more and more.

"She was shocked that even more was expected than she put out,"
her father said.

This shock eventually lead to a battle with anemia. During the
track season two years ago, for no apparent reason, Hampson’s
stamina fell dramatically. Then it was discovered that she had
anemia.

"The worst part of it was before I knew I had anemia and I
couldn’t even finish half the workout. I couldn’t keep up with
anyone else. I had no idea what was wrong," Hampson said.

When the tests reported that Hampson had the lowest iron levels
that women’s cross country coach Eric Peterson had ever seen, he
ordered her to stop running for three weeks. For somebody who
devoted so much of her time to running, stopping was hard.

"It was absolutely horrible. But since at that point I had been
doing so horribly, what else can you do? So I just listened to
Eric," Hampson explains.

Peterson made her realize that if something is wrong, then
training more is not necessarily the answer.

After the three-week rest, she came back to run the 1500-meter
race and set a personal record by an astonishing eight seconds.

Since then Githa Hampson has come into her own. She is the team
captain now. She is the leader of a young team comprised mainly of
freshmen who have been improving as the season progresses. She is
the one they look up to and she more than gladly accepts this
role.

"I absolutely love these girls and I want to do everything I can
to help them adjust and do well here," Hampson said. "I do remember
that (starting in college) was very hard, and I keep telling them
‘Listen, it just gets better and better every year.’ I just hope
that they keep that in mind."

Now that she feels comfortable as a college student, Hampson has
been able to concentrate on her running. Peterson has noticed a
sense of urgency in her this season.

"From day one she looked like a different athlete to me than I
had ever seen in the previous two, two-and-a-half years that she’d
been here at UCLA," Peterson said. "She is by far the most improved
athlete that I am coaching right now. She comes to practice every
day. She is never late. She is very responsible. Not only that, she
is incredibly motivated to be successful."

All this training may come down to just one race. This Saturday
at the District VIII meet in Fresno her season and collegiate
running career may come to a screeching halt. But before it does,
there is still one more thing that she must accomplish ­ to
qualify for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)
Championships.

"She has never competed at the NCAA (Championships), either in
track or in cross country, and she happens to be the leader of a
team that has a chance of qualifying for the (NCAA) meet," Peterson
explains. "That would be a pretty special opportunity for her on an
individual basis to have a chance to run at nationals in her final
season as a Bruin.

"I’m going to be cheering loudly for her (this weekend) in hopes
that she has her very best race to end her career," Peterson said.
"We’ve not seen the best from Githa yet."

Twenty-six years of living, and the only thing that Githa
Hampson will not be able to run from at Fresno is her fate.

WYNN RUJIRAVIRIYAPINYO

Githa Hampson leads the women’s cross country team as their
captain.

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