Cross CountrySports

Parker Stinson forges a new path in cross country

As any newly minted University student can attest, adjusting to life in Eugene takes time. For Oregon distance runner Parker Stinson, the 2010 cross country season was definitely a period in which he was forced to acclimate quickly. It wasn’t that the Austin, Texas, native was uncomfortable calling the Pacific Northwest home. Like most talented freshmen joining Oregon’s program, Stinson was simply straining to find a role for himself in a program filled with top performers from around the world.

“Being a freshman is tough, especially at our program where there are so many big caliber athletes,” Oregon senior and seven-time All-American Matthew Centrowitz says. “So he kind of was thrown in the mix with everyone last year.”@@[email protected]@

(Aaron Marineau/Oregon Daily Emerald)

Stinson stands as the only three-time U.S. junior champion in the 10,000 meters — ever. And while the decorated prep runner measures only 5-foot-8, his grandiose personality made him a major presence on the team [email protected]@[email protected]@

“Parker was a pretty outspoken freshman, which you don’t see in many freshman, so he was obviously confident in himself,” Centrowitz says. “A lot of times, that’s a good trait to have coming into college. He looked a lot different than most incoming freshmen.”

As a first-year collegian, Stinson didn’t just make an impression with his vocal nature; he had strong campaigns in both the fall and spring, becoming the only true freshman on the Oregon track team to run in three championship meets. According to Stinson, however, success on the oval came relatively easily. Cross country was what offered more of a challenge, both mentally and physically.

“Cross country has been a really tough event for me, a tough season,” Stinson says. “I just don’t seem to race very well. I’m always in good shape, but the races don’t go as well as I like.”

Last fall, Stinson had seemingly impressed everyone but himself. He felt that he was doing relatively well, but failing to translate strong showings in workouts to formal competition. To meet his own expectations for 2011, he searched for any competitive advantage that he thought would prove beneficial. So far this year, his work has paid off. He’s had team-leading finishes against top national competition at both the Bill Dellinger Invitational and the Wisconsin adidas [email protected]@[email protected]@

So, what was the edge that Stinson found? The answer may surprise you.

“I learned to take a lot of the stuff I learned last year in track, working with the sports psychologist Dr. Amy (Athey),” Stinson says. “Learning how to race a little better, a more pure way. It’s been working great. I had a great finish at the Dellinger and an even better performance at Wisconsin. Both of those felt easy. Not easy in that I could go faster, but easy in that I was just doing everything so right that the races just came very easily.”

Many athletes, and everyday people for that matter, attach a stigma to any type of psychological assistance. Stinson however, displayed maturity beyond his years in recognizing that the extra help would only benefit him in his quest to become a team leader and top national performer.

“I feel like that stuff gets a bad rap sometimes,” Stinson says. “I’m not a head case; I wasn’t freaking out. It’s like if someone has weak upper body, they’re going to go work on their upper body to help them in the race. It’s the same thing. I just felt like she could help me maximize my performance in these races.”

How is Athey giving Stinson a boost? More or less, she’s helping him tie up the loose ends that can make all the difference in races that sometimes come down to a fraction of a second.

“Just little things,” Stinson says. “Like, in a workout you would never think about falling off. It doesn’t even come to your head as an option — it’s not even an option. I thought about that in a race. When you’re at that key point with somebody, don’t even allow yourself to think about it. Don’t even think about beating them, just think, ‘I am not going to lose them.’ Just those things that help you stay in the moment.”

Oregon senior Luke Puskedra — a nine-time All-American in his own right — says that some of the world’s greatest track stars have began to open minds about the mental nature of competitive [email protected]@[email protected]@

“(Marathon runner) Alberto Salazar, all those guys (in the Nike Oregon Project) see a sports psychologist,” Puskedra says. “I think it’s really revolutionizing the way you look at a result; because most of the time it’s just easy to compare (your times to your teammate’s or opponent’s). In basketball and football you can’t compare results as easily.”@@[email protected]@

“This year (Stinson’s) been kind of coming into his own and instead of comparing himself to other people’s training, just being very happy and content with what he’s doing. Which he definitely should be with all the hard work he’s putting in.”

Puskedra maintains that small setbacks simply don’t affect Stinson as much anymore. Although Athey has been helpful, an additional year of experience may have been a big factor as well. Both Puskedra and Centrowitz have noticed Stinson shifting to a leadership role as the program welcomes another talented freshman class this season.

“With him being a sophomore, it’s kind of crazy to think,” Puskedra says. “Just his presence, you’d think that he’s a junior or senior.”

Centrowitz agrees that Stinson has a bright future with the Ducks.

“He’s finding his own way and setting his own little path,” Centrowitz says. “He’s one of those kids where he’s first to show up and definitely last to leave. That’s something I admire in him and he’s definitely a hard worker, so all the hard work is definitely starting to come together for him in his sophomore year.”

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