For her first few competitive seasons, Jackie Areson of Delray Beach was unquestionably one of the best prep distance runners anywhere to not win most of her races. Now preparing for her senior year, Areson was the 2A State 800-meter champion as a sophomore at Pope John Paul II High School in 2004, but her achievements on the turf and the oval were often partially obscured by the other half of Pope's extraordinary one-two punch, Wake Forest University-bound Nicole Schappert.
That changed this spring at the Nike Outdoor National Scholastic Championships, where Areson, having transferred to Atlantic High School over the winter, erased a 25-year-old state record in the one-mile run by placing sixth in 4:46.67. That time converts to 4:45.01 for the much more commonly run 1600 meters; the old record, held by Clearwater's Robin Beck, was nearly two seconds slower.
An illness-marred spring made Areson's slam-dunk season finale all the more sweet. "I was sick with strep going into districts [where she lost her only 800-meter race of the season] and wound up taking two weeks off altogether," she notes. "But I trained fast and furious once I came back."
Areson, as befits a national-class athlete, has already acknowledged that prodigious talent and guts alone do not a complete racer make. "I could get away with [reckless strategy] in a lot of area meets," she admits. "But I think I learned to really race this spring. At Nike I hadn't felt well beforehand and I was in last place until the last 600 meters, but I knew even while in the back how fast everyone had gone out. I felt great and confident and started moving up."
That race was one of three that Areson lists as career highlights, the others being her first sub-4:50 mile – a 4:47.85 at the 2004 Florida All-Comers Meet serving as a huge nine-second breakthrough – and her stirring 800-meter win in the State 3A 800 meters this April in a personal-best 2:12.25. All told, Areson has won seven Florida 800-meter titles at the county level and above, and last year she was the 2A District 13 1600-meter titlist as well. As a sophomore, Areson focused mainly on the 1600 early one before dropping down to the 800 for the money meets; this spring, she pulled something of a switch, though she still regards the shorter race as her specialty.
Areson notes that moving from 2A to 3A competition – though depriving her of the opportunity to train daily with Schappert – was a boost in terms of facing sturdier competition, but required her to adjust in that she began training primarily alone. She's also pleased with Atlantic's transition to the 4A level beginning with cross-country season, a move that will allow her to race "a lot of good younger girls." Areson – no slouch at the longer distances with bests of 10:52 for 3200 meters and 17:40 for 5K on the road – does feel she has unfinished business in cross-country, where she has placed second in the State 2A Finals to Schappert each of the past two seasons, but has yet to put everything together. "I've been doing more distance, longer and harder tempo runs this summer than before," says the 17-year-old, who has whittled her choice of likely colleges to a half-dozen schools on the Eastern Seaboard.
Comments Areson on her already illustrious career: "Every time I run fast, it feels easy." You can almost hear the shrug in the level-headed Areson's voice, but at any rate, her rivals had better hope she finds a way to run hard during the 2005-2006 Sunshine State campaign.