ATTLEBORO – If not for Abigail McNulty’s father pushing her in the direction of high-school running, there is no story about how this Cumberland native and Bishop Feehan senior blossomed into a long-distance ace that will be Stanford-bound this September.
To borrow from a popular television series: “Father Knows Best.” Tom McNulty certainly fits the bill after parlaying a strong tennis career at Feehan into a scholarship to Providence College.
“I actually did not want to run when I came here (to Bishop Feehan). My dad forced me to do it,” McNulty admitted last week while watching her Shamrock track teammates dodge raindrops in a meet against Bishop Stang.
It was only after McNulty began seeing dramatic reductions in her times between her freshman and sophomore years that she warmed up to the idea that combing wood-covered trails in the fall, and pacing herself around the ovals in indoor and outdoor track, had the potential to take her places.
“The summer before my freshman year, I did not want to do anything,” McNulty recalled, “but then I started to improve and became really motivated. Plus my dad ran a lot with me over the summer, so just to have somebody with me was a huge help.”
The list of schools that McNulty paid official visits to include Duke, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Stanford and PC. Such a collection of prestigious institutions offers proof that committing oneself to such a challenging discipline holds the potential to reap a coveted reward – in McNulty’s case, an athletic scholarship.
With the recruiting process complete, the 12th grader can look back at her inauspicious start to life as a Feehan harrier and marvel at just how far she’s progressed in a relatively short period of time.
“I never expected that so much would come out of this, but after realizing what hard work can do, it helped me to push myself to become the best I can be,” McNulty expressed.
In short, she’s gone from being unsure about a sport where you run the risk of falling behind even if you take one day off to a signature moment in her young life, one that took place this past February when she signed a letter of intent to attend a college located across the country from her Rhode Island address.
“I’m very excited to experience this next milestone, ” said a smiling McNulty.
While her dad certainly played a vital role in launching McNulty’s running career, she would have not become a future member of Stanford’s track program had she not assembled a pretty lengthy list of low times. Whether the clockings were achieved during the cross-country season or the one- and two-mile events she participates in during the track seasons, they could probably publish a special insert that lists all of her feats and accomplishments – there are that many.
The one that stands out the most occurred last December at the Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Ore. Competing against 198 high-school runners from around the country, McNulty finished 25th with a time of 18:05. The outing served as a bit of redemption after she was unable to finish the MIAA All-State Championship.
“I went out too fast,” McNulty shared.
That might be the only blemish on what has been a stellar two-year run. McNulty was the 2012 Massachusetts All-State cross-country champion and won back-to-back Eastern Mass. Division III state titles. Shifting gears to track, she closed out her indoor career with a first-place finish in the mile competition at February’s MIAA State Championship Track & Field Meet. Her winning time of 4:55.25 was also a personal best.
When it came time to stick her toe in the recruiting waters, McNulty did what any other promising runner in her position would do: she took the initiative by emailing prospective coaches. Such a process began in earnest last summer. Upon receiving interest back, McNulty then plotted out when she could make official visits.
Her trek to Stanford, which she made by herself, was in late October. It was the fourth visit with only Georgetown remaining.
“I know I want to major in chemistry or at least something along those lines. I looked at the programs and the size of the school and how I connected with each team,” said McNulty, who ranks in the top-10 percent of her class at Bishop Feehan and is a member of the National Honor Society.
By November, McNulty had made up her mind.
“I weighed the pros and cons of each school, but at Stanford, I had this gut feeling that I felt I belonged there,” McNulty said. “I felt the coaches could help me grow as an athlete.”
As for Tom and Kathleen McNulty’s reaction when their daughter told them that she had settled on Stanford, Abigail noted, “They were completely supportive. They wish I was a little bit closer, but they understand that this is a great opportunity.”
It’s an opportunity rooted in a father who saw something in his daughter along with a nudge in the right direction. Abigail’s performance along with her dedication and tireless efforts took care of the rest.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03