The miraculous Jenny Barringer
By Ricky Quintana
National Scholastic Sports Foundation

Jenny Barringer competes at the 2003 Foot Locker Cross Country Championships.
(Photo: Alison Wade/New York Road Runners)

Running seems to come easily to Oviedo (Florida) High School junior Jenny Barringer. In two short years, she has risen to the top in the state of Florida and the nation. Her list of accomplishments reads like a who’s who of the high school girls’ distance running scene. They include a third-place finish at the 2003 Foot Locker Cross Country Championships, a 35th-place finish at the 2004 IAAF World Junior Cross Country Championships, state meet record holder in three events, five-time state champion, only one in-state loss in distances above a mile during the past two years, only three losses in distances above the mile in the past year against U.S. high schoolers, and the second-fastest time in the nation for the mile this spring. However, the accomplishments have come despite some very sizable odds. As Barringer puts it, “It’s a miracle I’m running.”

Barringer’s formative years were rather rough. After a visit to the doctor for routine shots as a six-month-old in Fort Dodge, Iowa, Barringer became sick. She suffered from respiratory problems that were initially diagnosed as cystic fibrosis; a disease that affects the mucus-secreting exocrine glands. Many tests followed and then came a referral to a pulmologist. His
diagnosis: infantile asthma. Medication and normal development eventually cured Barringer of her ailment.

Despite the shaky start, Barringer was not discouraged from an active lifestyle as a child. Inheriting her mother Janet's love of the outdoors, Barringer enjoyed playing outside. Her father, Bruce, moved the family (who had relocated to Missouri during Jenny's childhood) to Florida after receiving his Ph.D. in the middle of her third grade year. The outdoorsy Barringer was quick to take note of the relatively mild temperature Florida had to offer.

“I was out in PE, and I couldn’t believe the kids thought it was cold when it was 60 degrees outside,” she says with a laugh. “I really enjoyed being outside.”

By fourth grade, she was running twice a week on the Partin Elementary School cross country team. In an end-of-the-year race, she placed second in a “Big competition among elementary school kids, ” but then suffered another setback.

“Later on that year, I got something called histoplasmosis. For a while they thought I had tuberculosis. My older brother had it too and the doctors weren’t sure where it came from. I went through that for several months. I missed a month of school,” she says.

X-rays showed that Barringer had tiny calcifications in her lungs.

“Histoplasmosis is basically when you develop calluses in your lungs. It had spread up into my bronchioles. I had a hard time breathing and I was lethargic all the time. I never was outside. When I went outside and played, I got tired really fast. After all that, I got better. They figured out what it was. That was scary because for a while they didn’t know what it was.”

The pulmologist, who incidentally went to medical school with the pulmologist in Iowa, informed her that she would eventually cough up the calcifications. In the years that followed, she did, hacking up small tooth-like calcium deposits. A checkup two years later found the calluses were completely gone.

Barringer continued her running, but didn’t take it very seriously before high school, despite having several people tell her she had ability. She had a variety of interests, including horseback riding, being active in her church, and school, that she never could really dedicate all her time to just one endeavor. Ken Rohr, a former runner at the University of Central Florida, kept the running embers burning, though. Rohr, Barringer’s middle school coach, took her to local road races.

“I fell in love with [running] there. [Rohr is] the one who really taught me to love running. He took me out to road races and we’d do all that,” she says.

While Rohr kept Barringer motivated, he tried to convince his former college teammate, Jay Getty, then the Oviedo cross country coach, to continue coaching at Barringer’s zoned high school. Barringer explains, “Coach Rohr told Getty. ‘You don’t want to stop cross country now. You don’t want to. Jenny’s really good. You could really do something with her.’ Coach Getty said, ‘Every year, there’s somebody good. Every year, there’s someone else I should stay for. If I don’t quit now, I won’t be able to.’”

Getty wasn’t completely convinced and gave up coaching cross country to coach the girls’ soccer team and take up his new duties as athletic director. He still helped Barringer’s freshman coach, Scott Wiseman, with the workouts. By the end of her freshman cross country season, Barringer had placed seventh at the 4A state championships. “He wised up and became my cross country coach my sophomore year,” Barringer says with a laugh.

Under Getty’s tutelage, Barringer dominated the state high school cross country scene her sophomore year. She went undefeated all the way through the state 4A championships, winning her first state title. Her wins were punctuated by some quirky and refreshing behavior. During nearly all of her races, Barringer's unbridled enthusiasm for running would spill over onto the course. She would whoop and holler during the race in response to the cheering crowd. It was also common to see Barringer hug or congratulate runners with a loud “Good job!” and other words of encouragement or a handshake at the finish. It’s a behavior she continues to express to this day.

“When I finish, of course I’m tired, but there’s an energy about being satisfied about who you are and what you’ve done,” she says. “I think it’s important that people know that when I walk away from a race, if I’ve done the best that I can do, I’m so excited. It doesn’t have be a PR for me to be excited. I don’t even have to win. I’m so excited when I come in third or fourth. The adrenaline kind of takes over when I finish.”

Barringer especially likes to hear her name yelled out at competitions. It seems to motivate her more than the average runner. “Nothing means more to me to be running and hearing my name. Whether it’s the state meet, nationals or an invitational at home,” she says. “The coolest thing at [Foot Locker] nationals was hearing my name. I was thinking ‘I’m 3,000 miles away from my home and there are people here who still know who I am!’”

Barringer’s training regimen has changed dramatically since her middle school years, but not as much as one would imagine. She averages about 35 to 40 miles per week with her top mileage being 45 miles per week. Her longest run is 12 miles. She sometimes breaks her workout into two runs per day. She also weight trains. “I don’t like that much, but I do it,” she says. “Every year, I add something new just to help me out.”

Barringer’s plight is even more remarkable considering she has what she calls a “third strike” against her. A visit to the orthodontist revealed one more problem. “I found out from the orthodontist that I have a deviated septum so I don’t take in as much oxygen when I run,” she says. “So [there are] several different things that should have impaired my running. It’s definitely a miracle that I’m running and doing it as well as I do. It’s a blessing and I count it as that.”

[Note: Jenny Barringer is scheduled to compete in the mile and two-mile at the adidas Outdoor Championships in Raleigh, North Carolina, June 18-19. The meet features top U.S. high school athletes and will be held on North Carolina State’s Paul Derr Track.
Barringer’s personal bests of 10:18.84 for 3,200m and 4:49.01 for the mile make her a threat for individual titles at both distances.]

(Posted June 1, 2004)

Nothing contained herein may be reproduced online in any form without the express written permission of the New York Road Runners Club, Inc.