AUBURN – Summer’s here, and the time is right for many overly aggressive parents to push their bored kids in the direction of somebody’s dream.

Whether it’s a litany of sports camps, a week of 12-hour shifts mowing neighborhood lawns or a parade of piano and voice lessons, many students maintain a busier schedule in July and August than their teachers ever thought of imposing in October or January.

Christie Bernier figures it’s called “vacation” for a reason. Her parents agree. And you won’t meet any soon-to-be high school sophomore who has more clearly earned the right to soak up some rays.

“I’m kind of burned-out,” Bernier admitted.

Let’s see, all Bernier did over the last three months of her freshman year at Edward Little High School was win a Nike Indoor National racewalking championship, earn All-America status and participate in the famed Penn Relays.

Oh, and she also went undefeated in the state high school season while cruising to a Class A individual state championship.

Bernier walked dozens of miles and rode in a van for hundreds more, easily justifying her decision to back away from the spotlight for a few weeks.

“Few” being the operative word. Bernier began limited workouts with personal coach Tom Menendez last week in preparation for an August road race in Hauppauge, N.Y.

“It’s either a 3-(kilometer) or a 5K. I qualified for both in my age group,” Bernier said of the United States vs. Canada meet. “It’s a street course, so I can decide to do a couple more loops if I want. It’s more older people. There aren’t many (student athletes) signed up.”

Older, bigger and stronger competition doesn’t seem to bother Bernier much. She defeated mostly 16, 17 and 18-year-olds to win the one-mile walk in March at the Nike Indoor Nationals in Landover, Md.

She tackled a similar field in the Penn Relays on April 28, finishing sixth in the junior group in the 5K.

“That was fun,” Bernier said of the annual meet at the University of Pennsylvania. “It came right in the middle of the high school season. I trained a lot harder for the (nationals).”

With the exception of daily practices and weekly meets with the EL team, Bernier steered clear of the concentrated, core workouts she learned from Menendez over the winter. Although she qualified for the U.S. Outdoor Nationals in Indiana and Nike Outdoor Nationals in North Carolina, Bernier skipped them.

“It’s not the travel. I like the travel. It’s a lot of fun. It was the workouts,” Bernier said. “They’re kind of repetitive. I think my body needed the rest.”

“At 14 years old, she needs to slow down,” agreed Bernier’s father, Bob, “and let her body catch up.”

Part of that relaxed, summer pace involves conveying her knowledge to the next wave of potential Edward Little racewalkers.

Bernier spends an hour training with Menendez on Monday and Wednesday afternoons before turning her attention to youngsters ages 6 to 14 in the Auburn Recreation track and field program.

“Most of them will be getting to EL after I leave. I want to leave something behind,” Bernier said. “By the time I’m out of high school, hopefully there will be a bunch of kids racewalking. Look at the state meet and all the points we got just from the racewalk.”

Bernier led three EL walkers in the six scoring positions at the Class A showcase earlier this month. Teresa Ranucci finished second and Katy Williams sixth. That group earned 20 of the Red Eddies’ 71 team points, or the difference between fifth and a tie for second.

Sara Adams and Tyler Campbell of Lisbon and Matt Forgues of Boothbay have accompanied Bernier to most of her national competitions.

“You hear about racewalkers and people probably think we’re a bunch of geeks,” Bernier said, “but everybody’s pretty cool.”

Bernier isn’t forsaking other sports to fuel her racewalking success, either. She will transition from the race in Long Island directly into soccer season.

“It’s good cross-training, and it keeps me in shape for winter,” she said. “I used to run cross country, but I got bored just running.”


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