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Seattle Pacific University
Autumn 2007 | Volume 30, Number 2 | Athletics

Falcon on the Fast Track

Jessica Pixler aims to follow her mentor, Doris Heritage, into the record books


Jessica Pixler running
Now a sophomore, Jessica Pixler, continues her winning ways.
As a freshman phenom in 2006–07, Jessica Pixler began Autumn Quarter on the Falcon soccer squad, squeezed in competitive cross country, and finished the year with a slew of regional, national, and international track and field awards.

The 19-year-old from Sammamish, Washington, was voted Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) Indoor Athlete of the Year, GNAC Female Outdoor Track and Field Athlete of the Year, and GNAC Female Athlete of the Year for all sports. The U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association chose Pixler as the NCAA Division II West Region Track Athlete of the Year. And after breaking GNAC records in the 800-, 1500-, and 3000-meter races last spring, she (natch!) went on to become the first freshman ever voted Seattle Pacific University’s Athlete of the Year.

“I think it’s really important for Jessica to do her best and see herself as a winner,” says Doris Heritage, head cross country coach and assistant coach of track and field. “She goes into races assuming she can win — and prepared to win.”

It’s a mentality Heritage understands firsthand. A 1964 graduate of Seattle Pacific, she won five world championships, competed in two Olympics, and was the first woman in the world to break the 5-minute mile.

Yet she laughs when she remembers being a 19-year-old college student. “There was no athletic program for women,” she says. “Ken Foreman, who was head of physical education and athletics at Seattle Pacific College, convinced the school to have a track club for women. So we had a club.” The first Falcon women’s athletic scholarship was awarded in 1974 — 10 years after Heritage had graduated (and two years after she went to the Munich Olympics).

What a difference 40 years makes. With parents who ran 800 and 1500 meters in the 1980s for the NCAA Division I University of Colorado, Pixler was born with the right DNA for what is becoming her specialty: the 1500 (a metric mile). “She’s always loved running,” says her father, Jeff Pixler, human resources director at Safeco Insurance in Seattle. “When she was 5 years old, she’d run laps around the dining room table for 30 minutes.”

At age 5, she also played soccer for a girls’ team called the Gatorettes, wearing a turquoise uniform and hot pink socks. “I was scared of the ball,” she admits. “I just ran around the whole time.” But five years later, her parents noticed a change. “That’s when she started to become a really good soccer player,” says her father. By the time she was a high school junior, Pixler played for the FC Marauders Soccer Club, which won the state club title in 2004.

In high school, Pixler began running track. Running her first 1500 race in ninth grade, Pixler took first place. “Mom, I ran it in 5:10!” she told her mother. Nancy Pixler, once a top collegiate athlete, knew that time was unlikely for such a young runner. Jessica laughs as she remembers, “My mom said, ‘Oh, they must have timed it wrong.’”

Later Nancy Pixler told her daughter that what she’d really been thinking was, Wow! That was a really fast time. Jessica Pixler’s road to Seattle Pacific University began with a campus visit. “The SPU soccer coach [Chuck Sekyra] and I had been talking seriously about me coming to Seattle Pacific,” says Pixler, “and he was the one who introduced me to Doris [Heritage]. I went into her office and started talking with her.

I felt the Holy Spirit more than I ever had in my entire life.” When she left Heritage’s office, Pixler says she knew where God wanted her: SPU.

After her first soccer and cross country seasons ended, Pixler made a decision. “I felt God made it clear to me that … it was time to let go of soccer,” she says. Her experience as a soccer player, though, turned out to be useful in races. “A lot of runners become intimidated if there’s pushing in a race,” she says. “I get excited, because it’s like playing soccer!”

But the jostling isn’t racing’s only thrill for Pixler. “I feel like I’m really in deep communication with God when I’m running,” says Pixler. “It’s such a good feeling to push yourself to the very limit you can go.”

By Spring Quarter, Pixler’s decision to leave the soccer field was confirmed as awards piled up. She brought home four All-American awards, won the national indoor mile and outdoor 1500, took second in the outdoor 800, and finished 10th nationally in cross country. Her second-place finish in the U.S.A. Juniors 1500 earned her a spot at the starting line of the 1500 at the Junior Pan American games in Sao Paulo, Brazil. There in July, she smoked the competition by nearly three seconds to add an international gold medal to her trophy case.

Now beginning her sophomore year, Pixler already has a goal for next summer: the 2008 Olympic trials. “I need to run two seconds faster than my P.R. [personal record],” she explains. “I need to run about a 4:17.”

Heritage likes this goal for Pixler; middle distance runners don’t usually peak until at least their mid-20s. “Goals need to be personal,” says Heritage, “but certainly the sky’s the limit for Jessica.”

—By Hope McPherson []
—Photos by Phil Ellisworth

Read more about Pixler's mentor, Coach Doris Heritage, in this online extra.

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Department Highlights

Falcon on the Fast Track
As a freshman, Jessica Pixler racked up numerous awards, including a gold at the Junior Pan American Games.

Doris Heritage: Trailblazer
SPU alumna was a trailblazer in women's running.

Five Teams Begin Their Seasons
Fall sports teams are earning wins and vying for the playoffs.

Falcons Retain GNAC All-Sports Crown
Leadership and talent led to more than seven sports titles.