SAN DIEGO — Meet Teresa Ornduff, housewife, mother, accountant, fitness consultant, world-class road runner.
Participants in and followers of the sport of road running wonder how she does it.
Just last year, Ornduff was little more than a 29-year-old competitive fitness freak from a small town in southwestern Virginia. Sunday, she'll enter the Carlsbad 5,000 as one of its leading entrants and with the year's second fastest time for an American woman for a 10-kilometer road race.
"Top runners were coming up to me asking, 'Where have you been? What have you been doing? Did you crawl out from the woodwork?' " Ornduff said earlier this week.
"They were really curious about me. At first, they didn't take me seriously at all, but the way I've been running, they've got to take me seriously."
Ornduff shocked followers of the sport in April when she won the Crescent City Classic in New Orleans, defeating Wendy Sly, the Olympic 3,000-meter silver medalist from Great Britain. Her winning time of 31 minutes 55 seconds was seven seconds slower than the American best of 31:48 set by Lynn Jennings.
"That surprised a lot of people," Ornduff said. "It surprised me. That race was the turning point. That really started making people take notice." The race changed Ornduff's training and career. With almost weekly offers from promoters of the country's top road races and the increasing training demands of staying competitive at the world-class level, Ornduff last month quit her full-time job as an accountant. She now works part-time as a fitness consultant for a lumber company near her home in Abingdon, Va.
"I was tired of my job, and I couldn't train and still work a 40-hour week," said Ornduff, 5-feet 5 1/2-inches and 100 pounds. "I reached the point where I could afford not to work full-time."
Ornduff said her accounting job paid $24,000 a year and she estimates she has earned $30,000 in the past year from running. But she said her success has made little change in the family routine, except that her husband and daughter often accompany her to out-of-town races on the weekend.
Her husband, Rick, is an elementary school teacher and high school football and track coach. Their daughter, Ashley, 5, is in the second grade. "The only difference is that around town, we're just Rick and Teresa Ornduff," her husband said. "On the weekends, she's Teresa Ornduff--world-class runner."
The story of her transformation from recreation runner to Olympic hopeful is something out of Hollywood. Ornduff was always active. She played tennis and golf while attending Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tenn., starting to run as a senior in 1978 just to stay in shape.
"It was nothing serious," Ornduff said. "Just a couple of miles a day."
But Ornduff stayed with it. Even when she became pregnant, she continued her fitness routine. While eight months pregnant, she said she ran and swam. Hours after walking 18 holes at a golf tournament, she said she gave birth to Ashley.
Ornduff continued to run, but she didn't begin to get serious until 1984, when she ran her first marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, and qualified for the Boston Marathon. She ran the latter in 3 hours 13 minutes. She was hooked.
She slowly increased her mileage. Her big breakthrough came in the fall of 1985, when she took a demanding aerobics class, lost 10 pounds and eliminated red meat from her diet. Her 10K time quickly dropped from nearly 38 minutes to 34:12. Then came her surprise victory in New Orleans. At age 30, Ornduff had a new career.
"Some things are just meant to be," Ornduff said. "I really believe that. God gave me an ability. I just discovered it later than some people." Many distance runners have run their best times after turning 30. Carlos Lopes, the Olympic gold medalist from Portugal, set his world record in the marathon (2:17:12) in 1985 when he was 38. Priscilla Welch, 42, of Great Britain set a world masters record for women (2:26:51) in May. Ornduff looks at the lack of a running background as a possible advantage.
"One thing I don't have is burnout," she said. "I didn't start running until college. I haven't spent years being pushed hard. I feel fresh. I'm having a great time. I can see doing this for several more years."
Ornduff next plans to move to the track to prepare for an attempt at making the 1988 Olympic team in the 10,000 meters, figuring she has a better chance at that distance than the marathon. Ornduff said she was "disappointed" with her last marathon, though she ran a personal best of 2:41:11 to finish sixth in Pittsburgh in May.
Though still relatively new to the sport, Ornduff realizes she no longer is a curiosity to her fellow runners.
"I'm there. I'm not disappearing," she said. "The other runners realize they can't wipe me out. At first, they were astounded by it all. Not any more. They know who I am."