Providence High junior Grace Sullivan fell in love with running
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Friday, Jan. 31, 2014

Providence High junior Grace Sullivan fell in love with running

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/29/10/08/6XXIS.Em.138.jpeg|472
    - COURTESY OF BARRY SULLIVAN
    Providence High runner Grace Sullivan won an indoor state championship in the 4x800-meter relay last season. She wants an individual title this year.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/29/10/08/17zpRH.Em.138.jpeg|473
    - COURTESY OF RUSTY TRANSOU, PROVIDENCESPORTSPHOTO.COM
    Providence High runner Grace Sullivan finished fifth at the state cross country meet in the fall. She’s aiming for an individual state championship at the indoor state meet Feb. 8.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/29/10/08/SEUUr.Em.138.jpeg|473
    - COURTESY OF RUSTY TRANSOU, PROVIDENCESPORTSPHOTO.COM
    Providence High runner Grace Sullivan, center, ran a personal-best and school record 17:38 in the Foot Locker Southeast Cross Country Regional in November.

Grace Sullivan didn’t always love running.

Sullivan grew up spending most of her time on the soccer field, in the swimming pool or on the basketball court.

But after getting a concussion in a basketball game in seventh grade, her parents, Barry and Annie Sullivan, were cautious about her playing a contact sport.

When Grace was an eighth-grader at South Charlotte Middle School, Barry suggested giving track a try. Though Grace wasn’t thrilled about the idea, she decided to try it.

“I remember, just to make the team you had to run all the events, and I wasn’t all that excited about it,” Grace Sullivan said. “But once I actually did, I loved it, and I loved running and immediately caught the bug. I’ve been running ever since.”

Running has been an everyday thing for the Providence High junior since she joined the Panthers’ cross country and track teams as a freshman.

Sullivan averages about 50 miles per week, 46-48 weeks of the year, according to Providence High coach Steve Touranjoe. Her work has paid off.

Last winter, she was part of the 4x800-meter 4A state indoor championship relay team, with teammates Bianca Bishop, Gina Daniel and Kayla Glova. In the same meet, Sullivan placed fourth in the 1,600 meters, finishing with a season-best time of 5 minutes, 20.79 seconds.

Sullivan carried that success into the outdoor season, where she was Southwestern 4A conference and 4A West Regional champion in the 1,600 meters before finishing sixth at states. A sophomore at the time, she also finished as conference runner-up and fifth at regionals in the 800 meters.

“Grace is not only one of the best athletes on our team, but she has great range and can run anything from the 400-meter dash to the 5K,” Touranjoe said. “I think her versatility and speed are what make her unique. But she also has the work ethic and just wants to be the best. She is willing to do the work to get there. I think most of our great runners have just had that desire inside them.”

Sullivan trained this summer with Bishop, Glova and Providence boys’ counterparts including Wyatt Maxey. She also gets advice from her brother, Joe Sullivan, a former Providence track standout now at Appalachian State.

“The summer is really when you set the whole tone for your entire upcoming season,” Grace Sullivan said. “Having friends and teammates like Bianca, Kayla and Wyatt to run with makes it so much easier and so much more fun. We all share a passion for running that not everyone has.

“My freshman year, I didn’t really know what I was doing, and my sophomore year I started to figure it out. This past summer, I think I really hit my stride and felt like I could be one of the best.”

The summer training led to a fourth-place finish in the SoMeck 8 cross country championships, despite a fall during the race. She went on to win the 4A West Regional and finish fifth at states.

But her best moment of the season likely came in the Foot Locker Southeast Regional on Nov. 30, when she finished 13th in a personal-record and school-record 17:38 – just missing the national event in San Diego.

“It was great to run my best time against the best competition,” Sullivan said. “But it was also a learning experience for me running with some of nation’s best. I know that I can run with the best of the best now.”

Touranjoe agreed. “When you finish top five at states and then follow it up with a 13th at Foot Locker, I think you have to believe you can contend in any race,” Touranjoe said. “While Grace believes she is a contender, there’s also a lot of pressure that comes with that success. But I think it will just continue to motivate her.”

Sullivan’s motivation now is to try to win an individual state championship. She should have two chances, in the 1,000 and 1,600 meters. Sullivan has the second-best times among 4A girls in the state in both indoor track events, running a personal-record 3:04.20 for 1,000 meters (seventh-best in the state in any classification) and a personal-best 5:04.90 in the 1,600 meters (fifth-best in the state in any classification).

Bishop and Maxey already have won state titles and will contend again at the N.C. 4A Indoor State Championships on Feb. 8; Sullivan looks to join them.

“Bianca and Wyatt are always telling how much they want me to win a state championship, too,” Sullivan said. “They motivate me to get to the top and tell me how great it feels.”

Sullivan also hopes to run in college. Division I schools including North Carolina and N.C. State already are showing interest, according to Touranjoe.

“I really do love running,” Sullivan said. “Every time I get out there I still get an adrenaline rush. Sometimes I feel like I could just run forever.”

Jay Edwards is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at jedwardsjr23@gmail.com.

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