May 22, 2005
BY TIM PEELER
RALEIGH -- Julia Lucas has an artistic soul.
The NC State sophomore distance runner knows that won't really mean much in terms of finances - the term "starving artist" is well-known and well-lived in her family.
"I definitely plan to be poor, no matter what path I choose," she says with a laugh.
But, with the whirlwind life of her father as an example, Lucas will always be rich in dinner-table conversation.
She can always tell the story of how Scott Lucas rode from Florida on his motorcycle with the family dog - a Weimaraner named Egon - riding piggy back, securely fastened with duct tape.
Or how the family squatted for a while in an abandoned school house in Washington, D.C., surrounded by gangs and crack houses, until the family bought the school and turned it into four luxury condos. Sure, there were bars on the first-floor windows, but the sale of the condos financed the family's move to Charlotte, where Lucas, her sister and brother enjoyed the benefits of much better schools.
Or what it was like growing up in a free-spirited household, where creativity was always more important than practicality.
"The typical distance-running personality is everybody is on a real regimented schedule," Lucas said. "They do the same things every day. In my family, there is never any sort of schedule. We don't have rules. I was never grounded. I am sort of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of girl.
"My house is the crazy one in the neighborhood. We don't mow our grass for like a month at a time. One time, we had a tree fall on the house and part of the house was hanging off for the longest while. One of my friends in grade school told me that my house was really cool because we didn't need to decorate for Halloween."
Not long after she started running - as a tiny freshman at Myers Park High School - Lucas realized she would have to turn in her aspirations of being an artist if she ever wanted to succeed as a runner. In particular, she needed to be a little bit more meticulous with her schedule and not be guided by her middle-of-the-night inspirations.
And while injuries in high school prevented her from getting a good deal of attention, she is now one of the top middle distance runners in the country. Her time of 15:53.47 in the 5,000 meters is the third best time posted this year by a collegiate runner.
She is also qualified to compete in this week's NCAA East Championship in the 1,500 meters. Her time of 4:40.03 is ranked No. 13 in the nation this year.
Lucas is one of 16 Wolfpack runners for Coach Rollie Geiger who have qualified in 21 events for the meet, which begins Friday in Randall's Island, NY. She and distance runners Kristina Roth, Renee Gunning and Andy Smith are all qualified for multiple events.
"This season has been sort of a break-through for me," said Lucas, who had three stress fractures in high school and once suffered a compound fracture while running down a hill during a cross country meet. "I haven't really done anything different. It's just that distance running is sort of a race of attrition. The people who end up on top at the end of a long career aren't the ones that have been training hard for a couple of weeks or months.
"They are the ones who have had ups and downs over the years and stuck with it."
Lucas has impressed her coaches - who were a little worried by all the high school injuries - with her improvement, on the track and off, during her three years in the Wolfpack program. (Lucas redshirted as a freshman in 2003.) "Her freshman year, she was late for everything," said distance coach Laurie Henes, a former NCAA champion for the Wolfpack. "She missed two long (workout) runs because she didn't have a watch. We left her a couple of times and she straightened up. But I think the creativity that she has, her art and creative writing, helps her in athletics.
"She doesn't get too caught up in all the details that other runners do. She tends to look at the bigger picture."
But to be focused on running, Lucas gave up art - at least for now.
"When first took up running, I considered art to be my primary concentration in life," said Lucas, a Creative Writing major. "I am really the type of person that I don't like to do things halfway. I want to do it with everything I have. I tend to neglect large aspects of my life because of that.
"There came a point in my life where I had to choose the artistic lifestyle where I am up at 3 in the morning or whenever the inspiration hits me and be completely devoted to that, or the more structured life of an athlete. Every once in a while, I think `What in the world am I doing?'
"I want to see how far I can go with this one. The decision came down to the fact that my legs will only last for so long. I will be able to paint forever."
You may contact Tim Peeler at email@example.com.
NC State's NCAA Regional Qualifiers
(Events and qualifying marks in parenthesis)
Kristina Roth (5,000m, 16:42.94; Steeplechase, 10:34.26)
Julia Lucas (1,500m, 4:20.03; 5,000m, 15:53.47)
Magin Kebert (1,500m, 4:24.46)
Angelina Blackmon (800m, 2:09.58)
Ebony Foster (100m Hurdles, 13.06)
Kelly Smoke (Discus Throw, 163-10)
Renee Gunning (1,500m, 4:27.51; 5,000m, 16:08.35)
Ginger Wheeler (5,000m, 16:47.07)
Mitchell Pope (Shot Put, 59-1.25)
Michael Hill (Triple Jump, 49-9.25)
Wesley Smith (5,000m, 14:13.40)
Andy Smith (1,500m, 3:44.77; 5,000m, 13:59.59; Steeplechase, 8:36.70)
Eric Hoverstad (Pole Vault, 16-6.75)
John Henderson (Steeplechase, 9:03.62)
Chris Kollar (1,500m, 3:46.05)
Dexter Adams (Long Jump, 24-2.5)
Lucas is qualified in both the 5,000 meters and the 1,500 meters at this week's NCAA East Region Championships