Webster Thomas (NY) High girls track coach Paul Dick has long been fascinated by the work rate and drive of senior Amanda Vestri. But after finishing the NYSPHSAA Track and Field Championships and witnessing a truly great effort from Vestri, he had to journal his thoughts. Below is how Dick saw the season play out for Vestri, who finished her high school career with a fourth-place finish in the 3000m and a US No. 5 effort of 9:35.73 -- the top five finishers in the race ran efforts inside the nation's top six performances all season.
After successfully achieving a lifetime goal of competing in and finishing in the top 30 NXN his past fall, Amanda told me, "Coach I want to be the best to ever come out of our section and I want to break the all-time Section V record in the 3000 meter run."
True to form, Amanda had once again chosen a lofty goal. Established back in 1985, Stacy Prey's 3000m record of 9:36.56 had stood the test of time. Despite the fact that Rochester has produced an abundance of NCAA Division I female distance runners, Prey's record has remained Section V's longest standing and most unapproachable outdoor track records.
Breaking the record would require shaving an additional 13 seconds off an already blistering PR of 9:48.84. In order to be successful, Amanda would not only have to be in peak shape, but she would also require ideal running conditions and highly competitive fields.
In the beginning of the year two mid-season, high level invitational meets were chosen that seemed to fit the bill. The prestigious Penn Relays had potential but turned out to be a little too early in the year and produced a 9:50.13. The following week brought another opportunity and a chance to run against 800m U20 world champion Sammy Watson.
Unfortunately the weather turned out to be very poor and Watson ran a smart tactical race and drafted off Amanda, eventually out kicking her for the win. As if to add insult to injury, Watson's time of 9:50.01 had also replaced Amanda's time from the Penn Relays as the section's fastest 3000m of the season.
Frustrated, there was little Amanda could do -- two mid-season opportunities had come and gone and it was now time to return to the weight room and track in order to prepare for the championship portion of the season.
Several weeks later the state qualifiers arrived and Amanda made an incredibly unselfish decision. Having already registered an automatic qualifying time for states, she decided to forgo one more shot at breaking the long standing sectional record and made the decision to pace a runner from an opposing school -- she ultimately helped the girl set both a PR and establish a qualifying time for nationals.
Then, in an act of tremendous sportsmanship, she allowed the other girl to pass her at the finish line so she could also qualify for the state meet!
This past weekend our state meet began with an awards ceremony and not surprisingly, Amanda was presented with the Section V Outstanding Sportsmanship Award. With her race scheduled as the last event of the day, it was evening before Amanda walked onto the track.
But it was time for her to run the final 3000m of her high school career.
Competing in a truly amazing field with three of the top 10 finishers at NXN -- including US No. 1 in the 3000m, Saratoga Springs (NY) High sophomore Kelsey Chmiel -- I closed my eyes and prayed as the lead pack finished the first lap in a blistering 71 seconds. They passed the 800m mark in an equally insane 2:26.
The first 1500 was in 4:44!
These girls were not kidding around and the race continued in that form. You could see the pain starting to etch itself onto their faces. But hardened by years of competing with one another,there's was no letting down and no signs of weakness with this group.
As I watch them grind out lap after lap I can't believe they're keeping the pace for this long. The gun lap sounds and Amanda is still with the lead pack ... one final lap in your high school career. With her new found strength so evident in her finishing kick, she was simply a different runner than she was 18 months ago when 10:38 was a good day.
She came across the finish line in a new US No. 5 time of 9:35.73, smashing her PR by the exact 13 seconds needed to eclipse the 32-year-old Section V record and finished just one second behind the country's top ranked 3000m runner, Saratoga Springs sophomore Kelsey Chmiel.
With her high school career over, and realizing she had accomplished her goal, Amanda laid on the track in tears. It was a surreal moment. Shedding tears with her I couldn't help but be reminded of the famous Vince Lombardi quote:
"I firmly believe that any person's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that they hold dear, is that moment when they have worked their heart out in a good cause and lay exhausted on the field of battle" - victorious.
P.S. That 9:35 also allowed her to reclaim the section's fastest time of the season formerly held by Sammy Watson ... by 15 seconds!