A year ago, PattiSue Plumer lay in the medical tent at the U.S. Olympic trials in Indianapolis, trying to recover from the severe dehydration and heat exhaustion she had suffered in one of the most painful races of her career.
Vying for the third and final spot in the women's 3,000 meters, Plumer had overcome the heat--95 degrees and 60% humidity--and some tremendous competition--to stagger across the finish line with an Olympic berth in her grasp.
Hours later, after recovering, Plumer left the medical tent to resounding cheers.
Unfortunately, many of the well-wishers, like so many well-wishers before, said the wrong thing:
"Way to go, Polly! You're tough, Polly Sue!"
Once again, PattiSue Plumer was being confused with her younger sister, Polly, formerly a track star at Irvine's University High School and UCLA.
"I wanted to scream at them, 'Her name is PattiSue! Give the woman some respect," said her fiance, Steve Levere.
"But PattiSue just said, 'Forget it, Steve. It always happens.' "
If making the Olympic team last year wasn't enough to establish PattiSue's identity, perhaps her performance July 3 at Stockholm, Sweden was.
At Stockholm, Plumer ran second to East Germany's Kathrin Ullrich in the 5,000 meters and set a U.S. record of 14 minutes 59.99 seconds, more than six seconds better than the record of 15:06.53 set in 1985.
The former record-holder? Mary Decker Slaney, who until Plumer's race held American records in every distance from the 800 to the 10,000 meters.
Plumer, whose time of 14:59.99 ranks as the fifth-fastest women's 5,000 meters of all time, said the race was almost as tough as last year's Olympic trials.
"It was real hard, the pain side of it I mean," said Plumer by phone from Stockholm the next day. "Plus the conditions were tough. It was 75 degrees, there was bright sun on half of the field, and the other half was in the shadows, so it was tricky to see. There was a lot of bumping, too."
But the field, which also included Olympians Liz McColgan of Great Britain, Lynn Williams of Canada and Elly Van Hulst of the Netherlands, helped pull Plumer to a 20-second improvement over her previous best.
And the crowd, as are most on the European circuit, was large--about 35,000 according to Plumer--loud and supportive.
"With three laps to go, there were four of us left," said Plumer, 27.
"And with two laps to go, there were just three--me, the East German (Ullrich) and the Canadian (Williams). With one lap to go, somehow I had a burst of energy and then it was just me and (Ullrich).
"She passed me with 200 (meters) to go, I passed her back, she passed me and that was it for me. I was a little amazed I even made it to the finish line."
Many were surprised by Plumer's performance, considering her race schedule in the few weeks before the Stockholm race.
On June 24, Plumer won a 3,000-meter race in Birmingham, England, by outkicking McColgan.
The next day, her flight was delayed 10 hours, her clothes were stolen and she lost the lucky pearl earrings she had received for her 16th birthday.
Nevertheless, Plumer won another 3,000, at Villeneuve D'Asq, France.
On June 26, Plumer flew to Lausanne, Switzerland, to try to get into a meet--one in which the meet director, believing Plumer had little drawing power, had refused her entry. After much argument, Plumer was entered.
Plumer not only won the race, but outran 1988 Olympic gold medalist Paula Ivan of Romania for the victory. Plumer's time of 8:42.12 was the fastest in the world this year, although she has since dropped to sixth in that event.
"It felt great during the race," Plumer said. "I kept expecting that heavy fatigue to set in, but I felt fine. People kept asking me, 'Aren't you worried you're racing too much? Aren't you tired?' But the fatigue never came. All of a sudden it was me and Paula with a lap to go. I just went for it."
Tenacity has become a trademark for Plumer, who, despite spending the last three years in law school, has managed to run on a consistently high level. She won the 3,000 at The Athletics Congress championships in June by out-kicking former Missouri star Sabrina Dornhoefer in the final 20 meters. Only 0.18 seconds separated the two at the finish.
At last year's Olympic trials, it was Dornhoefer who battled Plumer to the finish. Dornhoefer collapsed 10 meters before the finish line, and like Plumer, had to be carried from the track.
Sunday, Plumer and Dornhoefer will meet again in the women's mile at the Jack in the Box Invitational at UCLA. The race, which starts at 5:40 p.m., will also include Suzy Favor, the three-time NCAA defending champion at 1,500 meters, and Cal State Northridge star Darcy Arreola.
Slaney, the U.S. record-holder in the event at 4:16.71, was originally scheduled to compete, but had to drop out because of a chronic Achilles' tendon injury. Plumer said she is disappointed that Slaney will not be competing Sunday.