After the whirlwind of her 2011 outdoor season, it was once again decision time for Steph - this time where she would train and who would coach her. Steph trusted her instincts by sticking with her coach from UVA and followed her to Knoxville, Tennessee where she had accepted a new coaching position at another school. Training as a solo professional without a group, Steph quickly realized that she needed the peer support to push her limits. A bubbly, social person, Steph felt deflated and uninspired in Knoxville. This wasn't the right fit. Before long, Steph moved to Indianapolis to try another group, but unfortunately, the team dynamic she had hoped for just did not click. Steph became discouraged and started to doubt the leap of faith she had made when she decided to run professionally.
“I saw my UVA teammates and classmates who were done with running thrive in their careers and meanwhile, I was still getting up every day to go to practice,” Steph says. “I struggled to convince myself that my running was worthwhile. I was good enough, but I wasn’t great. It was really hard to handle that and figure out how to overcome it.”
Luckily, after a mediocre outdoor season in 2013, Steph agreed to run the elite mile at the New Balance Falmouth Road Race in August. She had no idea she’d find her spark again in the small New England town.
At the race, Steph met another competitor who was training in Furman, South Carolina, in newly-formed group for designed for post-collegians running professionally, based at Furman University. Steph listened intently about what it was like training under their coach, Robert Gary. At a crossroads in her career, Steph’s interest was piqued.
“I knew Robert Gary was an established steeple coach and that he coached my fellow NB teammate, Nicole Bush, to her U.S. title, but I had never considered it,” says Garcia. “I was excited to learn more about the club.”
Following the race, Steph visited Robert Gary in Furman and knew that she had finally found her place. She clicked with her teammates right away and was inspired by Robert Gary’s vision for her – it was a perfect fit.
“I immediately fell in love with the group and knew it was the game changer I had been looking for,” Steph explains. “I knew this was my last chance to make running work, so when Robert invited me to come down, I completely committed to the program.”
When Steph moved to Furman in September, she made big lifestyle changes to improve her all-around training, including sleeping more, eating better and she also began practicing yoga as a way to gain strength and also relieve stress. Running became her life, not just something she did. She was truly going for it.
“I just 100% bought into the program and showed myself this was worthwhile,” Steph says. “It didn’t matter that I didn’t have a corporate career. I was pursuing my dreams and that’s what really mattered.”
Stephanie’s hard work didn’t go unnoticed. Her teammate Heidi Gregson explains that she felt Steph’s energy contribute to the group’s overall momentum right away.
“Stephanie is a very solid training partner and her biggest strength is showing up to training ready to give 100% and work hard,” says Gregson. “Stephanie is a go-getter in all areas of her life, not just running. We excel because of people who are passionate, hard-working and dedicated – and Stephanie definitely fits this mold.”
After a solid stretch of base training in the fall of 2014, Steph approached her 2014 outdoor season refreshed, confident and hungry for a PR. With each race, Steph steadily improved and ended up placing third in the 3,000m steeplechase at the U.S. Championships. If it had been a championship year (meaning there was an international championship in the late summer), Steph would have made the world team.
Finally, she was back.
“At that time, I felt like I was finally living up to the potential I knew I had,” says Steph. “I had lost touch since my 2011 season so it felt good to hit times I knew I was capable of.”
This year, Garcia continued to build on the momentum from her 2014 season and absolutely exploded onto the scene this outdoor season. To earn a spot on the U.S. team for the World Championships in August, American track and field athletes must achieve two things – a world “A” standard mark in their respective event and finish in the top three at the U.S. Championships this weekend. With most athletes specializing in a single distance, there are few distance runners who have the “A” standard in more than one event. Leading up to the U.S. Championships, Steph not only captured the “A” standard in the steeple, but also the 1,500m and 5,000m. With three qualifying marks, Steph established herself as one of the biggest threats on the track this season as the only American distance runner to have three standards.
“I didn’t even know what the ‘A’ standard was in the 5000m, that’s how far off my radar it was,” she says. “I used to struggle with only being a steeplechaser, but now I feel like a good runner, not just a good steeplechase runner. To come into this year and achieve the standards across multiple distances has given me a lot of confidence for my overall fitness.”