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Sufka blessed with talent

Michael Traum

Sarah Sufka’s motivation is divine. While most athletes use sports as an after-school pastime, the Whittell High junior has a much greater purpose in performing. She is the rarest of high school sports specimens. There is a reasoning behind the sweat, tears, heart and soul much greater than personal glory.

“Everything I’ve accomplished and all of my talent I attribute to God. If there was an empty stadium, I wouldn’t run around it. It’s much more fun to run in the forest,” she said. “But the fact that my performances can inspire people and I can use it as a witness, that’s why I do it. It’s because of God that I do it.”

Sufka’s on-field accomplishments this year rank with some of the school’s premier athletic performances. A smallish, 5-3 bundle of power, she earned a state title and school record in the 800-meter run, finished third in the state 400, defended a pair of zone titles, led the volleyball team to the state tournament as a setter and emotionally guided the basketball team to its first league win in three years.

But it’s her heavenly inspiration – a humbly external manifestation of the deepest inner-workings of her competitive heart – that simply sets Sufka apart.

Sarah Sufka is the 1998 Tahoe Daily Tribune Female Athlete of the Year at Whittell High for the second straight year.

“It’s been incredible and ideal. I don’t know if I’d stand out at a larger school. I could get lost in the shuffle. I do know God put me here for a reason. He gave me a talent so I can stand out where I am, to use it as a witness and be a role model for younger kids coming up,” Sufka said. “Witnessing can be a tough thing as a kid. You don’t want to go to school and be preachy. If I can do it in a way that I enjoy, it’s perfect.”

Sufka is anything but “preachy” when it comes to displaying her faith. She walks a fine line, displaying her devoutness through performance while speaking about it only when she feels it’s important.

“Sarah doesn’t flaunt her religion,” said Whittell track coach Dan Makley. “We were coming home from the state meet after she’d won the 800 but finished third in the 400, she said God was testing her. She didn’t know why those obstacles were there that kept her from winning, but they were there for a reason. I thought that was quite unusual for a 17-year-old. She has so much faith and no hesitation about expressing it when it’s appropriate. Those are good things.”

And her faith was supremely tested during parts of her junior year.

Despite losing early in an impetuously-charged volleyball state tournament, Sufka could always be seen doing laps around her teammates, rallying them with high-fives and words of encouragement. Calling her the team’s emotional leader would be an understatement.

Then came basketball. While her faith was tested to the limit, fueled by three consecutive winless league seasons which ultimately has driven her to contemplating not playing next year, there was a payoff. On a nondescript Tuesday evening in February at Bishop Manogue, the Warriors posted their first league win in 31 tries.

“God has given me an attitude to keep going and play my hardest. Even at the end of the (basketball) season when I was thinking I don’t know why we’re doing this anymore, I still had that attitude. I never went out on the court and didn’t play hard because I didn’t think it was worth it,” she said. “God gave me the attitude to where I can still do my very best, even though it wasn’t working out on the scoreboard. If I didn’t have that faith, I’d be like a lot of other people and give up when things got tough.”

Whittell hoops coach Lindsay Wines said Sufka’s determination definitely came from within.

“Sarah got to where she is because she’s never satisfied with what she’s done. She’s excelled to a high level because of her hard work. She’s just a unique talent,” Wines said.

With volleyball and basketball in the books, it finally came time for track.

“I had a feeling it was going to be a pretty special year. I was pretty broken emotionally (after basketball). Track was a nice turnaround. Coach (Makley) said, ‘You could be a state champion this year.’ That seemed like an unattainable thing. It was a great motivator,” Sufka said.

After a season of continual improvement, which included breaking her own school record in the 800 and defending the 400 and 800 zone titles, Sufka’s chance for the pinnacle of glory came in Las Vegas. In the state 800, Sufka and a girl from Boulder City ran what Makley called the best race he’s ever seen.

“It reminded me of Lee Evans and Larry James racing in the Mexico Olympics. James was programmed to run, but Evans was programmed to win. Sarah was programmed to win,” he said.

Sufka collected the state title by a nose, being tested throughout the two-lap sprint. And she knew what to do with the praise.

“Before every race I say a prayer – ‘Give me the strength and I’ll give you the glory,'” she said. “There’s some athletes out there that don’t have faith and they can kick my butt. For me, faith gives sports a deeper meaning.”

“Whether she won or not, Sarah always showed class. She’s not going to make excuses for any results,” Makley added. “She’s a quality person and sportswoman. Those are all of the things you can expect.”

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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