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Interval Session #20 - Malia Cali
November 21, 2007

Unless you live in Louisiana or perhaps Mississippi, you would probably respond to a question about Malia Cali by saying, “Who?”

But that may change after Saturday, when runners and fans in most of the Foot Locker South states will get their first look at the Hammond (St. Thomas Aquinas) LA soph.  Malia (yes, it’s Malia, not Maria) may not be quite five feet tall, but she somehow houses a huge engine.  With her size, it may be fashionable to lump her together with Jordan Hasay and Ashley Brasovan, but she doesn’t really look like them at all.  With her stride and carriage, she’s a little more like a Gebrselassie or a soccer player, which she, in fact, is.

When she’s not racing up and down the pitch, however, she’s running consistent high-16s to low-17s for 3M courses in her home state.  November 13, she set an all-class state record at 17:16, winning her 2A race by 2:08 and beating the next closest person in any class by :43.  The one time she had competition, she lost to 2006 Foot Locker Finalist Cory McGee MS by just 8 seconds over 2M at Southern Mississippi (after losing to her by a minute the previous year).  In a year she has gone from being a pretty good Louisiana runner to looking like one of the best in the region.

Saturday, Malia will try and become just the 2nd Foot Locker Finalist from Louisiana.  Today, DyeStat News Editor SteveU wades into the Bayou Country to talk with this LSU and New Orleans Saints fan who is raising the harrier profile of her state.

1. Malia, congrats on your state title and your season so far. How do you feel about your season so far and how does it feel to be a state champ? How have you run so many fast times with so little competition?

I feel that my season has gone pretty well so far, and while winning the individual state title was exciting, winning the team championship meant so much more. Our whole team was focused and prepared for the race that day, and our efforts proved to be enough to win the title. It was very exciting to receive the trophy and celebrate all of our hard work. This was definitely one of the highlights of my season, and it makes me want to work even harder to get better. Our team did not have any seniors this year, so we hope to do even better next year.

In order to run good times without competition, I always had to make sure I stayed focused and ran hard the entire race. Sometimes it would have been easy just to slow down a little bit, but then I would remember that I was working to improve my times. When I am not pleased with my time, I try to decide where I need to improve and focus on that in the next race. My coaches also helped me to run fast times by keeping me motivated and showing me what I could do better.

2. You only lost once during the season, by 8 seconds to Foot Locker Finalist Cory McGee at Southern Mississippi.  What were the most important things you learned or got out of that race for the rest of the year?

I have always looked up to Cory McGee, and after losing to her by almost 1 minute last year, I felt that the 8 seconds was a big improvement.  That race taught me to never give up and it motivated me to get better the rest of the season.  My mom has always taught me that no matter what you do, there is always going to be someone that is better.  Cory is an awesome runner, and I always look forward to racing her.  Of course, I always try to win, but I think losing sometimes is what makes me a better runner.

3. We’ve heard you’re quite a soccer player as well.  Can you tell us how you got into running and how the two sports compare for you at this time?  Are you becoming more and more of a runner each season?  Are there other sports you like, too?

I began running last year in order to stay in shape for soccer, but it has obviously become more than just a way to stay fit.  The first race I ever ran was the Cresent City Classic with my Uncle Steve.  He had been training for months, and I decided to go with him the day before.  He was a little worried about me going too fast, but I made it to the end without any problems.  He suggested that I join the cross country team for high school, and I am very glad that I took his advice. 

Soccer is still my first love, but now I love running too.  I definitely don't look forward to the day that I'll have to choose, but I know it will eventually come.  I do feel that I become more of a runner each season, but that doesn't mean I am becoming less of a soccer player.  Although I only compete in soccer and running now, I still enjoy watching and participating in many other sports.  I played soccer, basketball, volleyball, softball, and gymnastics when I was younger, but by eighth grade I had narrowed down my activities to focus on excelling at one or two.

4. At Foot Locker South this weekend, you’re finally going to have competition, and a lot of it.  What have you done to prepare for this, both in training and mentally?  Has it been a big goal of yours all season to make Foot Locker Finals, or something that’s just come on more recently?

I am very excited about racing against many of the best girls in the country this weekend.  It is going to be a big challenge for me, but I know it will only make me better.  I have prepared for the race by doing the workouts my coaches have instructed , and I have been trying to stay mentally focused on doing the best that I can.  I have been anticipating the Foot Locker race all season, but it has really become a reality to me over the past month or so.

5. In a state that is pretty obsessed with football, and when it comes to track, more the sprints and jumps, I would imagine distance runners don’t get a lot of love from the media and others.  Can you tell us what it’s like training and racing down there?  Where is St. Thomas and what kind of support are distance runners getting in your part of Louisiana?

I try not to really pay too much attention to the media, so it doesn't really bother me too much that other sports get more attention.  People still respect us as athletes and congratulate us on wins.  St. Thomas is located in Hammond, which about 45 minutes from New Orleans and Baton Rouge, so pretty much everyone that lives here, including myself, loves LSU and the Saints.  Even though football is huge down here, I feel that the distance runners receive plenty of support.  St. Thomas is especially supportive of all of its athletes and doesn't really elevate one sport to be better than the other.

6. Can you talk a little about your training in general?  What are your favorite workouts or those you think have helped you improve the most?  Tell us about your coach?

On a regular basis, my training usually consists of three speed workouts a week with distance in between.  I often head straight to soccer practice after completing my running.  I think that every workout helps me to improve my running, so there isn't any particular workout that has really been the reason I have improved.  I believe the combination of workouts that Coach Miguel puts together is the real key to my and my teammates' success.  Coach Miguel always pushes us to do our best, and he never expects anything more.  He and Coach Rocendo dedicate an enormous amount of their time to do everything that they can for us, and we all really appreciate it.  They have a lot of experience and are always there to answer any questions I may have.

7. Do you have a lot of support from your family (any other runners or soccer players there?)  What else do you like to do when you aren’t studying or playing sports?

My family is always very supportive of everything I do.  They are there to cheer for me when I am doing great and to pick me up when I am feeling down.  My parents have sacrificed a lot of their time and money to bring me to every practice, tournament, and meet over the past few years, so I know I am very fortunate to have them.  I am the only runner and soccer player in my family, but we are all sports fans.  My mom, dad, brother, and I really enjoy going to the beach and snow-skiing with other family friends during off time.  I also enjoy doing different water sports (wakeboarding and tubing are my favorite!) and spending time with my friends.

Photos courtesy of Gisele Cali

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