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TRACK & FIELD / JOHN ORTEGA : Mills’ Highs Keeping Her From Being Low

There’s nothing like a serious injury to add some perspective to the life of an elite athlete.

Take USC high jumper Crissy Mills.

It would have been difficult for Mills to envision life without high-jumping a few years ago, but after missing the season with a lower back injury, the former standout at Campbell Hall High is comfortable with the idea.

“I would like to jump again,” Mills said. “But I’m not going to do it if it’s going to jeopardize my back. . . . I think I’m ready to move on if things don’t get better. I had my incredible few years in the sun when I was a kid, but if I don’t come back, I’ll be OK.”

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Mills, 22, was an age-group phenom while competing for the West Valley Eagles track club. She cleared 5 feet 2 inches in the sixth grade and improved to 5-8 1/2 two years later.

At Campbell Hall, she raised her personal best to 5-9 as a freshman, 5-10 as a sophomore and 6 feet as a junior.

After winning State championships in 1988 and ’89, Mills was favored to become the event’s first three-time winner as a senior, but she missed the season after tearing ligaments in her left knee while playing volleyball.

Although Mills’ stock dropped with many college recruiters because of the injury, she signed a letter of intent with USC and cleared 6-0 1/2 as a freshman and 6-1 1/2 as a sophomore.

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The latter mark qualified her for the 1992 U.S. Olympic trials in New Orleans, but it was there that Mills started experiencing tightness in her back.

She kept the problem in check last year--earning All-American honors by placing seventh in the NCAA championships--but the injury became career-threatening in December when she awoke the morning after a workout and couldn’t bend enough to “brush my teeth.”

She tried all kinds of treatment--ranging from acupressure to electronic stimulation to seeing an herbalist to voodoo--but nothing worked until she began deep-tissue massage two months ago.

“Things are going well right now, but I don’t know what’s going to happen when I start jumping again,” she said.

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“If it starts hurting, I’m not going to keep jumping because I don’t want this to become a lifelong problem.”

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Trivia question: Four athletes from the region have won consecutive pole-vault titles in the State high school championships, but only one won a medal in the Olympic Games. Who is he?

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Moving up: Mike Wenz posted region-leading marks of 1:53.82 and 1:53.20 in the 800 for Canyon High in each of the past two years, but he will focus on the 1,500 at Cal State Northridge.

Wenz figures he could eventually break 1:50 in the 800, yet realizes that there are plenty of relatively unknown 1:49 performers in the collegiate ranks.

"(1:49) is a good time, but it’s not going to get me that far at the Division I level,” Wenz said. “The 800 will always be my favorite race, but I think I have the potential to go further in the 1,500.”

Wenz, fifth in the 800 in this year’s State championships, has run 4:21.58 in the 1,600.

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New track on the horizon: Gary Tuttle, a Ventura City council member and former national-class distance runner, is heading a group that plans to raise funds for an all-weather track at Ventura High’s Larrabee Stadium.

Tuttle expects to receive two estimates this month before launching a fund-raising drive to have a track installed by the 1996 season.

“It’d be great if we could have it in by next year, but things would have to happen pretty quickly for that to happen,” Tuttle said. “I don’t want to hurry things and have something go wrong.

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“I’d rather take our time and do it right.”

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Gaining strength: The Agoura High boys’ team finished fifth in last year’s State Division II cross-country championships and should be stronger this season.

Six of the Chargers’ top eight runners--led by senior John Greene--will return, and junior Steve Riggs has moved into the Agoura attendance district.

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Riggs was the runner-up in sophomore division of last year’s Ventura County championships for Thousand Oaks.

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Trivia answer: Ron Morris of Burroughs High won the pole vault in the 1952 and ’53 State championships by clearing 13-3 3/4 and 13-9 1/8, respectively.

Morris cleared 15-1 to finish second in the 1960 Olympic Games behind U.S. teammate Don Bragg (15-5).

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