Interview: BAA Mile Winner & Olympian Nicole Sifuentes Talks Running, Faith, and Future

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    On April 15th, Canadian Nicole Sifuentes won the BAA Invitational Mile, one of the three races held as part of the Boston Marathon festivities. Sifuentes, a two time Olympian, not only held the lead right from the gun, but also smashed the course record of 4:35.4, running 4:33.7.

    Sifuentes came in with a game plan, but not one that necessarily prioritized a record or even taking the top spot. “My top priority in the race was not to win but to get a very hard effort in my season opener,” Nicole says, adding, “I needed to ‘shock my system’ back into race mode.” That’s why Nicole dropped the hammer immediately.

    Nicole breaks the tape at the BAA Mile. Source: Boston Athletic Association

    Given that the course includes so many turns, the BAA Mile is known for being slow off the start. With Nicole running on effort, the possibility that she could go under the course record if she pushed right away without waiting to kick wasn’t completely out of mind. In Nicole’s words, “The results history and course record also indicated that no one had ever run very fast.”

    Beyond this single race, the philosophy that less structure and pressure is better informs Nicole’s approach to running as an elite, especially since Rio 2016, after which she initially intended to retire. Summarizing her approach, Nicole says, “I have found a lot of peace in reducing structure and strict calendars from my running career. For practical reasons I do make plans for upcoming races, booking travel, deciding the focus of my training, etc., but I haven’t been thinking very far in advance.” Rather, Nicole has settled into an approach of “…treating every opportunity as something to be thankful for and holding future opportunities very lightly.”

    It’s an interesting outlook for an athlete who has performed incredibly consistently over the years and still appears to be at the top of her game. It makes perfect sense, however, considering what’s come to drive Nicole as an individual and as a runner.

    As far as Nicole is concerned, she’s not really in control. Her successes and failures are understood in light of her strong sense of faith and belief that, “God is Sovereign and every person and situation I encounter has been put there by Him for a purpose.” By maintaining that strong relationship with her faith, Nicole is less inclined to force a certain predetermined path. She’s instead guided by teachings like those in Isaiah 30:20-21, which states, ”Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ’This is the way; walk in it.’”

    Nicole runs the 1500m at the 2016 Olympics. Source: Getty Images South Africa.

    Through triumphs and failures, Nicole believes that her path is guided. The path may not always be clear, but Nicole has trust in her faith.

    As her career progressed and evolved, Nicole also returned to savouring the fundamentals of running and the reasons she first fell in love with it, especially the balance between intense competition and the sport’s independent nature.

    “I am very uncoordinated and would not consider myself athletic outside of running. As I continued in the sport I found it suited my personality in a lot of ways,” Nicole says. Discovering a sport where she could actually dominate appealed to what Nicole describes as her competitive nature.

    Coupled with the intensity running offered on the course, Nicole continues to enjoy running as a solitary pursuit. “The professional athlete lifestyle of a runner (at least my life as a runner) is relatively quiet, unhurried, and individually driven.” While pursuing her athletic passion, Nicole appreciates, “…having control and flexibility in my schedule and more time at home to rest than in a more typical job or even a team sport.”

    It’s not surprising, then, that attempts to pry details about Nicole’s plans for 2017–is she looking to represent Canada at London 2017?–prove unsuccessful. What we can more likely expect in the future is to see an athlete with a real passion for and immersion in her sport, backed by a strong trust in her path and raw talent. We can’t know what to expect if Nicole doesn’t, but recent results indicate it will be intriguing and impressive, whatever it may be.

    • Ravi Singh