Marisa Cummings can smile about it now.
At this point, her year is nearly over. The Corona del Mar High senior doesn't have to wince when she recalls everything she's been through over the last nine months.
Today at approximately 1:35 p.m., Cummings will take to the track at Cerritos College to compete in the 1,600 meters at the CIF Southern Section Division III finals. She can leave a lot of disappointment behind her, and hopefully plenty of runners too, as the Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week attempts to qualify for next Friday's Masters meet in the event for the second straight year.
Cummings, who is also running in the 3,200 today, has already shown she's a master of plenty. It's unquestioned in the classroom, as she said she has a 4.57 grade-point average and is set to be CdM's valedictorian. In the fall, she will head to Princeton to run, just like another famous CdM valedictorian from three years ago — her older sister Sarah.
Everything appears lined up for Marisa. A few months ago, though, that wasn't the case at all. The smartest girl on campus did something she called "dumb" after helping the Sea Kings win their seventh CIF state title in cross-country, tying them for the most won by a single school.
"It was my own fault," she said. "We took two weeks off after cross country to rest, and I just did too much too soon and injured myself. It was a silly thing. It was one of those things where you think about it and it was like, 'Why was I so dumb?' But you learn from things like that."
The Achilles tendon injury didn't cause her to miss any meets, as she was back by late February. But the training time lost left her behind her teammates and, of course, her competitors.
"I really struggled," she said. "This was a very difficult track season for me, especially in the beginning. That was a major obstacle that I guess I had to deal with."
Cummings doesn't need to dwell on it, but coming back from that injury has shown her character. Then again, Coach Bill Sumner has already seen it so much this year.
During the cross-country season, Cummings had inflammation in her foot that she said "came at a really bad time," after a strong summer of training. She had to miss three early meets for the Sea Kings. Yet there she was at the end, a fighter on a team full of fighters. After all, teammate Sarah Keddington had back surgery her sophomore year to repair scoliosis.
Last year, teammate Melanie Powers, another senior, crashed onto the ground near the end of the 1,600 at the Orange County Championships. Cummings had to leap over her teammate to finish in fourth place.
And, in the cross-country season last November, Cummings leaped up to finish 13th individually at the state finals in 18:27, a big reason why CdM was able to go back-to-back. Then she helped CdM get 10th at the Nike Team Nationals.
"She's had a few ups and downs this year, both with cross country and with track," Sumner said. "But this kid, she shows up on game day, man! She fights a little bit because she doesn't like being down. And there she is, when the smoke settles. There's Marisa Cummings. Next thing you know she's climbing back up the totem pole."
Cummings qualified fourth in both the 1,600 and 3,200 last weekend at the Division III preliminaries at Estancia High. Yet she takes her role as a team captain seriously, and there was also a bit of sadness in that mile race as well. Cummings was the only CdM girl to qualify for finals, as her three senior teammates — Keddington, Powers and Ali Hummelberg — are the first three alternates today.
"Especially being in cross country together, we just formed such a close bond," Cummings said. "That carries over to track. We're happy when each other succeeds. We just really want the best for each other. We're like sisters ... It's always so much better to race with your teammates."
The other three seniors don't have to fret; they have other events they'll be racing in today. So does Cummings, but both she and Sumner figure her best chance to make Masters is in the 1,600. If she can do it, she'll need to finish in the top five back at Cerritos College on Friday to advance to the state meet.
She ran 5:03 in the event at preliminaries, a season-best, but she may need to approach her time of 4:58.34 from last year's Division III finals — still a personal-best — to advance to Masters this year.
"I'm feeling good right now," Cummings said. "So I'm looking for a fast PR time on Saturday for sure."
Then it will be on to Princeton, where Sarah Cummings has been making headlines. Last year, Sarah was an All-American, and she won her fourth Ivy League individual title in the 10,000 meters on May 8.
They will be together there for the Tigers, a senior and a freshman, just like they were for the Sea Kings three years ago.
But, for now, Marisa Cummings has some unfinished business. And she knows that despite that Achilles injury, only good things are happening as the result of all her hard work in every arena.
"It's a really hard tendon to heal, and I had everyone telling me that," she said. "I was going to all these appointments for physical therapy and nothing was working, and it was like, 'Oh my God, I'm never going to get better.' I really lost my light at the end of the tunnel for a while. I lost my optimism, and you never want that to happen to you."
Then Cummings, the smart young woman that she is, realized what she needed to do.
"I just kept working hard," she said. "It worked out."
Marisa Cummings Hometown: Newport BeachBorn: Jan. 23, 1992Height: 5-foot-5Weight: 112 poundsSport: TrackCoach: Bill SumnerFavorite food: peanut butterFavorite movie: "10 Things I Hate About You"Favorite athletic moment: Running at the Nike Team Nationals last December. Week in review: Qualified for the finals in both the 1,600 and 3,200 meters at the CIF Southern Section Division III preliminaries.