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Twelve-year-old Betsy Pollard celebrates with Suffolk New Energy Youth Running Group coach Steve Sheppard after winning the Elizabeth River Run on May 25.
Twelve-year-old Betsy Pollard celebrates with Suffolk New Energy Youth Running Group coach Steve Sheppard after winning the Elizabeth River Run on May 25.

Talent meets joy

Published 5:45pm Saturday, July 6, 2013

Betsy Pollard of Suffolk is not your average 12-year-old.

When her mom found out that she was running a mile in 6:15 at school, she decided to look into it.

“I went online just to see, ‘Is that good?’” Lou Pollard said.

After she contacted local track coach Steve Sheppard, he told her, “I really think she’s a natural runner and can go far with this.”

Suffolk’s Betsy Pollard, 12, runs in the AAU Area 4 Junior Olympic National Qualifier at Nansemond River High School last weekend. Never having run the 3000-meter race before, she won it, and also placed fourth in the 1500-meter run to qualify for the AAU Junior Olympic Games in both events.
Suffolk’s Betsy Pollard, 12, runs in the AAU Area 4 Junior Olympic National Qualifier at Nansemond River High School last weekend. Never having run the 3,000-meter race before, she won it, and also placed fourth in the 1,500-meter run to qualify for the AAU Junior Olympic Games in both events.

Betsy Pollard has won events in her age level with both USA Track and Field and the Amateur Athletic Union, and she has earned the right to compete at the AAU Junior Olympic Games, a national event beginning later this month in Michigan.

She shared what qualifying for such a big event means her.

“It means to me that I’m doing a good job and (doing) what I love to do, so I guess that’s all that really matters,” she said.

Her mother points to that intersection of desire and ability as a key to why she has been winning increasingly high-profile 1,500- and 3,000-meter runs.

While she and her husband, Bill Pollard, are both somewhat athletic, neither has forced Betsy into any sport.

“We’re not pushy parents, so I think kids enjoy things that come natural to them,” Lou Pollard said.

“No one is pushing her to do anything she doesn’t want to do, but she’s never asked not to go to practice or not to run a race,” she said.

Lou Pollard gives a lot of credit to Sheppard, the coach for the Suffolk New Energy Youth Running Group. The group is subsidized by and affiliated with the Tidewater Striders Running Club, which Sheppard described as one of the largest of its kind in the country.

Sheppard has been coaching for five to six years and said that Betsy is “probably one of the top two or three fastest 12-year-old girls I’ve worked with.”

He could tell she had ability from her 6:15 mile time, but he learned something else the first time he ran with her. Toward the end of the run, they were already at a good speed.

“I asked her, ‘Are you ready to go to work?’” Sheppard said. “And she said ‘Sure.’”

Then they began to sprint to the finish.

“She’s got a really good work ethic, she’s coachable, and she understands that running is about physical capability, but it’s also about drive and belief in yourself,” he said.

Pollard ran several road races with Suffolk New Energy that were open to the public as well as other running clubs. After these ended, Sheppard recommended pursuing USA Track and Field or AAU events.

When she took the track in her first USATF event, the surroundings were a bit intimidating.

“I was like, ‘Wow, this is a lot of people’ and the girls that was I running against all had really serious faces and spikes in their shoes,” she said.

But she said these high profile races have made her more excited than nervous, and that excitement makes her run fast. Once the race started the intimidation melted away.

“I just ran until I was like, ‘OK, I got this,’” she said.

She won the 1,500-meter run in the USA Track and Field Virginia Association Championships in Newport News last month, with a 5:48 time in the 11- and 12-year-old division.

She now moves on to the USATF Region 3 Championship next weekend in Landover, Md. If she places in the top five, she’ll have earned a berth to the USATF National Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships in Greensboro, N.C.

For AAU, which has a separate Junior Olympics, Pollard qualified for the national event after winning the 3,000-meter run in her first time running it at a qualifier last weekend. She also finished fourth in the 1,500-meter run to qualify for that, as well.

“To actually compete and win against girls who are on middle school track teams and practice four days a week, it’s amazing, and we’re just so proud of her,” her mother said.

 

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