Camas runner sets sights on new goals

Efraimson running toward state with renewed focus

By Candace Buckner, Columbian staff writer

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CAMAS -- Alexa Efraimson leaps from her couch and calls out for help.

Just moments earlier, she was imitating a Saturday slacker, snuggled in a Stanford Invitational T-shirt, her hair hanging loosely in a ponytail as she relaxed and shelved the idea of studying for an AP Biology exam.

Efraimson, the peerless Camas sophomore distance runner, crosses her arms and details the three events that she will compete in at the upcoming state track and field meet. Then, she thinks back to last year's epic Class 3A 800-meter race in which she finished in second place.

Asked about video footage of that race, Efraimson hesitates.

"I'm sure we can find it somewhere," she says.

Since that second-place finish last spring, Efraimson has raised her stock to become not only one of the best runners in the state of Washington, but also the nation. She began her sophomore year with cross-country glory in the fall by winning an individual and a team state title, and now she has saved her best kick for the track.

In March, she beat college women to take the 1,500-meter title at the Oregon Preview meet in Eugene, Ore. The next month, Efraimson set the bar for runners in Washington with a state-best 800 time of 2:09.63. Then on May 3, she toyed with the field in the Nike/Jesuit Twilight Relays and finished the 1,500 in 4:22.33 -- the fastest time in the nation this season.

Her baseline for success makes even her coaches gush like fans.

"Some day I can honestly say, 'she was on my track team!' " Camas girls coach Alisa Wise says, " 'I know that girl!' "

Efraimson's work ethic, detail to strategy and positive thinking are unmatched. While some athletes shirk away from distance events because of the cruel nature of the sport, Efraimson embraces the agony and stays in control.

She writes motivational messages to herself on full-length mirrors. She takes 10-minute torturous ice baths while the lyrics of "Hall of Fame" replay in her head. She keeps four journals dedicated to tracking nearly every one of her runs, and often watches replays of her meets so that she can draw lessons and spot mistakes in previous races.

But ask about 2012 state meet -- the last 800 race that she lost, against Glacier Peak's Amy-Eloise Neal -- and it appears that Efraimson has skipped one key training exercise. She has never watched the race.

Over the past 12 months, she could have looked online and found the video, but it appears that she never had the desire to relive that moment, that pain. However, through that disappointing day in Tacoma, Efraimson learned one of her greatest lessons.

"More than anything," her father Dan says, "the thing that has helped her and helped her drive is the fact that she doesn't want to be second again."

Driven to succeed

Efraimson skips into the family's living room towards the sounds of an NBA game playing on the television.

"Mom?" she calls out.

Since Alexa has no clue where to find last year's 800 race, she needs Chantel Efraimson's help to locate the footage.

Chantel -- hair pulled back and long-legged just like her oldest daughter -- could serve as scientific proof that cloning exists. She and Alexa always get the comment that they look alike, but besides her genes, Chantel has passed down much more.

She and Dan met while on the swim team at Linfield College. Although Dan's athletic career ended in McMinnville, Ore., Chantel got hooked on Ironman Triathlons. During her last one, Chantel suffered a stress fracture in her right knee and still ran the 26.2-mile marathon.

"The determination that she has and (has) conveyed to our kids," Dan says, "in Alexa, you see it in how she organizes herself and how she drives herself."

Efraimson grew up on the sidelines, holding posters and cheering on Mom. But by the time she hit sixth grade, she became the star athlete. She grew up as the fastest girl on her club soccer teams, so on the track she excelled in sprints and hurdles until accepting her true calling. In the eighth grade, Efraimson discovered distance events and the local running scene discovered her.

"She looks like a thoroughbred," Camas girls distance coach Karen Goritski says.

"I was speechless at times," former Camas cross country coach Michael Hickey remembers.

However, the skinny girl with the really strong legs did not simply rely on her athleticism. Efraimson quickly stood out in Camas for her singular drive to compete and win -- a trait that comes through during an extended conversation when she flashes contempt at the thought of underachieving.

"Just people who don't try their best," Efraimson says, "Like, 'what are you doing?' "

"When I'm in cross country, I realize that we all work so hard. And so, especially when you're accounted for (on) a team (in) cross country, you want to work that much harder."

She approached the 2012 state track meet the same way. She worked relentlessly, got in eight hours of sleep every night, and ate a carb-crazy diet. She controlled everything that she possibly could. Then, it was race time and Efraimson lost the control.

Reliving 'the race'

Efraimson has hustled back to the couch with a laptop in tow. She starts the video of the state showdown with Neale, the highly-decorated 3A runner who represented Great Britain at the 2013 World Junior Cross Country Championships.

The play-by-play announcer calls the action. As her rival moves up, so does Efraimson.

"So, going into this I knew that Amy would be huge competition," Efraimson says, her eyes fixated on the screen. "I knew I had to get out really fast."

The pair finishes the first lap and the bell rings. Only one more time around the circle, but the rest of the pack still lingers close behind, only a swinging ponytail separates them. Then, as the group gallops around the curve, Efraimson feels something on the back of her shoe. The voice on the video announces the mishap.

"Efraimson trips! But gathers herself enough. That's what happens when you have that tight pack, sometimes somebody gets you from behind."

She tells herself to forget it and just run.

"Because at that point," Efraimson says, "I don't want something that I cannot control (to) affect me. So I just went with her."

On the final stretch, Efraimson nearly has Neale. But she leans too early before the finish line and as Neale concludes in a 3A state-record winning time, Efraimson stumbles into second. On her knees, she strains for oxygen.

"It was heartbreaking, because we knew she wanted it, like, so bad," Chantel says, her voice breaking as she tries to stifle tears. "And uh -- yeah. It was tough."

Since then, Efraimson hasn't lost another high school race in the 800 or 1,600 -- the two individual events in which she will try to qualify for the state meet. Efraimson also will anchor the Camas 1,600 relay but will not get a rematch with Neale because Camas has moved up to the 4A classification.

Still, the 2012 state moment does not consume Efraimson. While the memories of the race may make her Iron Woman mom misty-eyed, Efraimson does not need to hold on to those sour feelings because she has already learned its lessons. Although she can't control everything, Efraimson continues to perfect what she can.

"I knew that I did my best and there was nothing else I could do," Efraimson says and realizes, "there's bigger things to come.

"So, there's no point in dwelling on the past."