To say Penns Valley runners Isabella Culver and Sheri Bowersox have a strong connection might be an understatement.
Earlier this spring, Bowersox had to miss a track and field team practice. “I was like, ‘What am I gonna do?’” Culver asked.
The sophomore simply did her workout — quietly — and then went home.
“Usually I don’t hear much from Bella,” coach Kendyl Paolini said, “but I didn’t hear anything from her that day.”
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Earlier this month, Culver missed the Bellwood-Antis Invitational, so Bowersox had to run the 400-meter dash without her alter ego.
“Normally I look up after 100, 150 (meters) to see where Bella is,” said the senior, using her teammate to pace her for the lap around the track. “Coach said I was hesitant, that I slowed down because I didn’t know how fast to go.”
Bowersox eventually figured it out, however, and won the race.
Culver and Bowersox are training partners, teammates, friends — and they complement each other well. They hope to combine their efforts and get each other to the PIAA championships.
Before then, the District 6 Class 2A championships loom Tuesday afternoon in Altoona, with the top-3 runners automatically earning a trip to the state championships. After the West Central Coaches Invitational on May 5, Culver and Bowersox had the No. 1 and 3 times in the event.
“We both better go to states,” Bowersox said. “And we want our 4x4 team to go.”
If Culver and Bowersox make it to the state meet, they will be thanking each other.
Culver — a member of the National Honor Society — is more athletically gifted, and she has been knocking on the door of the school record in the 400-meter dash since her freshman season. Her best time came in that West Central Coaches meet, when she was clocked in 59.33 seconds. That time is tied for 57th in the state among girls in all classes.
The school record is 59.30, which has stood since 1986 by Deneen Keller.
“I would really love for Bella to get that darned record already,” Paolini said. “I think that’s weighing on her mind. She can just absolutely think so hard about it, and if she would just get it I think she would break it time and time again.”
So when the two friends are training, it’s Culver pushing the pace, cajoling Bowersox to run harder.
“Bella stays with the boys, and I just try to keep up with Bella,” joked Bowersox, whose best 400 time is 1:01.16.
Meanwhile, Bowersox completes the team by helping out mentally. When Culver has her doubts, Bowersox picks her up. When Culver starts to walk during a cool-down run, Bowersox prods her to pick up the pace.
“Do you want to break the record?” Bowersox asked. “Then she started jogging.”
The senior is not afraid to express an opinion.
“She speaks her mind,” Paolini said. “Whatever she’s thinking is going to come out of her mouth, whether you like it or not, for better or worse.”
Together, they make it work.
If Culver is going to finally race past that record, she knows who gets the first thank you.
While Culver still has two more years of running in blue and white, Bowersox will be heading to San Antonio, Texas, next winter to start basic training in the Air National Guard. She hopes to be done by the spring, so she can come back to Spring Mills and resume training with Culver, then enroll at Lock Haven the following fall.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do without Bella,” Bowersox said.
Added Culver: “I don’t know what I’m going to do without her next year.”
Both are gifted athletes, and both have the chance to finish the year doing something special. If they remain first and third in the district heading into Altoona, it will mean they also get to run side-by-side for their lap around the track, with Culver pacing Bowersox, and the senior encouraging the sophomore.
Two girls with one goal.
“They are very different types of athletes, different types of skills and personalities,” Paolini said. “It’s interesting to see how those opposites attracted and made a really successful training team.”