By From the Boston Globe
By Sapna Pathak, Globe Correspondent
When his second daughter was born, Joe Brice visualized a track and field athlete at the collegiate level, focusing her attention on throwing.
Eighteen years later, Chelmsford native Patricia Brice is following through, with a twist. She is balancing time between college studies and training on the track team. But she's a runner, not a thrower.
While Joe Brice's name is etched in the record books and the Hall of Fame at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell for his prowess as a thrower, Patricia Brice is making a name for herself as a sprinter and middle-distance runner for the River Hawks. The freshman finished her first indoor season on a high note, qualifying for this weekend's NCAA Division 2 Track and Field Championships.
She traveled to Mankato, Minn., last week to compete in the 400-meter dash and the 4-by-400 relay. Early this month, Brice helped UMass-Lowell's relay team earn 15th place at the New England Championship and ran the 400 in 57.80 seconds to qualify for her first national appearance.
In 1981, Joe Brice graduated from Lowell as a four-time All-American, setting the school's indoor shot-put record - 55 feet - that spring. The previous year, he set the school's outdoor record in the discus with a heave of 188 feet 3 inches.
Though track was in her blood, a last-minute change of heart led Patricia Brice to the sport.
"I tried out for the softball team my freshman year of high school. And the coach came and told me I'd made it, but I really didn't want to play. My older sister [Kathleen] was a senior on the track team, so I thought I'd just give it a try. I knew about my dad's career, but never really thought about doing track until that year."
As a child, she played basketball, soccer, and softball, but the move to track was welcomed by her father.
"I was extremely excited about her doing track," Joe Brice said. "I never pushed her to do track, but I always secretly wanted her to at least try on her own someday. She is definitely an athletic kid. You can usually do well in any sport if you're athletic, but you evolve in the ones you really love."
If Patricia Brice's evolution from her freshman year at Chelmsford High School to her first season on the River Hawks roster is any indication of her love for the sport, it's an obvious one.
Starting in the 100 and 200 her first season at Chelmsford, Patricia ran the 4-by-400 as a sophomore. During her junior year, she ran the 400, and she competed in the 800 her senior year. After playing basketball and soccer for three years, she opted for cross-country and indoor track her senior year. She was named the Merrimack Valley Conference most valuable player for both indoor and outdoor track.
"When we saw her, we knew she was a tough kid," said UMass-Lowell head coach Gary Gardner. "We weren't sure about her fitness level, but then she did cross-country and it made us think. Any time you have a mid-distance runner do cross-country, it shows they're not afraid of a good workload and have a good work ethic. It's usually a good thing."
After Gardner watched her train this past season, he described Brice's work ethic as "the one thing we haven't had to worry about. It really defines who she is."
This week, the River Hawks will kick off the outdoor season, traveling to Myrtle Beach, S.C., one day after the NCAA championship. With a full-time class schedule coupled with a vigorous track regimen, Brice, a criminal justice major, acknowledged that the transition to college athletics was not easy.
"I was really nervous about it. I kept second-guessing myself about whether or not I'd be able to handle both my school stuff and track stuff."
Her father, however, thought otherwise.
"It's really no different, being a good thrower or a good runner or a good student," he said. "If you focus on the event and put the time into it, you're going to do well. It's what I did, and it's what Tricia is doing. She's always had that burst of speed and the body type to be a runner, but I wouldn't have complained if she wanted to be a thrower, too. She's driven, too, in everything she does, her schoolwork and her running."
Four local athletes who compete for UMass-Lowell joined Brice at this weekend's NCAA championships in Minnesota. Freshman Lyra Clark of Nashua ran the mile while sophomore Heather McCarthy of Burlington also made her first NCAA indoor appearance in the 4-by-400.
Standout Andrew Grange of Methuen made his third indoor appearance and fifth overall, running the 400. The All-American was seeded sixth heading into the meet. Freshman Angus MacDonald , also of Methuen, ran the mile. Cory Murray of Methuen missed the cut by one place when he placed 14th at the New Englands in the shot put with a throw of 54 feet 2 3/4 inches.