By Lee Davis
Frances Patrick celebrated her high school graduation by traveling overseas.
Patrick is accustomed to traveling long distances, often by foot. For the past four years, she was one of Mountain Brook’s – and the state’s – finest girl distance runners. Characteristically, Patrick saved the best for her senior season.
Her odyssey of winning began last fall in the state Class 7A cross-country meet, when she won the individual championship and guided the Lady Spartans to a mind-boggling 13th consecutive state championship.
Patrick had primed up for the title event with individual victories in the Warrior and Chickasaw Trails cross-country meets.
Her hot streak continued in the state Class 7A indoor meet at the Birmingham Crossplex in February, when Patrick won the 1,600-meter run and the 3,200-meter run and was part of Mountain Brook’s successful 4×800 meter relay team.
She closed her high school career in fine fashion at the state outdoor meet last month, winning the 3,200-meter run for the second consecutive year, placing second in the 1,600- and 800-meter runs and leading the Lady Spartans to a runner-up finish behind champion Hoover.
“I think winning the cross-country championship may have been the high point,” Patrick said. “That’s probably because we also won the team championship. Mountain Brook had won 12 years in a row, and we definitely wanted to keep that streak going.”
The Lady Spartans’ strong tradition for success in track and field goes back to the 1970s and Patrick – as is the case with her teammates – is acutely aware of it.
“It’s really cool to meet someone who ran girls track at Mountain Brook maybe 15 or 20 years ago and realize that we are continuing what they started,” she said. “And the young girls coming up behind us may be the best ever.”
In 15 or 20 years, Lady Spartan runners are likely to be talking about Patrick. Her list of individual and team achievements and the legacy they represent led to her selection as the 2015-16 Over the Mountain Girl Athlete of the Year. Homewood basketball star Luke Touliatos was chosen as the 2015-16 Boy Athlete of the Year.
Patrick sounded similar to a well-known college football coach when she said that enduring the work required to win championships was more satisfying than the trophies and honors that came as a result.
“The highlight wasn’t just winning the title, it was looking back on the obstacles we overcame during the season and realizing that the hard work paid off,” she said. “Someone from the outside might think that winning 13 titles in a row (in cross-country) might become matter-of-fact, but it doesn’t. I was honored to be on four consecutive state championship teams and each one faced different challenges. Seeing everyone work to earn the blue trophy is one of the best feelings anyone could have.”
She also was eager to toss credit for her personal successes in other directions.
“It was my teammates and coaches who motivated me every day,” Patrick said. “If it weren’t for the relationships I had with them, I wouldn’t be the runner I am today.”
Mountain Brook track and field coach Michael McGovern counts himself among Patrick’s greatest admirers.
“Frances maintained one of the highest levels of consistency I have seen in one of our athletes throughout this year,” McGovern said. “Whether it be cross-country, indoor track or outdoor track, her performances were always at the highest levels. When post-season rolled around, Frances could always be counted on to do whatever it took to give her team its highest finish.”
McGovern said Patrick’s intangible contributions may have been the most valuable of all.
“Losing her leadership skills will be the toughest part,” he explained. “She always put the needs of the team first and was often more concerned with her teammates’ performance than her own.”
Patrick will run at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth next fall and is considering commercial real estate as a possible major.
A turning point in Patrick’s high school career may have come during her sophomore season, when then-Mountain Brook track coach Greg Echols urged her to step up her efforts.
“I was running just for fun before Coach Echols challenged me,” she recalled. “Afterward, I looked at running from a new perspective. I worked harder and pushed myself to produce the results I wanted. Coach Echols completely changed the path of my career.”
Even champion athletes have their quirks – Patrick admitted she has a mild phobia about seeing snakes on the cross-country trail.
“I really don’t like snakes,” she said, laughing. “I’ve seen them (while running) before, but luckily I didn’t see any this year.”
It’s unlikely that even a snake could have prevented Frances Patrick from becoming the Over the Mountain Girl Athlete of the Year.