PHS Athlete Profile | Sebastien Swain

Becky Spies

Piedmont freshman Sebastien Swain runs down the stretch in a rainstorm. Swain made the CIF championships in cross country and will run multiple events at the NCS Bayshore championships May 11.

In theory, Sebastien Swain was a natural to run. His parents were both middle-distance runners with more than a little success. But Swain spent his childhood playing soccer. And a little basketball. And in eighth grade, he took up rowing. “That was a menace,” Swain said.

He also started running track in eighth grade, although he was primarily rowing during track season. As a result, Swain had little expectation when he started running cross country for Piedmont High School as a freshman in the fall.

Expectations exceeded. Swain qualified for the California Interscholastic Federation Division 4 cross country championships. He finished 67th at the state meet in 16 minutes, 41.3 seconds, after taking 13th at the North Coast Section championships.

Now, he’s tearing up the track in the spring. He ran a personal-best 1:57.07 in running second in the 800 at the West Alameda County Conference championships, after running second in the 1600 in 4:18.58, another PR.

“I’ve been super-surprised by the success I had in cross country and track,” Swain said. “Beginning of cross country season, I didn’t expect to make it to state meet. I didn’t think it was a possibility. Somehow it continued into track season. I just kept improving. I’ve dropped almost 30 seconds in my (1600) time, close to 50 from last year. My improvement has been off the charts. I never thought I’d be breaking 4:30, 4:20. And I didn’t think I’d break two minutes in the 800.”

Swain will run in both events at the NCS Bayshore championships at James Logan on May 11. He will also run a leg on Piedmont’s 1600 relay team. He said he will likely drop the 800 at the NCS Meet of Champions May 17-18.

Now, about his parents. His mother Becky Spies is one of the all-time greatest runners in Bay Area history. She won the CIF championship in the 1600 back-to-back in 1990-91. She then went on to a stellar career at Villanova and ran professionally, making it to the U.S. Olympic Trials. Spies ran a 2:08.35 in the 800, a 4:15.99 in the 1500 and a 4:38.32 in the mile.

Becky Spies is a two-time CIF track champion and also competed at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Her son Sebastien Swain is one of the top middle-distance runners in the Bay Area. (Photo by Bill Leung Jr.)

Spies was a Rhodes Scholar along the way and now is a pathologist, working for John Muir at the Walnut Creek and Concord campuses. Swain’s other parent is Kathryn Swain, who has worked in finance and as a radio host. Running under the name Chris Swain, they made the NCS Meet of Champions in the boys 800 for Redwood in 1990.

So how did Sebastien Swain avoid running all of those years? “My parents didn’t want to push me into running because they both knew how tough the sport can be,” Sebastien said. “They wanted me to do the sports that I wanted to do and that I found fun. I’ve enjoyed running so far and happen to keep wanting to do it. I question if they put me in soccer to trap me into the running world,” he added, laughing.

Piedmont’s Sebastien Swain (right) battles Bishop O’Dowd’s James Prater down the stretch in the 800 at the WACC championships. Swain finished second in 1:57.07, a personal-best.

Said Spies, “For a second there I thought he might choose rowing over running, and I had started to get excited when he started running.” Spies said she started running at a significantly younger age by following her older brother to CYO track meets. “He was my babysitter,” she said.

Spies said she’s happy Sebastien has found his way to running but both parents wanted him to find his way there.

“We probably thought that he would end up in running and (Kathryn) ran a 1:55 in high school but it’s a tough sport,” she said. “(We) thought you don’t need to start that young. It’s hard on the body and the joints. I saw plenty of athletes come up in high school and they weren’t there four years later. If you start it too soon, it’s a lot physically, it’s a lot emotionally. It can get really intense.”

Swain said he finally took up the sport when his friend asked him to try it. Despite the sudden success, Swain said he is still working on a lot of things. Mainly, his form. “My form is not the best,” he said. “I have a lot to work on. My head would be sideways, my body would be moving back and forth. Makes for some amazing pictures.”

Piedmont’s Sebastien Swain (purple) said one of his quirks when running is that his head is on his shoulder and his body moves side-to-side.

He said his main improvement has come from working with the team and just running six days a week. Although he loves soccer, he said he just comes out for his club games now and will probably drop it soon to concentrate on running.

As the track season winds down, Swain said he is really excited about the Meet of Champions. His potential decision to drop the 800 is based in part on how close he is to the Piedmont record in the 1600 as well as the possibility of advancing. “There are going to be some really fast guys there,” he said. “When you’re in a faster race, you get carried toward a PR. As of now, I haven’t decided. I’ll probably throw out the 800. I’m really excited because I’m only four seconds off the school record in the (1600). “I could run a 1:56, maybe 1:55. but the competition in the 800 is really tough.”

Swain also said the problem with the 800 is that if you have a bad start, you are basically cooked. “I’ve had a couple 800 races where the start, I’ve gotten blocked out,” he said. “One time, I got tripped. If that happens in Meet of Champions and I don’t qualify because of my start, I’m not looking forward to that possibility.”

He added, “I’m just super-excited to be able to compete against the guys from all over Northern California. Races that are high-stakes. It will be fun. To be able to race against a lot of them in track is a different experience and I’m really looking forward to it.” It’s all still so new.

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