Taking Luck out of the Equation

Freshman distance runner pursues personal best.
October 1, 2009
Catch her if you can: Multisport athlete Soo settled on cross country in high school, setting state records and securing berth on Duke women's varsity team.

Catch her if you can: Multisport athlete Soo settled on cross country in high school, setting state records and securing berth on Duke women's varsity team. Jon Gardiner

Adrianne Soo began running track in sixth grade to stay in shape for soccer. Thousands of miles and two knee surgeries later, she's still running, breaking records in cross country, and earning honors along the way. As a member of the Class of 2013, the Durham native will run varsity track while tackling a tough premed course load. It's a balancing act she's already proved she can handle: She graduated from Durham Academy (DA) with a GPA of 4.12, won a slew of state championships, qualified for the National Foot Locker Championships, and was named Gatorade's North Carolina cross-country runner of the year.

"I'm a little apprehensive about the added lab work," she admits, "but I'm well-organized with my time. I don't procrastinate."

Growing up in the shadow of Duke, Soo says she was shaped by the hard work and dedication of her parents, both of whom are physicians and athletes. Her mother, Mary Scott Soo HS '93, an associate professor of radiology at Duke Medical Center, and her father, Michael Soo B.S. '83, a neurologist, both played competitive Ultimate Frisbee at the national level. (Her uncle, Jeffrey Soo B.S. '86, is an internationally ranked croquet player.)

"Ever since I was little, I saw how hard my parents worked to make a comfortable life for my sister and me," says Soo, whose younger sibling, Lindsay, is a high-school sophomore at DA. "I became very focused and driven because of their influence. I've also learned a lot from them about anatomy and running and making the body work to the best of its potential."

Soo was a multisport athlete for years, excelling in soccer, basketball, swimming, and Ultimate Frisbee. But in less than two years, between ninth and tenth grade, she tore her right anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) while playing in the Ultimate Frisbee national tournament, and her left ACL playing soccer. Even though she bounced back to win three consecutive cross-country championships in the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association, she says she "realized it was better to stay away from those types of sports."

Although she occasionally misses the camaraderie of team sports, Soo says she prefers the solitary nature of distance running. "I like having my success come directly from my own contribution." When she was named the Raleigh News & Observer's 2009 female high-school athlete of the year, she credited her success to discipline and hard work. Her motto is "train like luck does not exist."

Distance running provides meditative space for planning strategies for upcoming races, organizing difficult academic assignments, and solving any other problems she's grappling with. She also relishes "just observing the surroundings on a peaceful day." Her favorite trails are through Duke Forest.

When it came time to apply to college, Soo applied to Duke, Stanford, and Princeton. "The thing I liked least about Duke was its proximity to my home, and I did think about going somewhere else. But Duke is so perfect in every other respect, that I couldn't let that one thing prevent me from coming here."

Associate head coach Kevin Jermyn helped persuade Soo to come to Duke. "Academically, she is one of the strongest students that we have recruited. Athletically, she is one of the top cross-country and distance runners in the Class of 2013," he says. "I wouldn't be surprised to see her among the top runners on the team as a freshman."

In addition to her athletic and academic pursuits, Soo says she is excited about the opportunities her four years at Duke offer. "I'm looking forward to meeting new people, being part of the Cameron Crazies, having high-level intellectual discussions, and having so much cultural enrichment right at my fingertips. I'm also looking forward to being completely on my own."

She pauses for a beat. "Although I am already pretty self-sufficient as it is."