Sabrina Pimentel is a junior on the UC San Diego women's track and field team. A two-time NCAA qualifier in her first two collegiate seasons, she was an All-American in the 4x400 relay as just a freshman in 2012. The school record-holder in her specialty, the 800 meters, as of April 12, the Westminster native has her sights set on a trip to Michigan next month.
"Sabrina is the athlete that inspires all," says UCSD women's head coach Darcy Ahner. "She is only starting to learn what she is capable of, but her level of improvement throughout the last three years in an event that many people fear, is astonishing if you don't know her. She is always willing to challenge herself to expect the most of herself and overcome all adversity that comes up. Beyond her talents, she is the kind of captain every coach would like to have lead their team into the championships!"
On the eve of the annual Triton Invitational, with UCSD and Triton Track & Field Stadium also the host site for the 2014 California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Championships next Thursday through Saturday, May 1-3, Pimentel took some time to be our latest guest for Triton Q&A.
Q: You broke your own 800-meter school record a few weeks ago at the Sun Angel Classic in Tempe, Ariz., when you crossed the line in 2:09.07. Talk about your tactics. Did you learn anything about yourself from that race?
PIMENTEL: Well, it was a very interesting race, to say the least. Going in, I knew that it was going to be tough, and since I gained experience last year at nationals, I guess I kind of psyched myself out there, because I did not want to repeat the outcome from last year. That being said, I tried to be excited about the race. The conditions were perfect. My race was at 8 p.m., so I was going to have an opportunity to run under the lights, the track was cooler, and the race was supposed to be fast. My goal was to stay with the pack and to not lose. The race started and everyone took off. We went out quickly, crossing the first lap at about 60 seconds. At that point I let the little voice in my head creep in that told me that I was tired. The mind is a very powerful thing and I got passed, I slowed and decided that my new goal was to just finish the race. I crossed the finish line in what was clearly not a sprint and I was very disappointed in myself. I thought for sure that I ran at best a 2:19.00 race. It was not until the team got on the bus about an hour after my race that I realized that I had broken Lindsay Stalker’s school record and PR'ed. To say the least, I learned that I need to have more trust in my ability, and I need to run through the finish. It was a lovely surprise and a very good lesson.
Q: As primarily a 400- and 800-meter runner for the Tritons, is there a distance/race you prefer more over the other, or maybe one that feels more comfortable to you?
PIMENTEL: It is funny that you should ask. I always tease my coach and every week I tell him to enter me into a different event like the 200-meter race or javelin. In his Mick (Mick Gieskes, UCSD sprints coach) like fashion, he plays along and instead agrees and says “Yeah, you can maybe do the javelin.”
As much as I would love to sprint for a shorter time or jump and then relax, I love the feeling of accomplishment that I get at the end of the day when I compete well in either the 400 or 800. I guess I prefer the 400 over the 800, but just because it is shorter and I feel like I can sprint faster. However, I feel like I excel more in the 800 and that is a race in which I feel more comfortable. It is what I practice the most and it is where I achieve the most success.
Q: A notorious debate amongst track athletes is which event is the toughest to run. Can you make a statement for either the 400 or 800?
PIMENTEL: Definitely! I feel like it really depends on the person because both are tough, but I have more fun with the 400. The 400 is much quicker so I have less time to think and I get to just run. For me personally, I feel like the 800 is by far the most difficult. The 800 is double the distance which means that there is that much more time in which you can think. I can finish my races and talk to my mom for 10 minutes about every thought that went through my head at every point in the race. The 800 not only tests you mentally but physically as well. While the 400 is a race in which you run until your butt burns; the 800 encompasses the concepts of running until your butt burns, until you can’t breathe and until your mind tells you to quit but then you have to keep running. I would say that the 800 is much more of a tactical race as well. Whether I have a race plan or not, I never come out of a race running a race in which I planned. Every race is different and you never know what to expect, and I think that is some of what makes it difficult as well.
Q: As a freshman, you made it to the NCAA Division II Championships as a member of the 4x400 relay team. Coming into that season, did you think you would have a place on a team that finished as All-American?
PIMENTEL: Not at all. Coming in as a first year, I was not even sure if I would make the women’s track and field team. I had to practice with amazing athletes like Jackie “Boo” Rose and Kelly Fogarty. Everyone was fast and it was a challenge to excel. My goal was to just PR, as I was told by several people not to be disappointed if I did not because it was very rare if a first year did improve. That was all it took. The challenge was accepted and I was determined to break the mold, as I was able to witness my other teammates accomplish the same. Eventually, when I was put on the 4x4 "A" team, I was terrified. I was running with all of the fast upper classman and they all wanted a medal at Cal-Nevada (Championships). Long story short, each race I ran with the 4x400 team, I ran so I would not disappoint my teammates or myself. I had no idea that nationals were a realistic goal let alone finishing the season as an All-American.
Q: During your freshman campaign, who were the upperclassmen that helped mold you into who you are today as a runner?
PIMENTEL: I have had several teammates and friends help mold me into the runner that I am today. Jackie “Boo” Rose and Kelly Fogarty definitely paved a realistic path. I was able to see them break all of the typical track and field stereotypes and I figured that if they could do it, then why couldn’t I? I watched as they competed and as they improved. The common pattern was hard work and a strong drive to achieve. Aside from them being outstanding role models, my 4x4 team (Boo, Deyna Robinson and Lauren Irish) adopted me and pushed me to try hard in every practice. One of my best friends, Lorato Anderson, also took me under her wing and brought me into her family of track friends, all of whom encouraged me and helped me keep a level head. Lorato and I have been able to work very well together, as each of our strengths is the counter’s weakness. She has always been very supportive and will be a friend that I will really miss at the end of this year.
