FORT LEE, Va. (April 7, 2011) -- Looking at Sadie Sandifer, one might mistake her petite stature, blond hair and shy smile as that of a typical teen girl - into clothes, music and texting. But Sadie is anything but typical - she's earning a reputation as an accomplished long-distance runner.
Her interest in the sport was likely influences by her parents, Tammy and Capt. Toby Sandifer, a physican's assistant at the Kenner Active Duty Clinic. They too share a love of running. When Sadie was 7-years-old and began to outpace her mother on the track, they weren't surprised with her passion. What did surprise the couple was their eldest child's ability for distance and endurance running.
"I had to let her run on her own," Tammy said. "I was holding her back."
Sadie took third place in the first 5k run she participated in and that fueled her love for the activity. A permanent change of station move to Bamberg, Germany, temporarily replaced marathons with Volksmarches. Nevertheless, Sadie kept in shape enjoying the popular walks and waited until she could return to competitive running. As soon as the family moved to Fort Lee about two years ago, Sadie signed up for the cross county and track team at Mataoca Middle School in Chesterfield County where she attends school.
Her first year on the team was definitely a growing process, said Joshua Janderwski, one of Sadie's coaches.
"I could tell she loved to run, but also could see she didn't quite understand the mechanics of running and how to push herself to her full potential," Janderwski said.
This season, Sadie emerged as a completely different runner, the coach continued.
"She has gone from running in the middle of the pack, to being the runner everyone is chasing."
Janderwski, Rachel Ross and Laura Coppler coach the Matoaca cross county and track team and know what it takes to become an elite athlete.
"Sadie is a silent leader," Janderwski said. "She leads by example and has shown other girls what it takes to be the best."
Coppler described her as a gifted and humble young lady who strives for excellence in everything she does.
"I am fortunate as a coach to see that glimmer of greatness in Sadie's eyes and the strong work ethic she has on and off the track," she said.
With her drive and determination tucked into her running shoes, Sadie ran her first half-marathon, a staggering 13.1 miles during the 2011 Shamrock Marathon at Virginia Beach on March 20. She completed the ocean-front course in 1 hour, 43 minutes and 13 seconds - claiming first place for her age division.
"I was nervous after the first mile and then I began to get sore," Sadie said. "I started to get a blister, but other runners kept me going. I thought about stopping and someone would come along and encourage me."
The adult runners are always amazed at her spunk, Tammy said.
The young runner is also working on breaking a school track record. She missed it by a mere six seconds during a recent meet.
"I like to run," Sadie said. "I like to run with other people, it helps me focus on my pace and stay motivated."
Sadie has competed in multiple runs this year which seeded her in the third wave of the Monument Avenue 10K race on Saturday. She completed the six miles in 44 minutes, 50 seconds for an impressive third place finish in the 10-14 year old female division, which now qualifies her as an elite runner.
"Sadie has a great enthusiasm for running," her mother said. "She'll leave sticky notes all over the walls of the house that read ‘I'm so excited.' I am so proud of her because she self-motivated to run the half-marathon."
Perhaps the support she receives from her parents and siblings helps Sadie to keep her focus strong. While she's been running this spring, her father has been attending school. Younger brother Sam took a break from lacrosse since it was a hectic time with the family and so he could be one of Sadie's strongest supporters.
"I know my day will come," Sam said. "It's Sadie's turn now."
When Sadie is not running, she plays with her younger brother and sister, Sophie or daydreams about where her running will take her.
Sadie said she wants to be doctor, preferably an emergency room physician.
"I like intense situations," she said. "Maybe that's why I love competitive running."