In the recent D.C. Relays girls track and field championships, Coolidge High School senior Tomi (Pebbles) Rucker ran on the victorious 440 and shuttle hurdle relay teams and on the second-place 880 relay.
Between races, she high-jumped 5 feet and long-jumped 18-11 to help the Colts win those two relay events and the team title. In less than three hours, Rucker had participated in five events.
A year ago, Central's Karen Woods won the 60- and 500-yard races and anchored the winning 880 and mile relay teams at the Maryland state indoor championships. In a little more than four hours, Woods stepped on the boards eight times to lead Central to a team title.
"I don't think I ever went in the stands," recalled Woods, a senior who, with Rucker, are considered the metropolitan area's most versatile female track athletes. "It seemed every time I turned around, they were calling my event."
Rucker and Woods say playing the role of bionic woman hinders their performance in the long run. But because of the lack of depth on their teams, it is often necessary.
"I've been here (Coolidge) three years and we've never had more than 12 or 13 girls," said Rucker, who long jumped 20-7 as a ninth grader. "All the teams around here are small. There are so many things to do in high school, no one has time for track. It's a tough sport and no one wants to be embarrassed."
Running several events in addition to participating in a field event or two is nothing new to this area's female track athletes. Because many area teams have only nine to 12 athletes, the better ones are entered in several events to get team points. But Rucker and Woods know once they enter college, they will have to specialize, especially if they intend to pursue the Olympic dream.
Rucker feels her best collegiate event will be the long jump "mainly because it's an event that isn't as demanding as some of the other events I run, like the hurdles. And the decathlon isn't entirely out of the question, although that 800 is tough."
But for now, Rucker wants to set a couple of records before she leaves Coolidge.
"I hope to set a national record in the 300 intermediate hurdles," she said. "My best time is 42.9 (the record is 41.0) and I'm running pretty well right now. I only ran one meet indoors and I won all three events. So, I'm really just getting started. I'd like to go 23.0 in the 200, 20-plus in the long jump and break 13 in the 100 hurdles. All of those goals can be reached."
Rucker has high jumped 5-2, run 11.8 in the 100 meter dash, 24.3 in the 200 and 56.5 in the 400.
Rucker won the high school long jump championship at the Penn Relays Friday with a distance of 19.7. She also anchored the 400-meter relay team to a third-place finish in the final and a sixth-place finish in the 1600-meter final.
Woods prefers the hurdle events.
"I like all of the hurdle races," Woods said. "None of them are any problem for me right now. Later, I think the longer (400 meter) hurdle race might be my best one."
Woods was a member of the Central mile relay team that finished third in the Penn Relays final a year ago and set a national mile relay indoor record (3:46.5) in March. This year, Woods and teammates Pam Cotter and Pam Gaddy helped Central qualify for three relay finals at the Penn Relays. Woods anchored the victorious 1600 meter relay team that set a relay record of 3:42.71. With Woods anchoring again, Central placed second (47.18) in the 400 meter relay final.
Three years ago Woods didn't know a thing about the Penn Relays.
"I didn't run at all, except for physical education class, until I got to Central," she said. "Track just didn't interest me then. And even then, it took a friend of mine to convince me to try out here. Now, I run all year long."
Central Coach Ed Bowie said picking a most valuable runner is impossible.
"We only have nine girls, so I've asked them to do so many things," said Bowie, whose teams won the state Class A indoor title in 1981 and '82 and is the odds-on favorite to repeat as outdoor titlist this year. "And the seniors, they've done double duty over and over and over. I couldn't pick which girl has done the most for us."
In addition to running all the hurdle races, Woods runs the 400-meter dash and usually anchors all the relay teams. Outstanding senior Pam Carter and sophomore Robin Benjamin run all the shorter sprints and on all the relays. The other key performers for Central's highly regarded team are junior sprinters/middle distance runners Pam Gaddy and Paulette Turner and discus/shot specialist Cheasha Gartmon.
Benjamin was the biggest surprise, coming onto the scene by winning the state title in the 60-meter dash. She since has run the 100 meters in 11.8, the 200 in 24.5 and a 400 split on a relay in 56.1.
"Both Karen and Pam have really helped to inspire me," said Benjamin. "They pull me along. Like everyone else, I don't mind all the races. I've run as many as five times in a day. It wasn't too bad."
Joining Rucker and Woods in versatility are Blair junior Michelle Collins, unbeaten at both 200 and 400 meters last year as a sophomore and The Washington Post's female runner of the year; McKinley junior sprinter Wanda Eaves; H.D. Woodson senior middle distance runner Lisa Fennell, Coolidge senior sprinter Kelly Jackson; Lake Braddock's junior distance star Andrea Volpe and hurdler/high jumper Carla Crispe and Groveton hurdler/long jumper Angie Jones.
Collins, an outstanding quarter-miler, is running for both Blair and the D.C. International Track Club, a combination she says will give her the experience and exposure needed for world-class competition.
"I started running for the club because I felt I could get more top level competition," said Collins, 17. "But I'm not running that many meets for DCI right now. Running for both teams doesn't cause any problems, although I don't train with Blair. Usually, I train alone, but I'm disciplined enough to do the work necessary."
Collins has done 54.1 in the 400 and 23.7 in the 200. Last year, she easily won both events in the Maryland state outdoor championships. Collins skipped most of the indoor season this year because of strained knees. A six-week rest apparently was all the medicine she needed: Collins returned strong as ever.
"There's no pain at all in my knees now. They feel much better and I'm starting to get stronger," said Collins. "I'm comfortable running both the 200 and 400 and I don't think anyone in the area can beat me in either race when I'm completely healthy. I'm shooting for the state record in both this year and, hopefully, in '84, I'll get a chance at the Olympics."