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Ruben Sanca: Olympian River Hawk

University’s Running Legend Heading to London

Image courtesy of UMass Lowell Atheltics
Alumni and staff member Ruben Sanca will run the 5,000-meter race for his native Cape Verde in the 2012 Olympics. Photo courtesy of UMass Lowell Athletics.

By Ryan MacInnis

Training for the Olympics isn’t an average after-work activity, but for Ruben Sanca it is. For him, it’s also a pre-work activity.

At 6 a.m., Sanca laces up his sneakers and begins a 12-mile run through the Lowell State Forest. Upon returning home, he showers, makes breakfast and heads to work at UMass Lowell for his 9-5 shift as the business manager in the Office of Student Affairs. After work and some physical therapy, and before dinner, Sanca knocks out another eight-mile run.

Thanks to this typical training day — in addition to some good genes — the former UMass Lowell track star is considered one of the premier runners in the world; in July, he'll represent his native Cape Verde Islands in the 2012 Olympics in the 5,000-meter run. He’ll run the preliminary Wednesday, Aug. 8 and the final is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 11.

“It’s sunk in a little that I’ll be going to London, but I don’t think it will actually hit me until the opening ceremonies,” the 25-year-old says. Sanca will travel to London with his coach, UMass Lowell Director of Cross Country and Track and Field Gary Gardner.

Sanca graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business in 2009 and his master’s of business administration in 2010. Since then, he has racked up several impressive titles and appearances in three international competitions, all of which contributed to his Olympics selection. He is Cape Verde’s record-holder in the 3,000 meters (8:07.50) and the marathon (2:18.43).

“I’m healthy and I’ve got time to get in even better shape before I go,” says Sanca, who is logging between 110 and 120 miles per week. “I’ve been doing quite a bit of road races to work my strength. In the next month, we’re going to pick things up and hit the track more.”

Sanca, who immigrated to Massachusetts at the age of 12, started running to keep in shape for soccer. But during his freshman year at Boston's John D. O’Bryant High School, Sanca switched solely to competitive running. He continued to race throughout college.

“When I trained in high school, the distance wasn’t as high and the training wasn’t as intense, but when I got to college, I got stronger and trained to run farther,” Sanca says. “Training at UMass Lowell taught me to open up my capabilities, to set goals and take advantage of the competition and the great program they had. I wanted to be an All-American and set school records.” 

Sanca did that and then some.

Among the records he holds at UMass Lowell, his time of 13:56 in the 5k indoor is his most prized. He led the River Hawks to become the first non-Division 1 school to win the cross-country New England championships. Sanca was a four-time All-American, three-time New England champ and is considered to be one of the top-five distance runners in UMass Lowell history.

But snagging another title isn’t Sanca’s top goal for the Olympics: He’s most concerned about being an ambassador for his home country.

“My goal isn’t necessarily to win a medal or set a record, but to represent my country well and help the development of their track and field program,” he says. “The first runner from my country made the Olympics in 1996, and since then, we’ve been in every Olympics since. It’s a long road, but we’re taking the right steps to help their programs and hopefully my story will have a big influence on them.”

Supporters can follow Sanca’s progress on his blog and through his Twitter updates.

Sanca is one of several former UMass Lowell athletes to compete at the Olympic level. Former rower Shelagh Donohoe ’88, now the head rowing coach at the University of Rhode Island, was a silver medalist in the women’s four at Barcelona 1992.

UMass Lowell’s list also includes a handful of former hockey standouts, including Mark Kumpel ’83, a member of the U.S. hockey team in Sarajevo 1984; as well as Yorick Treille ’02, Laurent Meunier ’02 and Baptiste Amar ’03, all of whom played for France in Salt Lake City ’02; and David Delfino ’88, who represented Italy at Albertville ’92, Lillehammer ’94 and Nagano ’98.