Sarah Bowman is, in many ways, a typical teenager. She spent time last weekend clothes shopping with her best friend, Kaitlyn Vincie, and talks on the phone and online as often as possible with her boyfriend. She also likes to watch movies -- when time allows -- and can be silly when she's among friends.
There is another side to Bowman, a junior at Fauquier High School, that is anything but ordinary.
"How many kids have to deal with people constantly expecting them to run the fastest time in the country or asking them when will they run in the Olympics?" Fauquier girls' track and field coach Scott Murphy asked. "I mean, she's a 17-year-old girl who does everything every other 17-year-old does: She talks about boys and listens to music and is always aware of what people are wearing and saying. But there is always the other side, too, because there are so many expectations on her."
That's because Bowman, a six-time All-Met and The Washington Post's Athlete of the Year this outdoor season, is a high school track star. She owns the nation's fastest time in the mile -- 4 minutes 48.55 seconds -- after winning at the prestigious Penn Relays on April 24. She also ranks fourth nationally in the 800 meters with the 2:07.69 she turned in at the Taco Bell Classic in South Carolina in early April.
Even during what she classified as a "rocky" indoor track season this past winter, Bowman won both the 1,000 and 1,600 at the Virginia AA meet.
"She's so modest," said Vincie, who is also a member of the Falcons' cross-country and track teams. "She doesn't even admit she's good . . . when we all know she's amazing."
Maybe it's humility. More likely, it's simply all she knows.
"In middle school we'd run in P.E., and I'd always beat all the boys," Bowman said. "And I played soccer for 10 years and was always 'the fast girl', the one running past everybody and running all over the field. It was just a given that one day I'd run track."
At the urging of her family, Bowman entered her first race, a five-kilometer event, about five years ago. She was a 12-year-old running alongside high school athletes. And she won.
She's done little else but win ever since, earning a combined eight individual state championships in cross-country and indoor and outdoor track. Even when she finished second at last year's Penn Relays in the mile run, she bested the previous meet record in 4:48.69.
"Sarah is just so very talented," said Western Albemarle distance coach Carin Ward, whose top four runners finished in consecutive order behind Bowman in the mile at the Region II meet last week. "She goes out so hard and so fast that in no time the gap between her and the next runner is huge. Even if she were to slow down she's built such a big lead that no one could catch her. But, the thing is, she doesn't slow down.
"Sarah's not just the best in the state at middle-distance running, she's one of the best in the country. That's hard to contend with . . . but wonderful to watch."
Her successes have been particularly heartening to follow this spring after muscle spasms in her lower back this past fall proved the first major obstacle of her running career. The pain, which she said had persisted throughout the cross-country season, slowed her into a sixth-place finish at the Northwestern District meet. The severity of her discomfort at that meet -- which left her all but hobbling across the finish line -- was the breaking point.
Bowman had won the Virginia AA title in 2002 but chose to sit out the region state cross-country meets.
"I've always known Sarah was tough and willing to work hard, and everyone on the planet who follows high school sports knows how gifted she is," Murphy said. "But what I learned about her over the fall is that she could be mature enough to make the right decisions and patient enough to let her body heal itself before trying to come back. And the results have just been amazing."
She worked her times down slowly through the indoor track season, and then exploded back onto the national scene this outdoor season. Bowman is back to drawing consistent standing ovations for her efforts -- and her dominance -- and often leaves spectators marveling.
"Look at her!" yelled one bystander at the Region II meet as she ran yet another record-breaking time as the anchor for the Falcon's 4x400 relay team. "She's running like a dog is chasing her!"
And though the high school season will end Saturday at the Virginia AA meet at James Madison University -- where she likely will add more state titles to add to her collection -- Bowman's season is just beginning.
"I could do a meet every weekend if I wanted to," said Bowman, who trains six days a week and has plans to attend races in California, North Carolina and Texas. "And I will most weekends. It cuts down on my vacation and beach time, but it's important for me to keep working. I guess the goal is just to drop my times. That's hard. The times are hard to improve on when you're running at the top. . . . I just want to keep improving."
And, somehow, still find time to be a teenager -- but one with a drive and list of accomplishments that make her far from normal.
"She's fun, but I know she's more than that, too," Vincie said. "People are constantly coming up to her wanting to talk to her about running and to congratulate her. But to me, she'll always just be that girl who came up to me my first day of cross-country. . . . She walked up to me and said 'Do you like to run?' I said yes, and she said, 'Good, because if you don't, you really shouldn't be here.'
"I just laughed . . . and haven't really stopped laughing with her since."