Sacred Heart Cathedral (SHC), a Catholic school in San Francisco founded over 150 years ago and with a current enrollment of 1,257 students, can make a claim that very few other schools around the country can make. SHC has two alumni going to the 2012 London Olympics in track & field – Tina Kefalas, class of 1995 in the marathon for Greece, and Shannon Rowbury, class of 2002 in the 1500 meters for the USA. Even more amazing is the fact that the school does not have a home track.
As the current head cross country and track & field coach I can say that I’ve never seen not having a home track as a detriment to our program. The kids in our program are blessed because there is a lot of variety in their training schedule. It isn’t meet out at the track after school every day at 3:30. In fact, I think the time the kids spend taking the bus together to practice is part of their experience that makes being on the SHC track & field team special and unique. It also helps weed out who is really dedicated to the sport. It takes a great deal of commitment to get yourself to practice off-campus via public transportation day after day.
Kefalas was the school record holder in the 1600 and 3200 meters when she graduated from SHC in 1995. She was the first runner in school history to qualify for the cross country state meet. She remembers going on a road trip to Colorado Springs with her coach, Mr. Denis Mohun (also a graduate of the school in 1979) and some other runners from the team. “It was the turning point for me. My first two years I was playing volleyball and track and after that trip, I finally decided to run cross country,” recalls Keflas. She also is proud to have won the school’s Vincent Contrero Award for excellence in both academics and athletics.
In the fall of 1998, SHC hired a new coach to head both the cross country and track & field
program. That person was me. I had the good timing to arrive at SHC the same season as a freshman who would change my life, a freshman named Shannon Rowbury.
Rowbury would go on to win two state championships and seven section champions during her SHC career. She was nationally ranked in the 800, 1600, 3200 meters and cross country and supplanted Kefalas as the school record holder in the 1600 and 3200 meters.
One of my fondest times during Rowbury’s high school career was her whole senior year of track & field. We both knew that this was the eighth and final season together at SHC. We took time to really soak it all up and enjoy the ride. She set numerous meet records, would sign autographs at meets, and together we would be interviewed for both television and newspaper articles. It was just a lot of fun and we made a point to have fun and enjoy every moment of it.
John Scudder (class of 1972), has been around SHC for thirty-two years and he recalls both students fondly. “I remember Tina and Shannon well. During Tina’s time at SHC, I was the Dean of Students; she was a model student who never found it necessary to take a trip to the Dean’s office. While Shannon attended SHC, I was the Principal. She too was active at school well beyond athletics. It is amazing to think she was so successful on the track, while all the time focusing on her work in the classroom,” said Scudder. Now serving the school as President, Scudder said, “I am so proud of their accomplishments. I know I speak for the entire SHC community in wishing Tina and Shannon the best of luck during the upcoming competition. Go Irish!”
After high school, Keflas went on to run at the University of Southern California. She then moved to Greece, where she continued to run at a high level. In 2008, in her first 3000 steeplechase of the season she ran 9:55.96, less than one second off the Olympic “B” standard, which would have been enough to qualify to represent Greece at the Beijing Olympics. Unfortunately she was injured in her second race and that ended her season and thus her 2008 Olympic dreams. Kefalas then decided to run the 2010 Athens Marathon, which also happened to be the 2500th anniversary of the historic run by the messenger Pheidippides from Marathon to Athens in 490 B.C. that gave the marathon race distance its name. She completed the marathon in two hours, 40 minutes, and 36 seconds, well under the Olympic “B” standard but unfortunately before the qualifying period for the 2012 Olympic marathon began. Kefalas would need to run another marathon closer to the Olympics in sub-2:43 to qualify for the 2012 Olympics. On April 22, 2012 at the Enschede Marathon in the Netherlands she ran 2:41:00 to stamp her ticket to London.
Rowbury competed for Duke University after high school and since college has been a professional runner, sponsored by Nike. Her breakthrough season was 2008, when she lowered her 1500 meter personal record from 4:12.31 to 4:00.33. She qualified for the 2008 Olympic team in Beijing and has also represented the USA at the 2009 and 2011 World Championships. She’s finished in the top three at the US Championships in the 1500 each of the last five years, has been ranked as high third as in the world (2009), and is the eighth fastest women’s 1500 meter runner in US history.
Kefalas will race in the women’s marathon in London, which is Sunday, August 5. She said that her goal is to break 2:40.
Rowbury will race in the women’s 1500 meters in London. The first round race is Monday, August 6, the semi-final race is Wednesday, August 8, and the final is Friday, August 10. In an interview after the Olympic Trials, Rowbury stated that her goal is to “get on the podium,” which means placing in the top three to earn one of the coveted Olympic medals.
As you watch the 2012 London Olympics, almost every athlete you see will have some sort of backstory. They competed in high school, they had a high school coach, at some point making the Olympics became, first a dream, and then reality. But when you’re watching the track & field portion of the Olympics, remember that two of the athletes attended the same Catholic school in downtown San Francisco. The one without a home track.