Sanca running for his homeland
Former University of Massachusetts Lowell distance runner Ruben Sanca says the wonder of it all has not sunk in yet. He says it probably will when he is marching into Olympic Stadium in London with his Cape Verdean teammates during the opening ceremonies.
The 24-year-old Sanca, who immigrated from Cape Verde when he was 12 and holds dual citizenship, received his Olympic bid to run the 5,000 meters through a wild-card system in which a country is allotted a certain number of entries for their top athletes.
He is one of three athletes from Cape Verde to qualify for the 2012 Games. His two teammates include female sprinter 17-year-old Lidiane Lopes and Adyzangela Moniz (women’s judo).
“I’m very pleased the way things worked out,’’ said Sanca, who lives in Dracut. “I’ll be wearing my native Cape Verde uniform, but know I will be representing a much bigger area of my hometown and the Merrimack Valley.’’
Sanca ran a personal best of 13 minutes, 56.46 seconds in the 5,000 as a senior at the University of Massachusetts Lowell in 2010 in the Boston University Terrier Invitational. It was that effort that attracted the attention of the Cape Verde Athletics Federation, which has scrutinized his efforts from 2010 to this year.
Since graduating, Sanca, business manager for student affairs at UMass Lowell, has turned in many more top performances. Internationally, he represented Cape Verde at the 2011 IAAF World Championship in Daegu, South Korea, where he placed 48th (2:34.4) in the marathon. This past May, he ran the 5,000 at the Oxy High Performance Championships in Los Angeles, where he went up against defending world champion Mo cqFarah cqof England. Farah won and Sanca was 18th in 14:26.49.
Locally, he ran the James Joyce Ramble 10K in Dedham (30:19) and the Shamrock Shuffle Two-Mile in Manchester, N.H. (9:05.77). Most recently, he captured the Newton 10K in 30:15.4 and placed 13th overall and third among US runners at the Boston Athletic Association 10K in 30:10.
A graduate of O’Bryant High School in Boston, Sanca was a four-time All-American at UMass-Lowell and a three-time New England champion in indoor and outdoor distance events from 2005-10.
He was the recipient of UMass-Lowell’s David J. Boutin Award for Male Student-Athlete of the Year in both 2008 and 2009.
Sanca has a realistic goal for London. He knows the chances of landing on the medal stand are slim, so instead, he is “looking to better my personal best by going out there and giving myself a shot to qualify for the next round.’’
He knows that will be tough because just about every runner in the race has a personal record better than his. “For me to make the finals would be almost like winning the gold medal,” he said.
Sanca will leave for Great Britain Monday with UMass coach Gary Gardner, who thinks that Sanca's goal is realistic.
“It’s a far stretch to think he could win, but we want to be as competitive as possible and mix it up the best we can for as long as we can,’’ Gardner said.
Sanca says being selected to compete in the Olympics is “great for me and my family and all the Cape Verdeans in the New England area.”
“I hope this creates attention,” he said, “and motivates others to compete at the highest level and realize their dreams.’’
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John Vellante can be reached at JohnPVel@aol.com.