Sara Slattery’s return to Ahwatukee Foothills in the fall of 2012 was both out of love and need.
Not only did the Mountain Pointe Hall of Famer love the area despite finding a good life in Colorado after college, her father, Terry Gorton, the man whose work ethic she credits as driving her running career, was ill.
Instead of being away in a time of need and longing for the quaint foothills near South Mountain, Slattery and her husband, Steve, made their way back to Arizona.
“The timing was just right,” she said. “I always loved the area, and I’d come back in the winters and train here. I was pregnant and something was pulling me back. It was the right decision, and we love being part of the community here.”
It wasn’t long after that they had their first child, Stevie.
Terry died on June 18, 2013.
During this period Slattery, a 10-time state champion in cross country and track, took some time away from competitive running, but that desire has bubbled back to the top.
Slattery, 33, is returning to form, hitting up 10ks and half-marathons, with the hopes of qualifying for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Los Angeles in February.
Running looks to be a solitary venture, but the truth is when outside influences are the motivation for putting one foot in front of the other rarely is a runner alone.
When Slattery is out there running, whether it is South Mountain, Kiwanis Park or along the canals, she is building her level of fitness, but it is much more than that for the two-time NCAA Champion at Colorado.
She is running to keep her Dad proud, trying to show her children – 2-year-old Stevie and 3-month-old Cali – that dreams never have to stop being chased and taking advantage of the fact that she has a renewed appreciation of running.
“My Dad was always my biggest cheerleader and motivator,” she said. “I want to get back out there to make him proud. He gave me my work ethic. He and my mom were very hard workers. I miss him a lot and when I am running he is always on my mind.”
And when he isn’t, it’s usually the kids at the forefront of her mind.
“I don’t use headphones,” Slattery said. “I love it. It’s my time, my time to think. There are so many distractions during the day. It’s a time I can actually think about my family and kids.
“I don’t care what they do in their lives, but I want them to work hard at whatever they do, good at whatever they do and be passionate about it.”
And she is attempting to show them what all that is about.
“I am really excited about training and running again,” she said. “There was a time where I lost the love of running. Injuries and frustration just wore me down. Now I am enjoying it again, really pushing myself. At 33, I am not young anymore, but I am ready to go out and compete.”
The next step
To qualify for the Marathon Trials, she has to finish a half-marathon under 1 hour and 15 minutes or a marathon in 2 hours and 43 minutes.
It’s something completely within reach for Slattery, who won the Phoenix Rock-n-Roll half marathon in 2012 in one hour and 16.24 seconds.
“Someone like Sara is so talented,” said Steve Slattery, her husband and coach. “That talent doesn’t go away. She is healthy and focused. She will be ready to do the Olympic Marathon Trials. That’s the goal.”
Slattery has had plenty of success at the highest level as she won the 10,000-meter run at the Pan American Games in 2007, setting a Games record time.
The following year she was the USA champion over 8 kilometers and just missed an Olympic spot by one place in the 5,000 meter after a fourth-place finish at the Olympic Trials in 2008.
“It was a little tough mentally after that,” she said. “You set that top goal for so long and then you fall just short. It was struggle to go out and run a little bit after that. It was more of a job, and I wasn’t enjoying it.”
Since then, injuries and life kept her from being an elite runner, but now Slattery is ready to give her Olympic goals another attempt.
“I have to get my butt going,” she said. “My kids make me want to work harder for them, and I am trying to be a good mom and accomplish my personal goals at the same time.”
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