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SURE-FOOTED : Arreola Strides Confidently in Middle Distances and Her Personal Life

June 16, 1989|JOHN ORTEGA | Times Staff Writer

It was a gift from her grandparents when Darcy Arreola was a junior in high school.

And the "Born to Run" necklace that the Cal State Northridge junior wears describes her now--she is one of the nation's finest young middle-distance runners--as accurately as it did in 1986 when she won the state high school title in the 1,600 meters and was ranked second in that event in Track and Field News' national high school rankings.

While running is still Arreola's top priority, her reasons for competing have changed since high school.

Running served as an escape for Arreola then. Enjoyment and satisfaction keep her going now.

"I liked going out there and running every day by myself, because at my house there were four kids," said Arreola, who will run in the semifinals of the 1,500 meters in The Athletics Congress track and field championships tonight at the University of Houston. "I shared a room with two sisters and I never had any time to myself. I think I liked running so much because it allowed me some time to be with myself."

These days, Arreola, 20, spends much of her time with her boyfriend, Dan Lange, who won the hammer throw for Northridge in the 1987 and '88 California Collegiate Athletic Assn. championships.

"Before, running was all I had," said Arreola, who placed third in the 1,500 in the NCAA Division I championships two weeks ago. "But now, I have a serious boyfriend and that's helped me to relax. There's more to my life than just running. . . . I still want to win as badly as before, but I have something else, which makes it more fun."

Her athletic success also has helped transform Arreola from a painfully shy girl into a fairly gregarious woman.

Arreola wouldn't talk to her teachers in elementary and junior high school, and she was "terrified" when reporters interviewed her in high school. Now she smiles and laughs when interviewed.

"They used to tell me in high school that I was the worst interview," said Arreola, who has earned eight NCAA Division II All-American certificates in track and cross-country. "I was so afraid of talking to reporters back then. It was scary. Now, it's a lot easier because I'm used to talking to people.

"That's what got me over my fear. I was forced to talk to people. I couldn't just walk away."

Lange, 24, has noticed a big change in Darcy's personality since he was introduced to her in 1987.

"She was just a very shy, little girl when I met her," Lange said. "It took me about a year to get to know her before I asked her out. . . . She just has a lot more confidence now in herself and her ability to express her feelings. She's better at communicating with people and it's helped her confidence."

Arreola attributes some of her childhood shyness to a family tragedy. Her mother was killed when she was 3 years old, after which she, her two sisters and brother were raised by her grandfather, Fernando Arreola, and his second wife, Diane.

"She was known as the little girl who didn't speak to anyone," Diane Arreola said. "She was the little shy one of the family. Her brother and sisters were much more outgoing than she was."

Said Darcy: "Although I don't remember anything, it had to have affected me. Perhaps me worse than my brother and sisters. If I saw a 3-year-old kid suddenly put in a new home--a completely different environment--I would expect it to have an effect on that kid."

Arreola's older brother Paul introduced her to running when she was in elementary school. After she graduated from junior high in 1982, he agreed to buy her running shoes and clothing if she continued in high school. He also promised to continue a tradition of buying her doughnuts after she won races.

"I did pretty well when I was a little kid," Arreola said. "Although I never trained. I just ran the races and whenever I won, I got my doughnuts, and thought, 'cool.' "

After being ineligible her freshman year at La Mesa Grossmont High because she lived in the district of another high school, Arreola became serious about running in her sophomore season after winning the 800 meters in 2 minutes, 13 seconds at the Grossmont League finals, and, a few weeks later, the San Diego Section 800 title in 2:16.

"It was a big surprise," she said. "But it made me think, 'Hey, I could be good if I started training more.' "

After training diligently in the summer of 1984, Arreola reaped the benefits in her junior season, winning section titles in cross-country and in the 1,600. She placed second in the 800 and third in the 1,600 at the state championships and ran bests of 2:09.06 in the 800, 4:38.6 in the 1,500 and 4:56.43 in the 1,600.

As a senior, she successfully defended her section cross-country and 1,600 titles, ran 4:23.9 in the 1,500 and 4:42.77 to win the 1,600 in the state championships.

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