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Run, Jump, Splash, Run

Steeplechase athlete chases big dreams

UVA Sports Media Relations

If Stephanie Garcia’s face looks familiar, it might not be because of her athletic prowess. Sure, she earned laurels last year as the ACC champion in the steeplechase. But her sideline reporting for ESPNU at UVA’s football game against Maryland last fall gained her more exposure—and introduced her to television journalism, a new passion.

“I’ve never done anything live like that before, so it took me a little while to get used to that experience,” says Garcia, a third year majoring in English and politics. Handling a live microphone before a noisy crowd caused a few butterflies, but, “I loved it,” she says. “It’s definitely something I’d like to pursue more.”

As an editor for the Cavalier Daily, she’s getting a running start toward a career in journalism. But she’s also hitting full stride as an athlete in a sport she had never heard of until a few years ago. Her coach at Broad Run High School in Northern Virginia told her that Jason Dunn, then coach of UVA’s cross-country team, specialized in steeplechase.

“I was like, ‘What’s that?’ I didn’t know what it was,” Garcia says. But it sounded like fun, so she gave it a go. “I had always wanted to hurdle when I was in high school, but I was told I wouldn’t be any good at it, so I never did.”

Now clearing jumps, splashing through water pits and dashing between obstacles have become second nature—and have led to many first-place finishes. In 2007, she was the national junior champion, and last year, in addition to winning the ACC, she was the Eastern College Athletic Conference steeplechase champion.

Problems with shin splints hindered her during the NCAA meet, but this season she’s healthy. She credits new coach Jason Vigilante with building morale as well as introducing a new training regimen.

“He’s approached the team with a little different perspective than we have had in the past,” Garcia says. “It’s really helped our team unity and helped our passion for it.”

That passion is fueling Garcia’s hopes of one day becoming a professional athlete. “I would love that, I really would. There’s a lot of work I still have to do, and I have to keep reminding myself it’s not easy.”

Don’t be surprised if Garcia is a familiar face when the Olympic flag unfurls in London in 2012.

“That’s not too far away,” she says. “We can get some good work in now and, hopefully, we can see that happening.”