Virgen: Julie was a ‘positive force’

Julia Allen is shown as Daily Pilot athlete of the week in May 2002.
(Sean Hiller, Daily Pilot)

These days many people don’t know what to think of Julie Allen, the former Corona del Mar High School standout distance runner who is now at the center of a horrific 10-car accident.

When I think of Julie, I think of the athlete. I also think of the person. When I think about reporting on her high-school career nine years ago, I remember a very sweet girl.

But now mystery surrounds her after she died Saturday. She drove on West Coast Highway well above the speed limit, police said, and went into oncoming traffic. It ended with a 10-car collision. Her life ended, as well as two others. Police are trying to piece together clues.

It has sent shock and sadness throughout the community. An autopsy was performed Tuesday. Not many know what to think of Julie now.

While many are baffled about what she did that day, maybe a quote from her can give everyone a better idea of who she was. It came toward the end of her senior year, which was a rough time for Julie.

Finishing sixth in the state in the 3,200-meter race disappointed her. It seemed, at the time, she was running to stand still. So much was in her life: track and field, schoolwork, a senior project and thoughts of more responsibility waiting for her when she went to Stanford, which offered her a full scholarship.

But Julie still found a way to give me an idea of who she was back then.

“Running for me is like an example of how you are as an athlete and as a person,” she said. “As an athlete I bring out the best person in me.”

As a competitor, Julie provided a glimpse of the type of person she was. To this day, I have never seen an athlete show such great sportsmanship. Back then it seemed almost too good to be true.

She made it a point to try to congratulate each runner after a race. Yes, even the ones who finished behind everyone else.

She would always cheer on her teammates. She was such a positive force.

I had seen her mad and I had seen her serious, but most of the time she was happy.

“She’s always this bundle of energy,” CdM Coach Bill Sumner said of her then. “You know those happy-smiley faces? Put a pair of legs on that and you have Julie Allen.”

Sumner has always been very fond of Julie, as an athlete and a person. Back then, he called her one of the greatest athletes to ever come through CdM.

She transferred in from Fountain Valley, making big news in the process. She broke school records, won CIF section titles and received several season-ending awards.

To those who knew her well, she was just as special away from the races.

Josh Yelsey, also a former great runner at CdM, sensed something special about Julie, too.

“The first time I met her, it was like I’d known her for 10 years,” he said. “She had an infectious smile, and when you were around her, it made you feel so good. The way she said hi to you made you feel like you were the most important person in the world.

“People just wanted to be around her. I had these friends that within a week of knowing her, they were wanting to ask her to prom.”

Josh and Julie were the best of friends in high school. They were close because they ran so many races together and because they shared the same type of competitive spirit.

It’s been a hard week for Yelsey. During my interview with him Tuesday, he had to step away from the phone because he was so consumed with emotion.

Losing Julie for him — and for many — has been tragic.

“Every time I talk about it, I just seem to lose it,” he said. “She remained one of my best friends over the last 10 years. It’s absolutely crushing. It’s completely surreal that it’s Julie and that’s she gone … it’s tough that she’s gone.”

Sumner was also stunned when he found out Julie died. He usually refers to his runners as “my kids,” or “my girls.” Sunday took a toll on him. He said by 1 p.m. Sunday, less than 24 hours after the accident, he had received more than 50 calls. People wanted to send him condolences. Reporters wanted to interview him. I reached him later in the day, just before his phone battery was about to die. He wanted to turn off the phone anyway.

“It’s been so terrible,” Sumner said. “It’s so hard to believe that she’s gone. It doesn’t make sense.”

Sumner is known as one of the greatest coaches in the nation. Part of the reason for his success is the family-type atmosphere he creates with each team, each season, each year.

And that doesn’t end with graduation.

Sumner had seen Julie at least once a week because she ran for his Cal Coast Club.

“My kids grow up, but she never grew up, but in a good way,” Sumner said. “She was so innocent. People would ask me how old she was, and I knew she was 27, but she could still pass for 18 … every time she would walk into a room, she would light it up.”

Julie touched many lives because of her optimism. There are several meaningful messages on her Facebook wall that’ve been posted after the accident.

Some friends are asking people to send their best memories of Julie to They plan to make a book of responses and give it to her family as a gift.

Friends of Julie have decided to gather at 2 p.m. Saturday in the bowl area of Fountain Valley High School, 17816 Bushard St., to remember her. It will be a very informal setting, so spread the word to anyone you feel would want to celebrate Julie’s life with people who loved her so dearly.

A paddleout will also take place at 10 a.m. Sunday at the Santa Ana River Jetties in Newport Beach.

They miss her smile. They miss the girl who always seemed to be positive. There is no mystery about that.

Sports Editor STEVE VIRGEN can be reached at (714) 966-4616 or