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Just Preps

Built-In Support Team : Family Keeps Ebiner From Feeling Loneliness of a Distance Runner

May 16, 1996|MARK STRODER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Christmas has always been Annie Ebiner's favorite time of year.

The holidays provided an opportunity for her brothers and sisters--all 14 of them--to come together for the "Ebiner Olympics."

The family competes in five-on-five basketball games, plays baseball in the backyard and Wiffle Ball and volleyball in the frontyard. But the main event is always the track and field competition held at West Covina High, complete with measured long jumps and distance races.

It was there that Annie's eight brothers and six sisters realized that Annie, the youngest Ebiner, was the best athlete of the bunch. There was little doubt that Annie, now a senior at Glendora St. Lucy's and one of the top prep distance runners in the nation, would eventually become a track star.

The Ebiner family knows what it takes to be a successful competitor. Eleven of Annie's siblings ran track in high school. Her sister Kathleen competed in two national cross-country meets and another sister, Therese, set a sophomore record at two miles in 1979 for La Puente Bishop Amat.

Indeed, excelling in sports, and in almost everything else they try, is commonplace for the Ebiners.

Annie's father, Robert, the referee and official timekeeper for the family games, has practiced law for 42 years in West Covina. Twelve children have college degrees and sister Elizabeth will make it 13 in March. There are three lawyers, four teachers, an engineer and a nurse among the children. The oldest, Johnny, is a city councilman in San Dimas.

"The family has a general work ethic in everything we do, whether it's sports, relationships, academics, anything," Annie said. "That's always been our common link. That and our love and respect for one another."

While competing at St. Lucy's, an all-girls' school, Annie has been a two-time state cross-country champion. At the Arcadia Invitational last month, she ran the mile in 4 minutes 47.5 seconds, the second-fastest girls' prep time in the nation this year.

A week later, she recorded the fourth-fastest time of the year in the 3,000 meters (9:43.5) at the Mt. San Antonio College Relays in Walnut.

"We knew when she was young that she had a lot of ability," said brother Matt, who qualified for the Olympic marathon trials in 1988 and 1992. "She was very fast, and I knew if she put her mind to it, she would do well."

Robert Ebiner, 68, said that although his children excelled in many sports, running seemed the natural choice given their size. The average height of the Ebiners is 5 feet 6. Annie, the smallest, is 5-1.

"Size doesn't matter in track and field," Robert said. "Your performance speaks for itself. You don't have coaches telling you that you can't play or compete. If your marks are good, you are able to compete."

Matt wonders sometimes if the family's involvement puts extra pressure on Annie.

"All of us have knowledge of track, so we all know what good and bad times are," he said. "She knows that we know what she's capable of. That has to put some pressure on her."

Annie, though, looks at that pressure a little differently.

"I've learned to really appreciate all of my family support," she said. "A lot of my teammates have no one to come out and support them, and I always have someone. I'm very lucky."

Despite all the influence, however, running was not Annie's favorite sport until she reached high school.

"I had no desire to run as a child," said Ebiner, who played organized baseball, softball and basketball. "Running is just something I sort of stumbled on."

She took up cross-country as a freshman in order to spend more time with her sister, Elizabeth, who was a senior.

"I really enjoyed the camaraderie between Elizabeth and me," Annie said. "It was great spending a couple of hours a day with her, and we really became close that year."

What started out as recreation turned into dedication as Annie's times continued to improve. Elizabeth was one of the first to notice.

"Even as a freshman, she was better than I was," she said. "It was kind of funny having her always run ahead of me in races, but I was always very proud of her. I knew that big things were ahead for her."

But no one, especially Annie, thought success would come as a sophomore, when she won the state Division III cross-country title in Fresno.

"Before the season started, I never thought I'd even qualify for the state meet," Annie said. "I was just happy to be in Fresno, but I never thought I had a chance to win."

That is, until she took the lead with 200 yards to go. "From there, I just did my best and gutted it out," she said.

Annie was never allowed to put sports before her studies. Her weighted grade-point average of 4.1 has her on a pace to graduate in the top 1% of her class. She has accepted a full athletic scholarship to Oregon, where she plans to major in psychology.

She also dabbles in art and writes poetry.

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