Deanna Sullivan is sprinting towards a breakthrough season with the University of Arizona Wildcats.
"According to what we've been doing lately on the track in training, my goal is to run under 54 seconds," said Sullivan, a 400-metre specialist who clocked a personal best of 54.15 in 2008 for third place at the Arizona Jim Click Shootout.
Podium finishes at the Pacific-10 Conference championships and regionals is also high on Sullivan's wish list for the upcoming 2010 schedule that hopefully will culminate with her first trip to the NCAA outdoor championships.
"I was actually one spot off from making it to nationals last year," said Sullivan, a junior on the track but a senior at university after redshirting as a freshman.
The product of the St. Albert Track and Field Club earned all-region honours after qualifying for the final in the NCAA west regional championships in 2008 in which she made all-conference that season.
A sixth place finish racing against a veteran field of 400m runners at the Pac-10 finals was another career highlight for the former high school standout with the St. Albert Skyhawks.
"Our 4x400 metre relay team also made the  regional qualifying mark the very, very first time we all ran together so that was pretty exciting too," said the team's leadoff runner.
Sullivan, 21, was bursting with optimism about the upcoming first meet of the season, the Jan. 16 indoor Lumberjack Invitational at Flagstaff, Ariz.
"I can't wait to get started," said Sullivan, whose best outdoor times in 2009 were 56.35 in the 400m and 25.84 in the 200m. "Things are going pretty well. Our training has been great. I've got a lot of really good training partners and we push each other hard."
It's not all fun in the sun for Sullivan as the Wildcats average 25 to 30 hours a week between the weight room and the track. Four times a week they go twice a day with lifting at 6 a.m. and practice sessions at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday is the mid-week break to rest their bodies.
"At times it's really hard because we'll do lower body power lifting in the morning and then have to come back in the afternoon and run a hard workout so you can imagine how that will feel on your legs," she said. "It definitely teaches you to get your sleep and eat right and not get into too much trouble on the weekends."
High school star
In high school Sullivan was the queen of the middle distances as she swept the 200m and 400m finals in the Alberta Schools' Athletic Association championships three years in a row. She also won the 100m final in Grade 12 to cap off her illustrious Skyhawks career with seven provincial gold medals, plus a bronze in the 100m in Grade 11.
"In high school it was more talent than anything but when you get to a collegiate level everyone is good so you can't just expect to perform well without putting in all the work you need to and that's definitely a big thing that I've learned and improved on. I'm actually more dedicated to the sport and I really know now what it feels like to be an athlete," said Sullivan, who is pursuing a degree in anthropology with a minor in journalism. "Another big thing I've learned is balancing the demands of being a student athlete as well."
Her first season at the picturesque Tucson campus, where palm trees line the track, was an eye opener.
"Doing well in Canada is not easy to do but at this level there is just so much more competition and you're basically like another athlete," said the 2004 Tom Longboat Award winner as the Aboriginal female athlete of the year in Canada. "I kind of went in as a freshman thinking that I've done well before and people know who I am in Canada but this was crazy. Everyone is good and I was, 'How can I ever be as good as them?'"
Sullivan credits her teammates for getting through those initial self doubts.
'My teammates, when I was a freshman, were very talented. They had been to nationals and had won different championships and were really experienced. They were the perfect mentors because they were focused and dedicated and I was able to kind of work off of them. It was good to be around those type of people because it taught me how to be a good athlete."
The turning point of Sullivan's career was the home meet at Tucson where she ran her PB in the 400m.
"It was like a pretty big meet and my mom [Doreen] came to visit and watch me. When I ran that race I felt so relaxed and so strong. I felt I had so much more in me and I was like, 'Hey, I know I can run a lot better and I can improve on my time.' It felt so great and I also qualified for regionals with that time I ran."
Pride of St. Albert
Sullivan's rise to collegiate status included several Athletics Alberta age group female of the year awards, various provincial records and Legion national medals.
At the 2005 Canada Summer Games she was the 400m bronze medallist at 55.45 in the U23 division.
Sullivan also competed for Canada at the 2005 IAAF U17 World Youth Championships in Morocco and in the second international meet of her career finished 12th overall in the 400m. Her times were 55.54 in the heats and 55.61 in the semifinals. She also placed 21st in the 200m with times of 24.69 in the heats, followed by a 24.84 result.
Sullivan's current PB of 24.64 in the 200m was set at the 2008 NAU-ASU-UA Double Dual at Tucson.
"I think back a lot when I was growing up and training in St. Albert. At that time it was just fun for me. I got to see my friends when I went to track meets. Now when I think about it I'm so glad I accomplished all of that because it really prepared me as an athlete to face all the different pressures I'm faced with. Getting through practices can be hard and getting the motivation to get up at five in the morning to go lift is pretty challenging," Sullivan said. "I look back at my success when I was younger and I kind of use that as motivation because I did it once and I can do it again. I got to compete for Canada when I was 16 and I want to do it again when I'm like 22 or 23. I still have bigger goals and I still want to compete at a national and international level."