Some precocious, young athletes set lofty goals at an early age. Others, like runner Fran ten Bensel, arrive at them incrementally, almost unexpectedly.
Sitting in the nearly bare dining room of her functional Boston apartment several weeks ago, ten Bensel reflected on her metamorphosis from small-town farmer's daughter with limited aspirations to world-class runner with an eye on the Olympics.
For the past year, ten Bensel has lived and trained in Boston as a member of the New Balance track team, her main focus being preparations for the United States Olympic Track and Field Trials in Atlanta in June.
She didn't make the US team, finishing 10th in the finals. Only days later, however, she set off to race the European circuit for the first time with long-range thoughts of possibly making the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
"I committed myself 'big time' this year," she says of her "tunnel vision" training for the Olympic trials. "Moving all the way to Boston was huge. I like the city. I didn't think I would, but everything is so hustle-bustle and everybody is living on top of each other."
Given her druthers, ten Bensel would still be living in Nebraska. She grew up on a hog farm in Arapahoe, a
community of roughly 1,000 people, where she belonged to 4-H, showed livestock, and did the "sewing, cooking thing."
She followed two older sisters into track, running in local meets sponsored by the Amateur Athletic Union as a junior-high-schooler. "I showed a lot of talent," she says.
The international world of track and field was so distant, however, that it hardly registered in her viewfinder. Limited to glimpses of televised Olympic track every four years, she says she didn't understand the sport that well and knew little or nothing about the top runners.
"The people I looked up to were small potatoes," she says of her Nebraska high school and college heroes.
Originally a 200- and 400-meter runner, ten Bensel fell in love with the 800 in high school and was tops in the state at that distance.