posted by Howard Tsumura VANCOUVER — Run for your life.
It’s a catch-phrase with a definitive connotation, and one that only a month ago Stephanie Dacre would not have used to describe her passion for track and field.
Yet in the light of a life-changing moment, it’s a saying whose personal interpretation takes on a whole new meaning for the UBC Thunderbirds’ 800-metre specialist.
That’s because as graduation drew near for the psychology major from Surrey, she and her boyfriend Ben had decided to celebrate the occasion with the vacation of a lifetime, one which would have had her skip her final season of outdoor competition with the Thunderbirds.
Plans were finalized. Plane tickets were purchased. Yet in the weeks before her departure, as UBC track coach Marek Jedrzejek pleaded with her to stay and attempt to qualify for national championships, Dacre had a sudden change of heart.
And so it was that on April 25, she would awake safe and sound in the Lower Mainland to the chilling reports of horrific tragedy in the very place she had originally planned to be that day.
An earthquake measuring 7.8 in magnitude had struck the Himalayan nation of Nepal, killing more than 8,000 people and injuring over 19,000 more.
“It’s hard not to think about,” begins Dacre. “Running has played such a huge part in my life, and now in the end, running saved me in a way that I could have never imagined.”
Was it a runner’s fine-tuned inner compass speaking to her? Or perhaps just a whole lot of pre-destined providence?
Whatever it was, just two days later, at the annual Achilles Dual Meet at Simon Fraser, Dacre took to the starting line of the 800-metres and clocked a season-best 2:14.46, a time which officially punched her ticket to compete for gold at the NAIA national championships later this month in Alabama.
“At SFU, after her race, she came up to me and she said ‘Marek, you saved my life,’” Jedrzejek recounts. “Of course we never know what might have happened. But we also know that it was a huge earthquake. So you feel nice, that indirectly something good ended up happening.”
Not too soon after the SFU meet, at the Ken Shannon Invite at Seattle’s University of Washington on May 9, Dacre produced a personal-best time in the 800 metres, clocking a 2:12.39.
“It was the perfect race,” she says. “Everything about it was perfect.”
Driven in both her studies and her sport, Dacre graduated from Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary as a naturally-talented runner. But unlike virtually all of her soon-to-be university teammates, she had never trained with a club team. Still, she knew what she wanted to accomplish.
“My whole goal at UBC was just to make nationals,” says Dacre, who qualified for last year’s competition in the 800 metres. “I did it, and I only had one more class left at UBC. I had been planning a Nepal-India trip for two-and-a-half years, so this season I told Marek that I would run cross-country in the fall, but not track in the spring, because I had a plan of leaving for Nepal in April.”
Still, the draw of the outdoor season was powerful, and Jedrzejek — set to officially retire in June after parts of 25 seasons within the program — never gave up hope.
“Marek said he really needed me to run the 4×800 relay, and the more I came out to train, the more it all pulled me in,” says Dacre. “It is Marek’s last season here. I could see my training was going really well. It just felt right to stay. I can travel forever, but this was going to be my last chance at nationals. My boyfriend understood.”
That was March, far ahead enough in advance of the trip that Dacre isn’t too sure where she might have been in Nepal on the day of the earthquake.
“When I woke up that morning and heard the news, all I could say to myself was ‘OK, you made the right decision,’” Dacre says. “Then my brother called and he said ‘You would have been there.’ So when I made standard for nationals, I walked over to Marek. I thanked him for keeping me at home because of Nepal. None of it had occurred to him. First he said ‘Oh my God’ and then he said ‘OK, you owe me a coffee. A coffee with cream and sugar.’”
If there is to be a perfect ending to this story, it will come on June 14 in the Polish town of Bydgoszcz, not too far from where Jedrzejek spent his childhood prior to his 1982 defection to Canada and his eventual path to UBC.
There, at a meet, he will coach three of his runners in what will be his final day as Thunderbirds coach. Dacre won’t be among the runners, but she and Benjamin will still be there, building the meet into their vacation plans and providing a most meaningful moment to buy her coach a cup of coffee.
“She is not running, but I know that she is not really retiring,” Jedrzejek explains, “because running is for life.”
However you want to spin the old catch-phrase, this is a running story with a happy ending.