When One Mile Leads to a College Scholarship and So Much More
Patricia Lorquet never considered herself an athlete until she discovered that a beginner running program for teen girls could lead to big opportunities and, eventually, a way to give back.
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She grew up in the Midwood section of Brooklyn, a neighborhood where sports were mostly limited to boys who played basketball. But Patricia Lorquet, a daughter of immigrant parents from Guyana and Haiti, was focused on school anyway.
“I didn’t see myself as an athletic person when I was younger,” says Lorquet, who’s now 22.
During high school she once tried to jog in the park with her friend. It was a failed attempt, but she wasn’t completely discouraged. And when she learned about a college scholarship program for incoming senior girls called Run for the Future, her interest piqued.
“I thought running was a sprint,” Lorquet says “I didn’t know there was a difference between sprinting and endurance running.”
She was about to learn all that and more, through a seven-week program by New York Road Runners called Run for the Future, which trains girls with no experience to complete their first 5K and earn a $2,000 college scholarship in the process. In addition to running, the teens learn about form, goal setting, and nutrition. Women from different career paths talk to them about fitting exercise into their busy schedules, too.
One of Lorquet’s first runs was a one-mile time trial with other girls around the Great Lawn in Central Park. Nervous to try something new, she took it extra slow. One of the coaches noticed and encouraged her to pick up the pace.
“She said, ‘Push it a little,’ and I said, ‘I don’t think so,’” she says.
But little by little, Lorquet’s running started feeling easier. Her breathing got smoother. Most importantly, she was enjoying it. And by the end of those seven weeks in 2013, she crossed the finish line of her first 5K—and had a feeling it wouldn’t be her last.
With her $2,000 scholarship earned, Lorqet was off to the University of Buffalo, where she studied biological sciences and continued to run. First it was a half marathon in 2016, then a relay from California to New York, benefiting young adults with cancer, when she averaged 10 miles a day over 49 days.
“When I told my family members that I am running cross-country, a lot of them are like, ‘Are you insane? Don’t your legs hurt?’” she says. “Yes, but it’s rewarding.”
It was only natural that the next step in her progression was the New York City Marathon, her first 26.2-mile race, with her friend Lexi Brown-Paniesse, who was also a first timer. The pair met during their time in Run for the Future and have grown their friendship through running ever since.
“We understood each other’s jokes and passion for running,” Brown-Panisse says. “Not to mention she understood my struggle of running with long curly hair—it is devastatingly hot.”
Brown-Panisse, 22, says her friend knows how to push others beyond what they think they can do.
“Her belief in our ability to cross that finish line is mainly the reason we finished the marathon in 2017,” she says.
Neeta Lorquet says her daughter has always been determined, born premature at just 3 pounds, 6 ounces. By the age of four she was already getting herself downstairs and helping herself to a bowl of cereal in the morning.
“Once she finishes one goal, she sets her standard higher,” her mother says.
Patricia’s drive is much like her mother’s resolve when she came to the United States as a young woman. Neeta Lorquet, 43, grew up in a family of poor farmers in Guyana, a country on the northern coast of South America. When Patricia was born in New York in 1996 after a difficult pregnancy, Neeta was determined to give her the best life possible.
“I didn’t have the opportunity to go to college, and I wanted that for her, and I want her to experience anything she wants to try,” Neeta says.
Lorquet has remained connected to the Run for the Future program, serving as a mentor through college and now a member of the coaching staff. Mackenzie Morrison, one of the girls she mentored, says there’s never been a time she’s asked Lorquet for help and been turned away.
“She was always available when I needed advice about college and pursuing a degree in the STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] field,” says Morrison, now an 18-year-old student at Smith College.
As a running coach, Lorquet doesn’t hesitate to share her own experiences and struggles to help girls take their first running steps.
“They are scared of the unknown, and they are scared they won’t be on par with their teammates,” Lorquet says, so she emphasizes that running is an individual journey to find the pace that works best for them.
She also takes the time to learn about the girls’ backgrounds. Some attend high schools that don’t have physical education classes, while others haven’t participated in sports because they take care of younger siblings at home.
“We know that young women drop out from sports at a much higher rate than boys by age 14 and many more young women in New York City never get the chance to even get that far in athletics,” says Annick Lamar, Run for the Future’s program manager.
What makes Lorquet such a great coach is the special bond she develops with the girls. Lamar saw that connection on display last summer at the new runners’ first 5K in Harlem.
“Coach Patricia moved through the start line crowd of almost one hundred nervous young women and calmed them,” she says. “I’m certain Patricia didn’t even realize how important her actions were at that moment, but it was obvious from the faces of the young women.”
In addition to running and coaching, Lorquet remains passionate about her education. In the next step of her dream to become a pharmacist, Lorquet will start pharmacy school this fall at Binghamton University.
And she also continues to raise the bar in running, one day hoping to complete the five other World Marathon Majors races in Boston, Chicago, London, Berlin, and Tokyo.
“I’ve completed one major,” she says, “so why not try them all?”