Christie Farson is racing a set of clocks, pushing her body to the limit while simultaneously pulling it against the grain, all in an effort to accomplish what few high school athletes attempt.
Farson, a junior at Irvine Northwood High, is hoping to qualify for the Southern Section finals in both track and swimming in the coming weeks.
She has already experienced success in swimming and distance running, having won a Southern Section Division II title in the 200-yard medley relay last spring and having led Northwood to top-five finishes at the section's cross-country finals each of the last three years.
This spring is the first time she has competed in two sports in the same season. Although she has developed quickly on the track, she has experienced a noticeable drop-off in the pool.
"At first, I only planned to go to a couple [of track meets], but then I found I enjoyed it and kept doing it," she said. "My swim coach could tell I was not swimming the same, but he said [I should try] to do my best in track."
Farson's track times in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters have consistently improved this spring. She turned in a 5-minute 25-second four-lap split in the 6,400 relay Friday night at the Arcadia Invitational.
She's closing in on the Division III automatic qualifying time of 5:18.00 for 1,600 meters, which she must achieve at the Pacific Coast League finals on May 2 to qualify for the section preliminaries May 11 at Long Beach College. That's the same day as the Division II swim finals, five miles away at Belmont Plaza.
"I'm dropping times consistently," said Farson, who is entered in the seeded 1,600 at the Orange County Championships today at Trabuco Hills High. "I can't wait to see where I am at the end of the season."
The trade-off has come in her swimming performances. She swam a personal-best 58.16 in the 100-yard butterfly last season, good for fifth at the section finals. So far this season her best time is 1:02.25, a half-body length off the Division II automatic qualifying standard of 1:01.50.
"I've only been putting in about half the [time in swimming] practice I did last season," Farson said. "Right now, I'm just trying to see if I can get a qualifying time, but so far I haven't gotten close to last year's times."
She looked strong Tuesday at the preliminaries of the Southern Section Relays, notching a 27.1 split in the 200-yard butterfly relay and helping the Timberwolves earn top qualifying honors for Monday's final at Belmont Plaza.
"I was glad to see her turn in a good swim," swimming Coach Ron Hansen said. "She had been down on herself lately."
Farson isn't the only prep athlete to participate in distance running and swimming. Erin Zehntner is familiar with the discipline it takes to compete in both.
Zehntner ran cross-country for three seasons and swam for four at Irvine High from 1995-99. Her best cross-country season came as a sophomore, when she was fourth at the Division I section finals and 13th in state.
She quit running her senior year to concentrate on swimming. That spring, she won a Division I section title in the 200 freestyle and went on to compete at the 2000 Olympic trials.
"You can't do both sports at the same time and perform at a high level," said Zehntner, now in her third year at UCLA, although she no longer competes after undergoing hip surgery. "With swimming, you have to commit to whatever workout you have that day. You don't have much time or energy to do anything else. That's not surprising to hear her times are falling."
Barrett Schulenburg, girls' track and field coach at Northwood, said he began tweaking Farson's interest in the sport while she was a student in his history class last year.
"I told her, 'Whatever the swimming coach says, we'll work it out.'" Schulenburg said. "I was kind of surprised when she came to me and said she would like to do it."
Farson and her two coaches worked out a training schedule in which she would split practice time between the sports and attempt to make all the competitions. The arrangement has forced Farson to be creative, occasionally training before and after school.
"It's kind of a challenge, but she's very motivated to do it," Schulenburg said.
Farson has been the top distance runner at Northwood since the school opened in 1999. She has twice helped the Timberwolves qualify for the state cross-country meet.
"She has been our leader since her freshman year," said Randy Rossi, girls' cross-country coach.
Farson said her drop-off in swim times has caused her to think about next spring, and whether it's worth splitting time between sports. She hopes to continue running in college, but would like to end her swimming career on a high note.
"It kind of depends on how the swim season goes," she said. "I might devote all my time to track next year."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Track and Field
What: Orange County Championships
Where: Trabuco Hills High
When: Today. First race begins at 8:30 a.m.; last race at 5:45 p.m.
Fast fact: Matt Bruno of Trabuco Hills will run in the boys' 100 meters after missing last Saturday's Arcadia Invitational with tendinitis in his right foot. "I did block practice today and I felt no pain," said Bruno, who placed third in the 100 at the state championships last year. "But it's my right foot. It bothers me most when I run the turn [in the 200]."