Daughter remains Sydner’s constant running partner
Even if she appears to be all by herself at the finish at the Lake Tahoe five-kilometer race this Sunday (see related story, page 2C), Truckee distance runner Sandy Sydner won’t have completed the event by herself. No matter how long, difficult or arduous the running course, Sandy is constantly boosted by the ever-present spirit of her only daughter Nicole, a top high school distance runner who died in an auto accident in 1989.
“I really feel like I get some of my strength while running from her,” said Sandy, 46, who is the reigning Pacific Association 15-kilometer road racing champion and a favorite to win Sunday’s five-kilometer women’s race. “I feel like she is saying to me ‘you supported me at so many races during high school, now I will support you.'”
Running was the tie that bound mother and daughter during Nicole’s adolescence. Sandy began running for exercise at age 32 and Nicole, still in grade school, quickly followed. Discovering they both enjoyed the sport, the pair began entering local fun runs near their hometown of Hesperia.
“Nicole wasn’t very good at basketball or softball, so I was glad she found running,” Sandy said. “I’ll never forget the day she told me, ‘Mom, I’d like to be a runner.'”
Nicole continued to improve on her running through her high school years, earning All-American status with a 17th place finish at the Foot Locker National Cross-Country Championship her junior year. She also was a finalist in the distance races at the California State Track Meet.
“In high school, Nicole came into her own,” Sandy said. “Running was what she was best at.”
During her senior year, Nicole was on top of the world, running well and entertaining scholarship offers from Arizona State and UCLA. Just one week before her cross-country league final, however, she was killed instantly in automobile accident.
Sandy said running helped her remain “sane” during the days following Nicole’s death.
“About three days after the accident, I went on a run just to relieve the tension,” Sandy said. “I ran on one of Nicole’s favorite place to run, a field at the college surrounded by cypress trees; I saw the same rabbit she had told me about just a few days before.”
Her biggest “release” came when she went to watch Nicole’s teammates run in the league finals – the same race her daughter was favored in. Running without their No. 1 runner, Hesperia upset the field to win the league.
“It was the most amazing race; the kids won it for Nicole,” said Sandy, who, following the competition, took a lap on the course that her daughter never had a chance to compete on.
Sandy said there was a period of time following Nicole’s death where she felt she was “just living out my life.” But soon after, she met current husband Jim (at a running race) and things improved tremendously – both on and off the running circuit.
“I give a lot of credit for my success to him,” said Sandy of Jim, 52, who is himself a fine runner (5:07 at the Truckee Mile in July). “When I met him, the first thing I thought was ‘here comes trouble’.”
Sandy and Jim moved to Truckee from Southern California 18 months ago. Since then, she has been tearing up the local and regional racing circuit, taking age-group titles at the Carlsbad 5000, the Reno Gazette Journal Jog and the Reno Air 15K Pacific Association Championship. Amazingly, she wins the big races while training only about five miles per day.
“If I increase my mileage too much, I seem to get injured,” Sandy said. “Training in Truckee has fit me to a tee, although in winter I do a lot of running in Reno and on a treadmill.”
After her traumatic experience with her daughter, Sandy said the little things in life such as a poor race or a minor injury don’t affect her as much as they once might have.
“Since the accident, I’ve mellowed out,” Sandy said. “The trivial problems don’t bother me anymore.”
“If I didn’t have running, my emotions would have eaten me up a long time ago.”
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The Barracuda Championship is set to tee off next week, bringing PGA golfers to Tahoe Mountain Club’s Old Greenwood course for the second year in a row.