Marshall teen takes second place in Junior Olympics cross country race

| Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Success runs in the family of Marshall Township resident Marianne Abdalah, who had a second-place finish in the USA Track and Field National Junior Olympics Cross Country Championships in Albuquerque, N.M.

Abdalah finished the 4K for 13- and 14-year-old girls race on Dec. 8 in 14 minutes and 40 seconds, just 15 seconds behind first-place finisher Mary Bell of Sacramento, California.

“I was in fourth for most of the time trying to hold onto the first pack,” Abdalah said. “I saw that they were slowing down, so I started to pick it up towards the end. I got the girl in third on the hill. After that, I caught the girl that was in second, and I went into second on the finishing straight away.”

Although the hilly slopes of Pennsylvania gave Abdalah the advantage on the hill, she still had to battle with terrain ranging from gravel to sand pits, in addition to an altitude of 5,312 feet.

“The spots that were probably the most challenging were the sand traps” said Abdalah, 13, an eighth-grader at Marshall Middle School. “You had to try harder to maintain your footing because you felt like you were slipping, sinking almost.”

Abdalah's former race experience as a part of the Wings of Moon Track Club and North Allegheny's middle school cross country team helped her break through the obstacles to a strong finish that resulted in her receiving her silver medal from the 2012 men's 1500m track Olympic silver medalist, Leo Manzano.

“It was actually very exciting, and it was kind of ironic that he got second, too,” Abdalah said about the athlete with whom she shares a Mexican background. “It felt special to me. It was really nice to meet someone else who was a good distance runner and worked hard to get where he is today.”

Rene, Abdalah's brother competed in the boy's midget division for 11- and 12-year-olds in the Junior Olympics. He placed 14th in the 3K race with 11 minutes and 44 seconds. With a late birthday, the 11-year-old constantly is competing with older runners, which makes his success that much more meaningful.

“I think next year, I'm predicting that he has a good shot at winning the district or regionals and potentially medaling at the national level when he goes back into that age group,” said Kim Abdalah, the siblings' mother. “A lot of the kids that beat him were 12, so that does make a difference when you are the younger of the age group. So he ran really well, and he is going to continue running.”

The entire family is going to continue running in some fashion. Kim Abdalah and her husband, Dr. Marvin Abdalah, have retired from racing and now train all three of their children. They both ran cross country in college for Wheeling Jesuit in West Virginia.

“It was always just something that we did like a family thing,” Kim Abdalah said. “When we'd go out and train, and they have workouts and stuff, we are normally doing it with them. Now that they are getting a little bit faster than us, they have to give us a head start. My husband's trying to catch them, but we do our workouts as a family. I think that's what makes it enjoyable for them because they've seen that we've done it. They see that we still try to do it, and they actually kind of like that they are beating us.”

Marianne Abadalah's parents spent a lot of time training her before she became successful.

“Ironically, when Marianne started, we weren't quite sure,” her mother said. “We had to teach her from the ground up where to put her feet and her arms. We weren't sure, and now, after all these years, just with helping her learn how to do certain things, she's gotten to be a really good runner. She's actually faster than I was in college. It's amazing to see.”

Brittany Goncar is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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