When All-American Linda Portasik graduated from Fort Hunt last June, many predicted the end of an era of long and middle-distance running at the Northern Virginia school. There was reason for this prophecy of doom. Portasik, a two-time All-Met, had dominated thoroughly for two years, establishing several regional and meet records in the process.
But outstanding feats in athletics have a way of creating traditions. While Portasik was out breaking records, Sue Miley was making a respectable showing and steady progress as a sophomore.
It is not always easy to follow in the footsteps of someone of Portasik's stature, but Miley has served notice that she may be equal to the task.
She ran one of the fastest miles recorded by an American schoolgirl this year when she streaked to a 4:58 at the Naval Academy. She has run a 2:18 in the 880-yard race. She helped pace her two-mile relay team to a national record. Her exploits have earned her a fifth-place ranking among schoolgirls in the nation for the 1,500 meters.
Andrew Tisinger has coached track at Fort Hunt for eight years. His teams have captured four regional championships in five years, while placing second in the state championships twice. He cites the contrasts between Portasik and Miley.
"Linda was a super talent," said Tisinger, who also teaches science at Fort Hunt. "She is probably the most gifted athlete I have ever coached. She had so much ability that she could run away from people.
"Sue is totally different. What she lacks in ability, she makes up for through hard work. She is a sophisticated runner who does whatever it takes to win."
If sophisticated is translated as "intelligent," that's what Miley is. When she is not outthinking opposing runners, she is making straight "A's" in chemistry, French, and history.
There are several theories as to why distance runners often are exceptional students. Some say it's the discipline required. Others say it's the level of concentration. Tisinger offers his view:
"I've found that there is definitely a correlation between distance running and academic excellence," he remarked. "It seems as though they're more patient because they realize success is delayed."
Although only a junior, Miley has had to assume the role of leader of a very young team. To this, she says, "I have accepted the challenge. It's made me more serious because there are others who look up to me."
Miley exhibited her leadership by leading Fort Hunt to the Virginia state track and field championship recently at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville. She individually captured the title in the 1600-meter run with a time of 4:59.6. It was the Federals' first championship ever.
Miley started out in track two years ago through the influence of her older sister Pat. Tisinger remembers well.
"When she came out for the team, there were 177 hopefuls. She was one of 62 to ultimately make it. I knew that she had some talent but I never expected her to come on as she has. It's been a pleasant surprise."
It has not been particularly pleasant for Miley's opponents, however. She trained for distance by running in the mountains. She has increased her speed by running 220- and 440-yard sprints in practice. The combination has given her great endurance and speed for the remarkable kick she often uses to overtake her opponents in the last quarter. She has already defeated her chief rival, All-Met Jeannette Kelly of Dunbar, two out of the three times she has faced her.
Miley is one of four children. Pat and her brother Mark both attend North Texas State. Her younger brother, Matt, attends Stephen Foster Junior High. They live in Alexandria with parents Ruth and James.
In recent years, Northern Virginia could boast of outstanding performers such as Olympian Paula Girven, Benita Fitzgerald and Portasik.If Miley continues on the course she is now traveling, she could very well be placed in that elite company.