Editor's Note: This story appears in the October 2009 Houston issue of ESPN RISE Magazine
Sarah Andrews desperately wanted to rip open the five-foot-tall box standing in her front hall to find out what goodies awaited inside. She had waited a month for this particular box, and when it arrived weighing so much that she could barely lift it, her curiosity went into overdrive.
There was only one problem. The Woodlands (The Woodlands, Texas) senior couldn't open the mystery box for 12 more hours.
Andrews had promised her parents and little sister that when this box arrived she would wait for them before tearing into it. She knew it contained her Team USA apparel for the 2009 Pan American Junior Championships, which showcased many of the world's top young track and field athletes. What Andrews couldn't figure out was why the box was so big.
"When I got fitted, I tried on a singlet and shorts," Andrews says. "I thought I would get that and maybe some T-shirts."
With her family circled around, Andrews finally cut open the box at 10 p.m. and found it was filled to the brim with more red, white and blue Nike apparel than she'd ever imagined. There was a massive USA suitcase in addition to a USA backpack, sweatshirts and sweatpants, a warm-up outfit and rain gear, singlets and shorts, and enough T-shirts for her entire family.
"It was like Christmas in July," Andrews says. "It's weird because I felt like I was on the Olympic team with all the official USA gear."
While she hasn't reached the Olympic level yet, Andrews is certainly on the right path. She is already one of the nation's top distance runners and continues to push herself to new heights.
Since winning the Class 5A 3,200-meter state championship in track as a sophomore, Andrews has been on a tear. As a junior, she won the 5A cross country state title, finished second at Nike Cross Nationals, and then won the 1,600- and 3,200-meter track state titles in the spring. She also led The Woodlands girls' squad to its first team cross country state title since 1989 and was named the Houston Chronicle Girls' Athlete of the Year for both cross county and track.
The most unnerving news for her opponents: Andrews looks better than ever.
"She has worked about as hard as anybody I've ever been around," The Woodlands track and cross country coach Noel Hansen says. "There are not that many people at this point who can jump in and run with her."
Andrews proved that over the summer when she finished second in the 5,000-meter race at the U.S. Junior Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Eugene, Ore., which qualified her for the Pan Am Juniors in Trinidad and Tobago from July 31 to Aug. 2. She beat 13 other girls to earn the spot, advancing to her first international meet at the tail end of the longest track season of her career.
Andrews had been training daily for seven months leading up to the Pan Am meet. She could feel her body starting to break down from the constant pounding of running, but she wasn't going to let this unique opportunity pass her by.
"I was blessed to race well [at the U.S. Junior Outdoor Championships], and I felt like it wasn't an opportunity I could pass up," Andrews says. "Any time you can get on the international scene it's a good thing."
Andrews proved she still had some gas in the tank at the Pan Am meet, winning the 5,000 in a time of 16:42.38 to finish five seconds clear of second place.
Now that she has experienced an international track event, Andrews wants to make it a regular occurrence. She hopes to compete professionally after college and has her sights set on eventually making the Olympics. To get there, Andrews is looking for a college program that will turn her potential into world-class production.
"Right now the biggest step is finding the school and team and coach to prepare myself for after college," says Andrews, who was still wide open on her college choice as of press time. "I want to find a school that has had success with their athletes long term so I can continue my career post-collegiately."
As always, Andrews will turn to her older sister, Hilary, for advice on college. Hilary ran at Baylor before injuries forced her to quit, and she has been one of the driving influences on Sarah's running career.
Growing up, Sarah would follow her older sister on runs. Hilary, in turn, would test her younger sibling to see how tough of a runner she was. Hilary quickly realized there was no quit in her sister.
"We would go on runs, and being the competitive older sister I would try to drop her," says Hilary, now a junior at Baylor. "I remember she was hurt one day and I was trying to drop her, but she was still sticking on me the whole way."
While Hilary was trying to leave her sister in the dust, Sarah was learning how to race. When she was a freshman and Hilary was a senior at The Woodlands, the younger Andrews realized that by sticking with her older sister she was also sticking close to the lead. The next step was taking it, which is exactly what Sarah learned to do.
When her sister graduated, Andrews started setting the tempo at practice and in races. She still pushes her own limits during training sessions and pushes her opponents' limits during races. But there is still another step to take.
"When I was younger, I saw states as the biggest meet," Andrews says. "Last year I realized that there are a lot bigger meets than that out there. I've kind of shifted my focus to a bigger scale, which is important for transitioning into college and preparing for the future."
A future when receiving packages overflowing with USA apparel is no longer a surprise.
Brian A. Giuffra covers high school sports for ESPN RISE Magazine.