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Mr. and Mrs. Collinsworth are both pursuing athletic dreams

Shea and Kyle Collinsworth, married almost a year, have agreed to a separation, but not for the reason you might be thinking.

Kyle, the recently graduated BYU basketball player, has lived in Las Vegas for six weeks, preparing for the NBA draft and flying around the country to work out for various teams. Meanwhile, back in Provo, Shea has become a rising young middle-distance runner, making a major breakthrough last weekend with a third-place finish in the 800-meter run at the NCAA track and field championships in Eugene, Oregon.

The pursuit of athletic careers could mean a prolonged separation. Kyle is hoping to start a pro basketball career that could move him to another city. Shea, who qualified to compete in next month’s Olympic trials, plans to return to BYU for her senior year and then pursue a professional track career.

“Nothing is set in stone, but I want to finish at BYU,” she says. “We’re both understanding of each other. We won’t hold each other back. We might have to be apart.”

The leggy, 5-foot-9 Collinsworth ran a bold race at the NCAA championships to claim All-America honors. She and her coach, Pat Shane, wanted an “honest” race, meaning they didn’t want a slow, tactical 800-meter race that devolves into a 100-meter dash, as often occurs in championship events. Collinsworth planned to take the lead and push the pace herself, but her rivals pushed a fast early pace, allowing her to sit on their shoulders for the first lap. She was boxed on the rail, but then she caught an unexpected break: a gap opened in the first lane. Collinsworth shot the gap and took the lead, pushing the pace into a head wind on the backstretch.

“My strategy was to lead, but the other girls wanted to take it out faster,” says Collinsworth. “I was fine with that. I knew my opportunity would come. Then I saw an opening right before my eyes. One of the girls moved wide in lane one. I couldn’t believe it. That never happens. It was too good to be true.”

It wasn’t until the final homestretch that she was overtaken by sophomore Raevyn Rogers, the defending champion from Oregon. Rogers won the race in 2:00.75. Stanford’s Olivia Baker caught Collinsworth near the line to claim second in 2:02.65, with Collinsworth next in 2:02.83.

“The fact that she had the confidence to take the lead like that and lead into the wind was a big step in the right direction in terms of her confidence and maturity as a competitive athlete,” says Shane.

Collinsworth is the latest of a handful of native Utahns to star at the 800-meter distance for BYU. Lacey Cramer Bleazard, from Lone Peak High, won two NCAA indoor 800 titles and one runner-up title from 2009 to 2011. Nachelle Stewart, a converted sprinter from Spanish Fork High, won the NCAA outdoor 800 in 2012. Julie Jenkins, from Plain City, won the NCAA outdoor title in 1987 and went on to make the Olympic team and run one of the fastest times ever by an American, 1:57.82.

Now along comes Collinsworth, of whom Shane says, “She’s every bit as talented as the others and maybe more talented.” She took up the sport in seventh grade to stay in shape for soccer and went on to become a two-time state champion at Davis High School, setting a still-standing state record of 2:08.45. Shane saw her run as a freshman and filed it away for the future.

“It’s pretty clear that anyone who runs 2:08 is pretty talented,” he says. “But watching her run in person elevates what the results show you. She is a tall girl and she moves like a deer. Her movement patterns and her mechanics are amazing, and she’s fast as well. By the time she was a junior I was convinced. I realized she was another great Utah talent.”

Collinsworth has improved methodically at BYU — 2:05.98 as a freshman, 2:04.36 as a sophomore and then this year’s 2:02.83, the third fastest in BYU history. She credits the addition of speed work to her training regimen and a weight-lifting program. Her raw foot speed has improved dramatically. Collinsworth’s best 400-meter time in high school was 56.86; last winter she set a BYU indoor record of 53.72 and during the outdoor season she ran 53.45.

Now she wants to see where it will take her. “I want to try it for a couple of years and see how it goes,” she says. “I want to have a family, too. It’s just figuring out when enough is enough. In my opinion, family is the most important thing in life, but I’m trying to find that balance. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I want to see how much I improve. I have goals. You are only young once. I’ve been given these talents and I want to see where they take me.”

Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: drob@deseretnews.com