Former University of Massachusetts Lowell distance runner Ruben Sanca says the wonder of it all has not sunk in yet. He says it probably will when he is marching into Olympic Stadium in London with his Cape Verdean teammates during the opening ceremonies.
The 24-year-old Sanca, who immigrated from Cape Verde when he was 12 and holds dual citizenship, received his Olympic bid to run the 5,000 meters through a wild-card system in which a country is allotted a certain number of entries for their top athletes.
He is one of three athletes from Cape Verde to qualify for the 2012 Games. His two teammates include female sprinter 17-year-old Lidiane Lopes and Adyzangela Moniz (women’s judo).
“I’m very pleased the way things worked out,’’ said Sanca, who lives in Dracut. “I’ll be wearing my native Cape Verde uniform, but know I will be representing a much bigger area of my hometown and the Merrimack Valley.’’
Sanca ran a personal best of 13 minutes, 56.46 seconds in the 5,000 as a senior at the University of Massachusetts Lowell in 2010 in the Boston University Terrier Invitational. It was that effort that attracted the attention of the Cape Verde Athletics Federation, which has scrutinized his efforts from 2010 to this year.
Since graduating, Sanca, business manager for student affairs at UMass Lowell, has turned in many more top performances. Internationally, he represented Cape Verde at the 2011 IAAF World Championship in Daegu, South Korea, where he placed 48th (2:34.4) in the marathon. This past May, he ran the 5,000 at the Oxy High Performance Championships in Los Angeles, where he went up against defending world champion Mo Farah of England. Farah won and Sanca was 18th in 14:26.49.
Locally, he ran the James Joyce Ramble 10K in Dedham (30:19) and the Shamrock Shuffle Two-Mile in Manchester, N.H. (9:05.77). Most recently, he captured the Newton 10K in 30:15.4 and placed 13th overall and third among US runners at the Boston Athletic Association 10K in 30:10.
A graduate of O’Bryant High School in Boston, Sanca was a four-time All-American at UMass-Lowell and a three-time New England champion in indoor and outdoor distance events from 2005-10.
He was the recipient of UMass-Lowell’s David J. Boutin Award for Male Student-Athlete of the Year in both 2008 and 2009.
Sanca has a realistic goal for London. He knows the chances of landing on the medal stand are slim, so instead, he is “looking to better my personal best by going out there and giving myself a shot to qualify for the next round.’’
He knows that will be tough because just about every runner in the race has a personal record better than his. “For me to make the finals would be almost like winning the gold medal,” he said.
Sanca will leave for Great Britain Monday with UMass coach Gary Gardner, who thinks that Sanca's goal is realistic.
“It’s a far stretch to think he could win, but we want to be as competitive as possible and mix it up the best we can for as long as we can,’’ Gardner said.
Sanca says being selected to compete in the Olympics is “great for me and my family and all the Cape Verdeans in the New England area.”
“I hope this creates attention,” he said, “and motivates others to compete at the highest level and realize their dreams.’’
Around and about
Liz Frisoli, former lacrosse MVP at Winchester and Holy Cross, has been named head coach of the first women’s lacrosse team at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Ala. Frisoli has already recruited 18 young women from 12 different states. Frisoli brings a wealth of experience to Huntingdon. After standout careers at Winchester and Holy Cross, she played in Australia and England and last year was assistant coach at Curry College . . . . Two Reading swimmers, cocaptains Connor Daly and Parker Traugot, have been cited as Academic All-Americans by the National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association. To be honored, swimmers were required to have attained a 3.75 GPA over the first seven semesters of their high school career. It is the first time in five years that any Reading swimmer has achieved the honor. Both Daly and Traugot have been on the varsity swim team since eighth grade and have been on state championship teams each year. They graduated in May. . . . Stonehill College has named former Merrimack player and assistant coach Amanda Shannon as an assistant women's basketball coach. Shannon was a two-time All-Northeast-10 Conference player and captained Merrimack her senior season in 2008-09. She returned to Merrimack for the 2010-11 season as an assistant coach before moving on to a similar position at Mt. Ida College, where she helped organize recruiting, team budgets and game plans. . . . Torrie Russo of Chelmsford is one of five freshmen recruited to play field hockey for coach Shannon Hlebichuk at UMass-Lowell. UMass has played in six of the last seven NCAA Final Fours. Russo was an All-Merrimack Valley Conference last year and also helped Chelmsford win the Division 1 state championship last year as a standout goaltender. Her mother, Ann (Prairie) Russso, captained the UMass-Lowell field hockey and softball teams in 1988-89. . . . The Newburyport High School Baseball Alumni Association will host a golf tournament Aug. 12 at Apple Hill Golf Course in East Kingston, N.H. It's a shotgun scramble beginning at noon. Proceeds will be used to increase the amount of the association's annual scholarship and to upgrade facilities at Pettingell Park. For playing or sponsorship information, visit nhsbaseballalumni.org.
John Vellante can be reached at JohnPVel@aol.com.