Jacquie Dent sings soprano in the Occidental College gospel choir, an avocation that comes in handy when she prepares to run for the Tiger track team.
Dent often stretches, warms up and approaches the starting blocks for 400-meter races with a hymn titled, "I'm Running for My Life," on her mind.
"I know that all the people on the starting line are feeling the same pressure I do," Dent said. "Singing a song to myself helps me do away with that."
More often than not, Dent then proceeds to do away with her competition.
Two weeks ago at the Northridge Invitational, Dent qualified for the NCAA Division III national championships with a winning time of 56.34 seconds. She also was part of the Tigers' 4 X 100 and 4 X 400 relay teams, which also qualified for nationals.
In only her second year running track, Dent is fast becoming one of the premiere performers in Occidental's long history.
Last year, she was part of a 4 X 400 relay team that shattered the school record of 3 minutes 53.52 seconds with a time of 3:47.60 and a second-place finish at nationals.
"When she first came out, I was sure we would break the school record," Coach Bill Harvey said. "But when I saw what she could do, the question became, 'By how much?'
"She's got a lot of natural talent and a great competitive disposition."
Dent's attitude springs from the go-rounds she had on the basketball court with her two older brothers while growing up in Trenton, N.J. One of her brothers, Sean, played point guard for the University of Wyoming in the mid-1980s.
"My brothers basically beat me into the ground," said Dent, who began playing basketball in the fourth grade. "I think that's where I get my toughness.
"One of my brothers still calls me a scrub."
Basketball was Dent's sport of choice when she arrived at Occidental in 1988 after spending a year at a Massachusetts prep school. Dent longed to attend Occidental from the time she was in ninth grade.
"I think I heard the name through a (Pre-Scholastic Aptitude Test) thing," said Dent, who never saw the Eagle Rock campus until the day she arrived for freshman orientation. "My advisers had never even heard of the school."
Dent was recovering from knee surgery and did not compete in any sport during her freshman year at Occidental. A sociology major who hopes to become a counselor for teen-agers, she immersed herself in her studies in the classroom and rehabilitation exercises in the weight room.
In 1989, Dent averaged 6.9 points and 1.8 rebounds for the Occidental basketball team. Harvey decided to take a run at recruiting Dent for track after he stopped by the gym and caught glimpse of her rocketing up and down the court.
"I watched her one day at practice and (from talking with other people in the gym) knew her life history by the end of it," Harvey recalled. "I knew she could do well, and I expected big things from her."
Last year, Dent ran the 100, 200 and the relays and helped the Occidental women win their 11th consecutive Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship.
This year, after a basketball season during which she averaged 17.6 points a game, Dent is running the 400 and the relays.
Dent has a love-hate relationship with the 400.
"When Coach Harvey first told me I was going to run the 400, I was very upset," she said. "I didn't know what to expect.
"Once I got around the track and stopped, all the pain came. Nobody told me it would be coming. Nobody told me about the pain."
Success, however, has helped ease the physical discomfort. Dent's progress was evident at the Northridge Invitational.
"We thought she was getting a little tired at the 300 mark," Harvey said. "All of a sudden, she could hear some girls five or six meters back. She just stroked away and won by 20 meters."
Dent and Occidental are preparing for this Saturday's dual meet at UC Santa Barbara and after that, the Tigers will play host to the prestigious Occidental Invitational on May 11.
Occidental's women's track team has never won a national championship but the Tigers are expected to contend for a top-five finish at the Division III championships next month in Cleveland.
Dent is hoping to do likewise in the 400. And she is confident that the 4 X 400 relay team--which also includes--Mashairi Dunn, Binti Allen and Shannon Haack--has a good chance of lowering the school record.
"The potential is there," she said. "It's just going to take some work mentally."