Seattle runners Katie Follett and Jessica Pixler are becoming fast friends
When Washington's Katie Follett and Seattle Pacific's Jessica Pixler raced each other in California, they posted the two fastest NCAA times in the 1,500 meters this year. They also struck up a friendship.
Seattle Times staff columnist
An extraordinary day began with an unexpected hello. The introverted one made the joke. The extroverted one flashed the shy smile.
At that moment, Jessica Pixler and Katie Follett had no idea this was a precursor to excellence, a little moment that would swell in significance, a hint they were about to be united even though they had spent four years dancing around each other.
Before their epic, record-setting 1,500-meter race, Pixler, the stoic star from Seattle Pacific, approached Follett, her affable University of Washington counterpart. Pixler noticed they were the only runners enjoying the mid-60s weather at the Mt. SAC Relays in Walnut, Calif. They were the only runners who had already stripped down to their bun huggers.
"It's funny Washington girls are the only ones who think it's warm out," Pixler quipped.
Follett grinned, a little surprised. Jessica Pixler talks before races?! This was a revelation. Follett had the same impression of Pixler as many runners do: She runs mean. Doesn't smile. Definitely doesn't chitchat. And she just had a spurt of comedic timing that would make Sarah Silverman proud?! Different. Extraordinary.
Pixler had perceptions about Follett, too. Bubbly. Articulate. Classy. But tucked underneath all of Follett's niceties was something Pixler could relate to — a quiet, raging intensity. Pixler knew this meet, the Mt. SAC Relays, would be an incredible challenge because of Follett.
A thousand miles away from home, two Seattle distance runners became close on this April day.
A thousand miles away, Follett and Pixler dashed ahead of the pack, challenging each other, inspiring each other, exhausting each other.
A thousand miles away, they were alone together, legs churning, shattering school records, recording the top 1,500-meter times in women's college outdoor track this season.
Fittingly, the historic day ended with an even more stunning feat: Follett and Pixler had a conversation. It was a deep and revealing and meaningful one. Now, Seattle's two most accomplished collegiate distance runners don't merely know of each other anymore.
You could say they're becoming fast friends.
Leading up to the Mt. SAC Relays, Follett didn't know whether she wanted to compete in the 800 or the 1,500. Then she learned Pixler was opting for the 1,500.
"Once I saw Jessica was competing, I wanted in," Follett said. "I really respect her as a competitor, and I knew we could push the pace."
They remember the race vividly. The first lap was too slow, so Pixler took it over the second time around. Follett tucked in behind her and committed to the race.
"OK, Katie, don't screw it up," she told herself.
The two separated themselves from the field. Typical. Over the past years, they've always managed to do that. Follett is a seven-time All-American and helped the Washington women's cross-country team win a national title in 2008. At the Division II level, Pixler is a 12-time All-American with an astounding 10 individual national titles.
On the track, they look like they belong together. Off it, they're opposites. Pixler is a Washington native; Follett is from Colorado. Pixler fears she comes across as standoffish; Follett fears her friends "know more about me than they want to know," she says. Pixler will graduate in June with a degree in English; Follett will graduate with a public health degree.
Pixler has a 3.93 grade-point average, and when you ask her about her worst subject, she mentions — with embarrassment — that she got a B in an art class. Follett is an honorable mention Pac-10 academic All-American, but she laughs and says, "I'm not the most studious person on our team."
Pixler says she's "an intense person with everything in my life," and during college, she found out that includes singing because she took a Beginning Voice course and wound up performing a duet with a male friend, a sappy romantic duet from "Phantom Of The Opera" called "All I Ask Of You." Their rendition touched the entire class.
Follett loves the outdoors — hiking, biking, camping, anything to be in nature — and Washington coach Greg Metcalf worries about her adventurous streak enough that he jokes often, "You need to live in a box, Katie. We need to just keep you in a box."
But Pixler and Follett have the same running instincts. Pixler surged ahead at the Mt. SAC Relays. Follett committed to staying with her. Fast second lap, fast third lap, crazy fourth lap. With about 200 meters to go, Pixler was still leading and saw her father, a former college runner himself. Follett was coming on, so Pixler's father yelled, "Swing wide!"
It's a move Pixler used to execute in high school, but she hadn't done it much in college. So, as she says, she made a tactical error. She swung wide too early, didn't run the curve as tightly as she would've liked and left the inside lane open. Follett took that lane and ran past her in the final 50 meters.
At the end, the runners noticed their times. Follett: 4:10.66. Pixler: 4:11.06. School records for both. Fastest times in the NCAA this year, too. Those are also the fourth and sixth best times in the United States in 2010. Both runners hope to make the finals, at least, at the USA championships next month.
For now, though, both want to finish their collegiate careers in style. Pixler will compete in the Division II outdoor championships, which begin Thursday. Follett will go for a national title in two weeks at the Division I championships.
In the meantime, the two have a friendship to develop. After that race, Follett and Pixler cooled down together. Before the race, Follett had promised her younger sister, Kelsey, that she would speak to Pixler. Kelsey had read a story about Pixler's faith and fallen in love with her religious discipline. The Folletts have the same strong Christian values.
Pixler and Follett realized they have a lot in common. The conversation flowed from faith to post-college plans to an idea: Maybe, in the future, they can train together. They departed with that idea lingering in the air. They didn't exchange cellphone numbers. Instead, they became Facebook friends.
"I know that I would always like to stay in contact with her," Pixler said.
"We've got to train together," Follett said. "We could bring out the best in each other."
They did that without really intending to do so. So, what's better than their best? Sounds like a new challenge. Sounds like a topic for their next conversation.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer
About Jerry Brewer
Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports.
email@example.com | 206-464-2277
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