April 2, 2014
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Arriving a Florida State in the fall of 1989 as a walk-on distance runner with modest goals, Tracy Pepoon carved out her own niche for the Seminoles. By the time she completed her career, the Fort Walton Beach High graduate was a top-five fixture on the cross country team and an Atlantic Coast Conference track & field scorer.
Stopping by Mike Long Track on Tuesday while visiting from her home in San Diego, Cal., Pepoon presented Florida State sophomore Carly Thomas with the inaugural Tracy Pepoon True Seminole Award. The award will be presented annually to the Seminole women's cross country runner who best exemplifies the characteristics that Pepoon demonstrated throughout her running career and maintains today as one of the program's most generous boosters.
Florida State track & field coach Bob Braman and women's cross country and distance coach Karen Harvey, who were responsible for selecting the recipient, joined Pepoon in presenting the award to Thomas.
"Tracy is everything from being the self-made runner she was - a person I recruited at South Florida - and a very active booster," Braman said. "The idea kicked into my head when she was named one of the Champions of the Game. `She's a booster and a great example. We ought to have in her honor, a cross country award for someone who gets the most out of their ability and is a True Seminole in women's cross country."
Thomas, a Tallahassee native, is coming off an outstanding sophomore campaign in cross country, earning All-ACC (19th place) and NCAA All-South Region (18th place) honors after helping the `Noles to both team titles as the No. 5 runner. FSU went on to place eighth at the NCAA Championship meet with Thomas holding down the No. 5 spot. As a freshman in 2012, the former Chiles High standout was 28th at the ACC Championship meet and served as the alternate for the `Noles as they won the South Region team title and placed fourth at the NCAA Championships.
Despite moving to the opposite coast, Pepoon remains a loyal follower and supporter of the FSU cross country and track & field programs. She holds a special place for the school and program which helped provide her a sense of identity.
"I had pretty good success in Fort Walton," Pepoon said. "I was regional champion in cross country and track, but I was also full-time in band and Tri-State in band in clarinet, and I was in 13 different clubs. I wasn't really sure what I was going to do when I went to college.
"I was not quite good enough of an athlete to have caught the eye of any of the coaches for a scholarship, so I knew my option for a university like Florida State was to walk on."
She vividly remembers her first day of practice as a Seminole and what it meant to be a student-athlete at the school where she dreamed of competing.
"It gave me an opportunity to come to a major university and instantly be part of a family," Pepoon said. "I was overwhelmed when I first came to FSU. I came from a little high school and there were 27,000 people when I came to Florida State. I walked out to the track and they instantly welcomed me. I felt like I belonged. It made me decide to stay at Florida State, or otherwise I would have left."
Pepoon's road to a spot on the roster - and eventually the lineup - had plenty of early bumps.
"It was through a lot of hard work, but the team was very supportive," said Pepoon, who was a member of the program as it transitioned from the Metro Conference to the ACC. "My first target was to try and earn the right to wear the cross country t-shirt. They didn't hand them out to you unless you did well enough to represent the team. It took me a good six months to get to the point where I was a strong enough runner to earn the t-shirt. Eventually, I earned a pair of running shoes. ...
"It took a couple of years to really make a difference on the team and break into the top seven, but once I did, it really started to take off."
Providing the award named in her honor is just one of the ways Pepoon has found to give back to the program and the school where she dared to dream of competing.
"I've followed Carly and she has done a great job," said Pepoon, who will continue to follow the `Noles and hopefully inspire others like her.