Vikes track star Rachel Francois runs to her future

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Rachel Francois is running from class to her track practice. Born into a family of star runners (her father, André Francois, was an Olympic sprinter and her mother, Julie, was also a high-level track star), she’s been on the move since she was a toddler. Spending much of her childhood at the track watching her parents, Francois was invited to run her first race at the age of three and instantly fell in love with the sport.

Though track runs in her family, Francois says she never felt pressured into running competitively. “Originally, I thought I was going to be a soccer player and go to university for that,” she says.

Though talented on the soccer pitch, Francois’s track career took precedence as she began to best both high-school and Canadian Summer Games records.

Despite a stress fracture slowing her down in the 2013 season, Francois still managed to set personal bests in the 300, 600, 800, and 4×400-metre events. “I managed to salvage my season,” she says, “but it still wasn’t what I had hoped it would be.”

Motivated by her injury, Francois has even higher hopes for the 2014 season. “My goals for the upcoming season are to try and run fast in the indoor season for UVic. I’d like to win CIS Nationals again in the 600-metre, and with our super strong 4×800-metre pool of girls this year, I think something big can happen.”

She cites her Vikes teammates as huge sources of inspiration and encouragement while she was overcoming her injury. “Even when I was just starting out again, they would cheer me on as I was jog-walking,” she laughs.

With her impressive stats and incredible drive, it’s easy to see why she’s already garnering Olympic buzz. “It’s my biggest goal: everything I do revolves around getting there. I find myself daydreaming about it,” she says, adding that she hopes to run the 800-metre in both the 2016 and 2020 Olympics. “Rachel’s going to be an Olympian for sure,” says Trish Fougner, an ex–UVic track star who also specialized in the 800-metre. “I really believe that.”

When she retires from competitive racing, Francois isn’t planning to stray far from her passion. “I always want something to be fast-paced in my life—you can’t go from running to just sitting at a desk job,” she says.

By combining her passions for networking and running, Francois hopes to become a part of the media and public relations side of track. “People are starting to realize they need to sell themselves and make themselves accessible,” she says. “You have to become something people want to look at outside of your meets and races.”

Francois believes that social media is beginning to play a huge part in grabbing people’s attention off the track, naming Canadian hurdler Perdita Felicien and legendary sprinter Usain Bolt as examples of good self-promotion.

“Usain Bolt is kind of groundbreaking,” she says. “He’s silly and fun. Even if you don’t care about track, you still want to see what he’s up to. You know about him.” Following in their footsteps, Francois started her own blog in April, which combines recaps of her races and insights into her day-to-day life.

At the end of the day, Francois wants to be known for more than just her running. “I believe it’s not enough to just run fast around the track. I feel like I’m in such a good position to connect with people through athletics—I hope to inspire others and pass on everything that I’ve learned to other people,” she says. “Sport can be so powerful, so I think it’s pretty amazing to have that opportunity.”

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