* Pinecrest's (NC) Carmen Alder has set a good example for her younger sisters, and has followed in her family's footsteps as a runner
Photo Credit: NC Runners
By Dennise Spann - MileSplit Recruiting Correspondent
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Growing up in a family with a distinguished sports background can come with pressures to succeed.
Add the outside expectations from having an Olympian and former Division I athletes as parents, and some young athletes would be afraid to follow in those shoes.
But the Pinecrest (NC) High School sisterly duo of Carmen and Vanessa Alder haven't been intimidated by their parents' success, because they're confident in their individual talents and see their parents' history as a blueprint for their own careers.
"My parents are a big inspiration. I don't know if I would have gotten into running if they hadn't been there," said Carmen, who is a senior and a BYU commit. "My mom and dad were both great runners and having them give me advice because they were in the exact same place when they were kids [is helpful].
"A lot of doubts or problems we have, they're like, 'Hey this is how you do it,' and I get to go into a race with a bunch of tips and tricks."
On Wednesday, Carmen officially signaled the next stage of her career, signing with her parents' alma mater, Brigham Young University.
Thus far, the Alder siblings are continuing a streak of North Carolina high school cross country dominance. At the 2019 NCHSAA Class 4A Cross Country State Championships, Carmen and Vanessa took first and third to lead their school to a top-five finish.
While the NCHSAA delayed the official start of the 2020 cross country until November 16, with the state series beginning in early 2021, the major gap in competition has allowed the Alders to show off their form.
At the Carolina Liberty Freedom Invitational in September, the sisters went 1-2, with Carmen winning the 5K course in a career best 16:58.90 -- a new state lead -- while Vanessa ran a new PR of 17:57.80 for NC No. 3 (now No. 8). A few weeks later, on Oct. 10, Carmen set a course record at Ivey Redmon -- the North Carolina state course -- in 17:11.17, while Vanessa wasn't far behind in 18:03.24.
Both are set to run this weekend in a national-level race in Indiana -- actually, younger sister Lily is also signed up, making it three.
But success seems like nothing new from two of North Carolina's best female runners.
Carmen says the extra push from her younger sister makes all the difference for the duo.
* Vanessa at The VA Showcase in 2020
Runs in the family
As a family of seven runners, the Alder children (Carmen, Vanessa, Lilly, Michael and Angelina) have two examples of successful athletes as parents.
Their mom, Janeth, was an 18-year old Olympian for Ecuador and she still holds the national record in the 1,500m. Their father, Daniel, was a successful long-distance runner at Brigham Young University, where the parents initially met.
The Alder siblings say they cherish being in a family of runners, with parents who've competed at the highest levels.
"Whenever I need help or have questions, I have a whole family I can ask," Carmen explained. "Everyone just understands what I mean or what I'm talking about. It's also a bonding thing. We go on Saturday morning runs as a family and [running] keeps us close, it's something we all understand."
For Vanessa, who is a sophomore at Pinecrest, she says the support she gets from her parents adds a level of comfort to her racing.
"The best thing about having my parents as coaches is you can bomb a race, and as your coach they might be a little disappointed, but as a parent they're going to love you anyway and be proud of you," she said. "Since my parents have run professionally and in big races, I can always see that they're really proud of me for trying to follow in their footsteps and run well."
Next fall, Carmen won't just be figuratively following in her parent's footsteps, as she'll begin her collegiate career and literally follow in her parents' lineage at BYU.
An idea that was entertained by her parents and their teammates when they were still on campus in the 90s.
"When Janeth and I got married, [reporters] did a couple of articles in the BYU newspaper and were like hey, wouldn't it be crazy if your kids came back to BYU," Dan Alder said. "When Carmen started running well and I started talking to my friends who ran at BYU, we all kind of said that would be crazy... It's unusual to see something we talked about way back when come full circle."
For the nine-time state champion Carmen, verbally committing to BYU didn't sink in at first. It wasn't the momentous moment she'd imagined due to new COVID-19 recruiting guidelines.
"My dad and I recently went to visit family in Utah. We were able to walk around campus and that's when it sunk in that I'm going to run here and go here," Carmen said. "My parents both ran there; they told me how their experience was so I'm not going into it completely blind ... I know college running is a whole different ball game, but I'm excited for something new. I think I'm ready."
* Carmen and Vanessa, after going 1-2 at the NC Runners Invitational
Setting The Standard
For the last two years, running at the high school level together has given Carmen and Vanessa more appreciation for one another, on and off the track.
"I think it's great to see Carmen go because she loves to win and so whenever I run, I want to win too," Vanessa said. "I want to break records. She's always setting a good example for me because she's a really good runner and good student, so I always look up to Carmen because I want to be just as good."
Her older sister had equally encouraging words for her younger sister.
"I'll be in a workout and sometimes I'm not feeling it, but Vanessa is on it that day and I'll be like, 'OK, I have to be up there with Vanessa,'" Carmen added. "We hold each other accountable to do well in practice and training."
As the oldest sisters in their family, the duo's success is setting an example that the remaining Alder siblings hope to live up to.
"They challenge me, they help me get the times and they make everything fun because they've done it," said Lily, who is the second youngest. "It's fun to look at their photos and videos to see how they did it and try to do it like they did. I think it's really special because I can look up to them and have a guidebook of how to become a good runner."
With four younger siblings running after her marks, Carmen knows the precedent she's setting will be surpassed at some point.
But she actually expects it. The senior said that she's sure her youngest sister Angelina is going to shatter her career bests when the time comes.
* Video Credi: CNN
Bigger Than Family
Over the past two summers the Alders have taken a family trip to Ecuador to host a running clinic for local youth. With 100 kids in attendance over the years, the Alders have practices on their land and educate kids on the importance of proper training.
"It was so much fun to meet the kids there," Carmen said. "They were interested in running and it was exciting because we were able to talk with them and bond over running, even though there was a slight language barrier."
The trip also allowed for Carmen and Vanessa to finally see the place that launched their mom's running career. They even got the chance to run exactly where Janeth did as a child -- up the Cotopaxi, an active volcano in the Andes Mountains.
Their parents knew how important it was for their kids to experience Ecuadorian culture first hand, and their goal is to bring that to other kids.
Currently, the family is in the process of starting a branch of their North Carolina-based track club, Franklin Elite Athletics, in Ecuador.
"I got some land from my parents, so we are building [a high-altitude training camp] in phases," Janeth said. "Our goal is to take kids from [the U.S.] to run with kids [in Ecuador], also not just to run but to have that cultural experience. I'd love for the kids to go teach English and then learn Spanish.
"Also, the place we're building will have its own garden, so the kids will be able to prepare their own food and learn about nutrition."
As the Alders look to spread the gospel of running, it's not the recognition or rivalries that keep them in the sport - it is the little things.
For their children, it's this: To learn life lessons, to become better people through the sport, and to set good examples is more than enough.
"I've learned to never give up. My parents are always so determined, they want us to go out there to be competitive, they always believe in us," Vanessa said. "I've learned those ideals from them. The fact is: As a runner, running for me personally is all about persevering, to just keep going even when it's tough."