Running sets pace for Zielinskis

  • Mary Zielinski, right, started running as a hobby, but it became something special she shares with her daughter Sarah.
By Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

BOONSBORO-Mary and Sarah Zielinski are having the time of their lives.

Each is a competitive runner in her own right, but the sport has put a whole new twist to their mother-daughter relationship.

The act of logging miles has given them a special bond that only they share.

They engage in those private conversations that most parents only wish they could have with their kids. They inspire each other to try harder. Neither wants to let the other down.

And yes, they are in competition with each other.

Nowhere-outside of maybe the opening sequence of "60 Minutes"-has a ticking stopwatch had so much impact. This mother and her 14-year-old daughter from Boonsboro enjoy the moments-and seconds-that come as competitive runners.

"In the beginning, I was running but it wasn't so much to be with Sarah," Mary said. "I would go out and run eight miles and come back after six to run the final two with her. She was whining because I was going too fast.


She was just learning, but I didn't want to push her." Still, it was an opportunity to get to know her daughter. Mary and her husband, Paul, live on the outskirts of Boonsboro, raising Sarah along with sons Nick, 13, and Jacob, 10, and daughter Katie, 8.

"It was good because when you run with someone, you talk. That was good because I think it was important because high school is a rough time. You want to know what is going on in their lives and now she was a captive audience. It is more fun to talk while you are running. It's different. My next two children are boys and they don't talk much." In the process, Mary, 44, may have gotten more than she bargained for from the oldest of her four children. In fact, she may have created a monster.

Sarah has taken her mother's interest in distance running to become an up-and-coming star as a freshman on the Boonsboro track and cross country teams.

Last fall, she placed 13th at the Maryland Class 1A State Cross Country Championships, and then placed third in the state in the 3,200 in indoor track.

"Now I can't keep up with her," Mary said. "I'm not sure if I can help her anymore." Innocently, it didn't start out that way.

Mary, who competed for one year on her high school cross country team, started running for the most basic of reasons.

"I started running in 2003 for fitness and weight loss and then for sanity," Mary said. "Honestly, I opened the door one day and I saw a UPS guy and a woman running and they were both fit. I figured that I didn't have time to drive a truck. It's still a release and a relief." Then, Mary's competitive nature took over.

In her first year, she ran two marathons and the JFK 50 Mile. She has since competed in several events, including a 100-mile race in Ohio which she plans to run for a third time this summer.

While Mary was out there working, an 8-year-old Sarah caught the running bug.

"I saw Mom running and it looked like fun and I wanted to do it," Sarah said. "(Becky Walter, the Boonsboro track coach and one of Mary's running buddies) said I could do it and I could make varsity. I said, 'Cool.'" The first step was to get Sarah to take her first steps.

"Sarah joined the Knight Striders, a feeder program for Middletown High School," Mary said. "But then our other kids started playing soccer and it made it tough to get her there for practices, so I told her that she could run with me and we would do races together." Mary targeted the 2005 Turkey Trot as her daughter's "coming out party." For Mary, it was to be a leisurely 5K run with her daughter, coming shortly after finishing the JFK.

"We got out there and my jaw dropped," Mary said. "In the second mile, I was begging her to slow down." And with that, the friendly, loving competition was on.

"I like going out there and running with Mom. It's fun," Sarah said. "I have that with her. The other part is I'm faster than her now and she is the one doing the whining." Mary admits she is better at longer races. Sarah admits part of her drive comes from beating the standards that her mother had set before her.

"I kept teasing her in cross country, that we'd go head-to-head in a 5K," Mary said. "I'm not a 5K runner. At the Turkey Trot last year, I told her my PR (personal record) and she slaughtered it. We didn't know she was that good. I started to embellish times to give her something to aim for, but now I can't compete. I can only beat her in distance races." Sarah is planning to invade her mother's turf, though.

"I want to try to do the things she is doing sometime, if I get insane enough," she said. "I want to run marathons and run in the 100-mile races. I want to beat her times, but I think it would be fun." Running has added an aspect to Mary's family life she never really anticipated.

"It didn't matter what Sarah did. It could be running or band (she is in both). It gives her a group of friends to be with and stay out of trouble.

They watch out for each other," Mary said. "I hope our running set a base for Sarah. I can't be her mommy all through high school. She still runs with me at times-if she wants to run longer distances-and if she can do well and gets a scholarship, that would be nice. But I will miss running with her." In the end, Sarah has won more than just her personal competitions with her mom.

"I got the chance to run and talk with her and not be like a regular teenager who just goes 'Uh'" Sarah said while making a pushing away motion.

"I'll still try to run with her. I'd like to run in college and maybe become a coach. If I do that, it will all be because of my mom. I don't think I would have started it all without her."

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