To this point of the high school track and field season, Alex Siemens and Callum Pilgrim’s ascendant running careers have traveled on parallel tracks.
But this weekend at the provincial championships in Langley, their paths will intersect, as the W.J. Mouat Hawks teammates find themselves cast as competitors for the first time.
Siemens and Pilgrim have authored a remarkable series of results, sweeping to victory in the 800m, 1500m and 3000m races at three meets – the Abby-Mission district championships, the Upper Fraser Valleys, and the Fraser Valleys – while competing in the senior and junior divisions, respectively.
But there’s no junior designation at provincials, meaning Grade 10 student Pilgrim will run with Siemens and the Grade 12 crew.
“We’re really close friends, so it’s really exciting to race against each other,” Siemens enthused.
“I think it’ll be good for both of us,” Pilgrim echoed. “We’ll push each other.”
Siemens, 17, and Pilgrim, 16, are mirror images in terms of their middle-distance running prowess, but they’re unique in terms of how they’re wired and the paths they took to get to this point.
Siemens burst onto the scene with a history-making performance in 2009, as she became the first Grade 9 student to win the B.C. high school cross-country championship.
Her Grade 10 and 11 seasons, though, didn’t pan out as she’d hoped. A hip injury, sustained from over-training, limited her in 2010-11, and she struggled to reach her previous personal bests in 2011-12.
“I won the race in Grade 9, and I always say it was a blessing and a curse,” Siemens said. “I made history, but then there was a lot of pressure on me. A lot of that was from myself. I have really high expectations.
“I didn’t really know if I loved running anymore, because I’d done it for so long and I was just putting too much pressure on myself, not enjoying races,” she added. “I went to sports psychologists, I tried everything.”
Siemens rediscovered the joy of running as she learned to integrate her religious beliefs with her approach to the sport. She draws inspiration from Chariots of Fire, the 1981 Oscar-winning movie about Christian runner Eric Liddell. In the film, Liddell described his running inspiration thusly: “I believe that God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
As she’s taken on that mentality, Siemens has taken off on the track once again, and Mouat coach Cameron Smith said she’s “running with a smile on her face.”
“I do have a really strong faith, so I was like, ‘You know what, I’m going to run for Christ. He gave me this gift,'” Siemens explained. “I know God made me to be a runner. I just want to enjoy it, encourage others, and just do it because I love it.”
Ask anyone about Pilgrim, and the word “competitive” is bound to come up within a couple sentences.
Running is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to her athletic endeavors. She was a member of Mouat’s B.C. title-winning junior girls basketball team this past season; is an elite softball player; played metro league and school soccer; and suited up for the Hawks volleyball team as well.
In an era of specialization, few kids her age keep such a busy sports schedule, and fewer still execute at such a high level.
“It’s all different seasons, so usually it works out,” Pilgrim said with a grin. “For track and softball, sometimes it falls on the same day. I’ll be running so I’ll miss the softball warm-up, but I’ll get there on time (for the game). All the coaches are pretty supportive of it as well, because in some way (being a diverse athlete) will help you.”
Pilgrim will certainly be in tough against senior athletes at provincials, but Smith believes her competitive nature will carry her.
“Callum is a beast,” he said. “She can be pushed beyond her limits . . . When Callum sees Alex ahead, she’ll just track her down. It should be interesting.”
The provincial high school track and field championships run Friday and Saturday at Langley’s McLeod Athletic Park.
Siemens and Pilgrim, who train with Abbotsford’s Valley Royals track and field club, are both dropping the 800m from their schedules for the B.C.’s, but will run the 1500m, 3000m and the 4x400m relay.