SHS grad to vie for Olympic Games

Dinius races with nation's best at 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials in Los Angeles on Saturday

2016 U.S. Olympic Trials – marathon

When: 10 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 13

Where: Los Angeles, Calif.

On TV: NBC

Web: www.latrials2016.com

 

 

She already had dropped band and basketball, so by the time she began racing with the Sequim Middle School’s seventh-grade cross country team, quitting was not an option.

“We would run laps to start out the class — basically, that was the only thing I was good at,” says Stephanie Dinius, now 26 and Boston, Mass., resident.

“It was way harder than I thought it would be,” she recalls. “I wanted to quit right away. But I thought, ‘I have to finish out this season.’ I’m so glad I did. I loved it. Never went back.”

What a long, winding road it’s been for the Sequim native.

Dinius, the former Washington state champion-turned collegiate All-American, aims for a berth in the 31st Summer Olympic Games when she races against the nation’s best at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Los Angeles on Saturday, Feb. 13.

The top three men and women finishers will be nominated to represent Team USA and the nation in the marathon at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro six months after the trials.

Like dozens of other competitors in both men’s and women’s races, Dinius’ road to the trials was anything but smooth. Two major post-college injuries nearly derailed her running career. The Olympic hopeful now sees them as blessings in disguise.

“There were moments I had all but run out of hope,” she says. “But with my running friends and Shane (Dinius, her husband), I said, ‘This is where I’m at. I really need help.’ Your community is really important, as is having grace with yourself and patience, being OK with what happens.”

“Running is such a gift as long as I have it. When it’s over, I’ll find something else.”


Starting strong

By her second year running at Sequim Middle School, the young Stephanie Marcy had moved up to the team’s second-best runner behind Natalie Jones, who also would go on to post impressive marks as a runner at Sequim High.

In between her eighth-grade and freshman academic years, Marcy decided to try the North Olympic Discovery Marathon.

“I don’t know what I was thinking,” she says now. “(I was) totally unprepared for it.”

Stu Marcy, her father, recalls how spent his daughter was after that first long run.

“She basically just collapsed, she’d run so hard,” he said. “Obviously, she had a lot of drive.”

Stephanie Marcy finished in two hours, two minutes and 12 seconds — a 9:19 pace, and first among females 14 and younger.

(She would go on to complete the NODM half five more times, placing ninth the next year, third in 2005 and female half-marathon champion in 2006, 2007 and 2008).

The young runner already was on Sequim High cross country coach Harold Huff’s radar.

“He said, ‘I’m looking forward to having you on the team,’” Marcy recalls. “Getting encouragement from him was huge. Having him believe in me was very helpful.”

Under the guidance of Huff during the fall cross country season and sprint coach Don Lichten during track and field season, Marcy launched into an impressive prep career. In cross country, along with helping Sequim to four consecutive state team berths, she earned 14th place as a freshman, eighth as a sophomore, second place as a junior and, as a senior in 2006, Washington state 2A champ. On the track, Marcy earned medals in both 1,600- and 3,200-meter races as a sophomore, then top-four finishes in both races as a junior. In her senior year, she was state 2A champ in the 1,600-meter race and second as 3,200 meters.

In between cross country and track seasons in that final high school season, Marcy won Borderclash, a premier prep event pitting the top runners of Washington and Oregon regardless of school size.

The marks were impressive to those close to her, including classmate Shane Dinius. The two would marry on New Year’s Eve, 2011.

“We first met in sixth grade, so we’ve known each other a very long time,” he says. “In seventh and eighth grade we ran on the cross country team. We’ve been running together since.”

“In her senior year of high school, she was not just winning things in our league but winning Borderclash, winning state,” Shane says. “I knew she was a talented runner. (Then) I realized she was a very, very talented runner.”

Marcy’s persistence in running became an inspiration back home, too: Stu and Ione Marcy, her parents, started running road races during her prep career and haven’t stopped.

“A life-changer, it sure was,” Stu says now. “Ione was the driving force; she’d run long distances right from the get-go.”

Stephanie Marcy finished her prep career with school records in the 800, 1,600, 3,200 and 5,000 meters. Following graduation from Sequim High in 2007, she earned an athletic-academic scholarship to Stanford University, which boasted one of the top cross country teams in the nation.


Starring at Stanford

Marcy ran varsity for the cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field teams for four years at Stanford. She was named team captain three times while earning three Academic All-American honors and four Athletic All-American honors.

Her career at Stanford was marked by persistence: While not the fastest runner on the Cardinal cross country squad, she twice wound up the top finisher at the NCAA championships and second her senior year; while she kept improving on her times, several of her teammates went down with injuries.