Q: Now as a junior, you are looked upon by your teammates to be a leader. How have you handled that responsibility, and are you a vocal leader or someone who leads by example?
PIMENTEL: It is a strange concept for me to think of myself as a leader as I sometimes feel like I am still the little freshman. Although, I have always cheered on and supported my teammates, it was originally odd for me get questions from the lower classmen about how to run or “what to do about fear” before a race. I had to realize that I also had to approach the lowerclassmen and begin the conversation, as some found me to be this intimidating person (I thought the same about the upperclassmen when I was younger). I definitely have continued to be myself and I feel like I am both a little bit of a vocal leader and one that leads by example. I like vocalizing how hard everyone is working or when people are slacking as well as praising each person for their individual accomplishments. In return I also work very hard and I try to be a role model that they can all look up to.
Q: The UCSD track and field team is a pretty tight-knit group. For a sport that is often categorized as individual in nature, how do you and your teammates foster that team aspect?
PIMENTEL: All of the captains are pretty close and we try to throw team bonding events with the entire team. Once track season begins we plan pasta feeds every Friday and that also allows us all to interact with each and every event. I feel like the team integration really happens by the tone that the upperclassmen create as well. UC San Diego’s track and field team is unlike anything that I have ever experienced. Everyone works hard because everyone wants to be a part of the team and since everyone is working hard, we all want each other to improve. It is kind of a cyclic routine. When your teammates improve, you improve, and we all cheer each other on because when someone succeeds and reaches there goal, it creates this energy in which everyone begins to not only work for themselves but also for each other. When you are tired and doubting yourself, it feels good to know that others believe in you and will carry you off the track if needed.
Q: The CCAA Championships are May 1-3 here at Triton Track & Field Stadium. What will it mean to you and the team to compete in a championship event on your home track?
PIMENTEL: It means a lot. The energy is high this year and everyone wants the win. The whole team has been working hard and we have all been striving to reach the same common goal. Since the meet is home, I feel like the team feels this sense of urgency and pride. It is our track, and we need to own it.
Q: With the CCAA Championships right around the corner, what are your individual goals for that meet, as well as the team's overall goal?
PIMENTEL: Individually, I would like to win all of the races I am placed into and to score as many points for my team as possible. As for my team, the goal is to win conference. The team is looking good and like I said, the energy is very high. It is a realistic goal, and I am very excited to see everyone compete.
Q: On your bio you list your future plan to attend medical school and to become an anesthesiologist. When did your desire to go into that field enter into your mind, and what about it excites you?
PIMENTEL: I have always felt a need or drive to help people, and when my dad got sick my junior year of high school, and received the best medical support that he could, I realized what I wanted to do. Through some of the job-shadowing opportunities in the operating room, as well as through my job as an RA (resident advisor), I have realized how gratifying it is to give back to people.
Q: What do you do to get motivated in your pre-race routine?
PIMENTEL: It kind of depends on the meet. Some of the time I listen to Matchbox 20 and I talk it out with some of my teammates. It also helps me to visualize my race. I visualize my race over and over again in my head and play it out with the outcome that I would like and I embrace the feelings of nervousness, satisfaction and accomplishment.
Q: You have effectively booked your ticket to the NCAA Championships again this year, and for the first time in your short career, the championships will not be in Pueblo, Colo. Instead, they will be held in Allendale, Mich. Are you looking forward to a change of scenery?
PIMENTEL: Actually, it makes me kind of sad that nationals are in Michigan this year. My family lives in Colorado and for the past two years it has been a really good goal for me to reach so that my family could watch me compete. The change will be different but I know that the support will still be there in spirit. Sometimes change is good and it will definitely be a new adventure this time around.
Q: With the season coming to a close, what would you say would validate some success for you as an individual?
PIMENTEL: I have improved my time this year so I am pleased. However, I would definitely like to leave this season with a bang and with a feeling of accomplishment so another PR would be great. I would also like to win my events in conference and I would love to earn another All-America honor this year at nationals. Top three would be great and maybe even first. Why not?
Previous Triton Q&A Features
Nick La Face (Baseball) April 3, 2014
Emily McQuaid (Softball) March 27, 2014
Sarah Lizotte (Women's Water Polo) March 19, 2014
Nicholas Korth (Men's Swimming) March 2, 2014
Megan Perry (Women's Basketball) January 13, 2014
Sandy Hon (Women's Swimming) December 30, 2013
Drew Dyer (Men's Basketball) November 26, 2013
Kameron Cooper (Women's Volleyball) October 28, 2013
Rachel Leslie (Women's Soccer) October 9, 2013
Marie Diaz (Women's Cross Country/Track & Field) October 1, 2013
Joe Dietrich (Men's Water Polo) September 2, 2013
Josh Cohen (Men's Soccer) August 23, 2013
Sara McCutchan (Women's Volleyball) August 9, 2013
Kellen Levy (Men's Cross Country/Track & Field) July 26, 2013
Izzy Pozurama (Women's Soccer) July 8, 2013
Colin Truex (Women's Crew Head Coach) June 28, 2013