Now what?

Edward Little High School freshman Christie Bernier and her splendid support team eventually will sit down at a kitchen table, answer that loaded question and solve that happy problem.

For now, however, everyone has earned the right to revel in the fast facts from a whirlwind weekend in the shadows of the nation’s capital and in the heart of the Big Apple. Bernier is a track and field All-American. National champion, in fact. And let’s not forget the most head-spinning part of that equation: She’s only 14.

“I’ve been training for this exact event for about six months,” Bernier said Monday. “It was my goal at the beginning of the season. It feels great. Definitely a lot of hard work paid off.”

Fifteen seconds ahead of her seeded time and nearly four seconds in front of her closest competition, Bernier captured the one-mile racewalk Saturday at the Nike Indoor Nationals in Landover, Md.

Bernier was the only national champion in a Maine delegation that won five medals and five All-American distinctions at either the Nike competition or Sunday’s National Scholastic Indoor meet in New York City. Lisbon High School sophomore Tyler Campbell was an All-American in both events.

“I really wanted to finish in the top six and be an All-American,” said Bernier. “I did not expect to win at all.”

Another surprise awaited Bernier, a relative rookie compared to the juniors and seniors in her race.

When Bernier heard the cheers of her father, Bob, and coach Tom Menendez after she crossed the wire in a personal record 7 minutes, 58.93 seconds, she assumed they might be celebrating a silver medal.

The crowd already knew better, thanks to the public address announcer’s update that runaway leader Leah Buletti of New York had been disqualified for illegal technique.

“Christie had her hands on her knees and was huffing and puffing, looking like she was beaten,” Menendez said. “She asked me, ‘Was I second or third?’ And I said, ‘Second or third? Sweetie, you were first.’ She jumped up with so much energy it was like she hadn’t walked at all.”

In a January conversation on a outdoor track, Menendez asked Bernier what she wanted to set for a time goal at nationals.

Undaunted by the mix of rain and snow and the gusty winds, Bernier threw out a milestone minus one: 7:59. Menendez encouraged her to shoot for 7:58, to erase any doubts of a legitimate, sub-eight minute mile.

“She got me those extra seven-hundredths,” Menendez said. “Those are big.”

Bernier spent the first three circuits of her eight-lap race shaking the requisite nerves and sizing up the competition.

“I was pretty much dead last,” she said. “Then I just went for it.”

Racewalking remains a niche event in high school track and field. In Maine, it is sanctioned only in spring, prompting its small but close-knit group of athletes to log long miles during the snowy months.

Prior to her breakthrough at nationals, Bernier attended racewalking camp in Texas as a Christmas gift from her parents. She also competed against college athletes and former Olympians at weekend meets in Boston.

Bernier met Menendez at a local track camp three years ago. This winter, she trained with him two days per week and gutted her way through speed and strength workouts on her own.

Spring season at EL will give Bernier extra time to hone tricky racewalking techniques and compete against her in-state peers. She also has an open invitation to the Penn Relays and is qualified for the U.S. Outdoor Nationals in Indiana and the Nike Outdoor Nationals in North Carolina.

Menendez is cautious about putting too much, too soon on his pupil’s plate.

“I’m not going to say she is a future Olympian yet. I’m going to wait three or four years before I even go there,” said the coach. “God only knows what will happen.”

Bernier is far from developing tunnel vision. She is not sure how long her career will extend past high school. “I think college will be mostly about getting an education,” she said. “I don’t even know what I want to do (with my life) yet.”

For now, Bernier fits nicely into a racewalking tradition that burns far from the hotbeds of Texas, Ohio and New York. Maine’s history since 1993 includes an Olympian (Kevin Eastler of Farmington) and now 131 All-American awards won by 43 boys and girls from 24 different high schools.

“She has some great footsteps to follow,” said Menendez, “and I have a feeling that she will leave some of her own.”


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