Bridget Lyons has completed the preparation. Now she's ready for the best competition she has faced up to this point.
Lyons is scheduled to run today in the 10,000-meter final at the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore. The achievement illustrates how far she has come since her first practice as a walk-on at the University of Georgia.
As the story begins, Lyons was a soccer player long before she took up running.
She played soccer at Greenbrier High School and for the Columbia County Patriots travel team.
It was something she had done her "whole life," she said.
As a sophomore, she started running cross country. By the time she graduated in 2006, she had made great strides in the sport -- and it left her with a dilemma.
"I had to make a decision between soccer and running," Lyons said. "I made a couple visits for both to different colleges. Ultimately, I decided that I wanted to go to UGA, and I was going to try to run there.
"I didn't know if I could or if I was good enough."
It appears Lyons made the right choice. Just ask University of Georgia distance coach Jeff Pigg.
"She's one of the best distance runners in the entire Southeast," Pigg said. "I think she has a very legitimate shot at qualifying for the (U.S.) Olympic Trials and being an All-American."
Hers is the story of a walk-on who steadily improved, so much so that she eventually earned a scholarship for next year's 2011 spring outdoor season, when she will complete her college eligibility.
Lyons earned her first major victory in May at the Southeastern Conference Outdoor Championships in Knoxville, Tenn. She ran the 10,000 meters in 34:44.88, winning by a comfortable margin of 35 seconds.
It came on the heels of being named second-team All-SEC during the cross country season and finishing second at the SEC Indoor Championships in the 5,000 meters.
The SEC Outdoor Championships time wasn't even Lyons' best. In April, at the Mt. SAC Relays in Walnut, Calif., she accomplished the second-best 10,000 meters time in school history, finishing sixth in 34:34.76.
"And the girl who has the (school) record is a professional runner now," Pigg said. "Bridget's closing in on that (record)."
To make the NCAA Championships field, Lyons had to finish among the top 12 runners at the NCAA East Regional in Greensboro, N.C. She qualified with a few spots to spare, finishing ninth in the 48-woman field.
The present day is a far cry from her first few college practices.
"The competition was on a level I couldn't even have thought of," Lyons said of the initial experience. "Training year-round for one sport seemed a lot different to me."
Her dedication to that training was second to none, Pigg said. Lyons said that, because she and her teammates compete in cross country, as well as indoor and outdoor track seasons, she trains and competes from August to June.
On a weekly basis, she runs about 80 miles. It helped make winning a major meet possible when she didn't see it as a possibility not so long ago.
"If you would've told me that four years ago, I wouldn't even have believed you," she said.
Lyons graduated this spring with an undergraduate degree in biology.
In addition, she was accepted into dental school at the Medical College of Georgia, where she will start in August 2011.
In the meantime, she will compete in one more outdoor season next spring while finishing a second undergraduate degree in Spanish.
Her coach believes Lyons' success both on the track and in the classroom exemplifies her determination.
"You get a lot of kids with talent. But I think it's her work ethic, desire, passion," Pigg said. "Yeah, it's talent, but a lot of kids have talent. It's what they do with that talent. She's got the whole package."
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