“She really started to hit her stride in college — she was getting faster year after year,” Shane Dinius says. “Her freshman year, she was getting used to the high mileage. (By the end) she realized she’s capable of running with the best.”

On the track, she earned her first All-American honor in the 10,000 meters in 2010 by placing eighth, and another the next year, placing sixth.

Throughout college, Marcy remained remarkable injury free — or so she thought.


Post-college tests

Soon following her collegiate career, Stephanie Dinius suffered what’s called a hip labral tear, one involving a ring of cartilage — called the labrum — that follows the outside rim of the socket of one’s hip joint. The Mayo Clinic likens the labrum to a rubber seal or gasket to help hold the ball at the top of the thighbone securely within one’s hip socket.

“The first few months, I wasn’t aware of how bad it was,” Dinius says. “I was just limping along.”

Limping right into training for the spring 2012 Olympic Trials in the 10,000 meters.

“I had this idea in my mind I could get through it. After a couple of months of trying to train and not doing what I what I needed, (it was time).”

The labral tear meant surgery.

“I guess it was good timing,” she says now. “I guess it made up for all those years (running healthy) in college.”

So began a year-long-plus process of recovery. Starting in May 2012, Dinius took four months off of running, rehabbing on a bike and in the pool. Six months in, she wasn’t doing runs of longer than 30 minutes. By eight months in, she was starting her regular running plan, and by about 10 months out of surgery she was putting in faster workouts. It was more than 12 months from her surgery to her first race.

“I came out of it with a better appreciation,” Dinius says. “It was not guaranteed I would be able to run at a high level again. I had renewed passion and strengths, (with) dreams and goals I’d be able to chase. It was a good thing in the end.”

In the fall of 2014, Dinius suffered another setback with an injury to her sacrum, a triangular bone in her lower back. The pain she felt was a stress reaction, a condition right before a fracture.

This injury was perhaps harder to deal with than the one requiring surgery.

“It’s really tricky how long to take off,” Dinius says. “Everyone is different. I took plenty of time off, I was really careful, I thought. It was really tricky, day-by-day. You can’t just go get an MRI each week.”

She re-injured her sacrum a second time — “I think I just pushed it too far,” she says — but has been healthy since April 2015.

The reality that the vast majority of most long distance runners get major injuries had hit home.

“Two big ones,” Dinius says now. “Other than that, I feel I’ve been pretty lucky.”

“Realizing that it’s not over for me, it’s like this gift,” she says. “I really put myself in God’s hands. When it’s over, he will really make it clear that it’s over.”


A marathon first

The course for the 2016 Olympic Trials in Los Angeles is an atypical one for most marathons. It features an initial 2.2-mile loop taking runners by the Staples Center, then begins the first of four, six-mile out-and-backs to complete the 26.2 miles.

“Pretty great for the spectators,” Dinius says, “but not for running a fast marathon.”

Dinius won’t have much to compare the course to: Saturday’s will be her first-ever marathon. She locked up an automatic berth in the marathon trials when she raced to an eighth-place finish at the USA Half Marathon Championships in Houston in January 2014.

“Every week (I’ve run) has been my longest run ever,” Dinius says. “It’s fun to get into this new territory. It’s pretty cool to wake up in the morning and realize, ‘I don’t know if its possible for me to do this.’”

The trails will feature top U.S. racers such as American marathon record-holder Deena Kastor, Olympic Games bronze medalist Shalane Flanagan (10k) and Olympian Desiree Linden (marathon, 2012), among others.

For the first time, both men’s and women’s races air live on network television, on NBC.

“I have very little expectations (for her placing) — I hope that carries through this next week,” Dinius says. “For NCAA (championships), there was a lot of pressure: big meet, very competitive. I would get really nervous, but it was something I’d done before. It wasn’t a completely new experience or challenge. This really is.”

She’ll have her parents Stu and Ione, plus her husband Shane and his parents, there to root her on.

“We can pick any spot on the street see her eight times,” Stu Marcy says.

There will be other familiar faces on the course as well, Dinius notes, including some college teammates.

“I’ve raced against these women in different races,” she says. “In a way it’s a little intimidating because they are experienced in the marathon.”

Dinius’ husband says he expects this won’t be the last time she races with the best in the nation.

“I don’t think this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for her,” Shane Dinius says. “I definitely think she’s going to come back for the next cycle. I really view this as a long-term thing; she’s only beginning to enter her marathoning years.”

 

Reach Michael Dashiell at editor@sequimgazette.com.