Sprinter Hernon

Mountain View High’s Aoife Hernon, sprinting in a race earlier this season, plans to run track at Tufts University next year.

As life slowed down for many during the pandemic, Aoife Hernon was determined to speed up. With the track and field season canceled after the first meet of her junior year, the Mountain View High sprinter turned her focus to getting faster.

Hernon not only achieved that – as evidenced by the two medals she won at last month’s Central Coast Section championship meet – but last year’s experience also proved cathartic.

“Track was a sense of normal – I leaned on it during COVID,” said Hernon, who graduated in June. “I trained on the Mountain View track and did weightlifting in my garage. I loved being on the track. It was time to myself – I’m part of a family of five, and we were all at home. It was something to work toward.”

Even before COVID came about, the Los Altos resident was known for her devotion – or perhaps obsession – to improving on the track.

“She started in 2018 as a very middle-of-the-road JV sprinter, but, man, did she work harder than anyone I have ever coached,” Spartans sprints coach Mark Rutner said. “She came back her sophomore year and was already better than when she finished her freshman year.”

Dropping time

Hernon’s times back that up. They have improved dramatically since she joined the team. As a freshman, her best time in the 400-meter dash was 1 minute, 4.43 seconds. Early in her sophomore season, Hernon beat that time by more than two seconds to win the Open Division race at the Firebird Relays.

“That race changed my thinking,” she said. “That was when I realized that my work was paying off.”

By season’s end, Hernon cut her time to 59.88. Then after essentially a year away from racing – an injury limited her participation in Mountain View’s lone meet of 2020 – Hernon dropped her top time to 58.23 as a senior. That personal record came at the CCS semifinals June 12 at Soquel High, where she placed second.

A week later, Hernon returned to that track for the finals and took fourth in the race. She wasn’t pleased with her time (58.77) – “My race strategy was off. … I started too fast and didn’t have enough gas in the tank at the end,” Hernon said – but there was a time in her track career that she didn’t imagine ever qualifying for the meet.

“If you asked me at the start if I would medal at CCS, I would have probably laughed at you,” Hernon said.

Make that two medals – she also took third in the 200 dash with a 26.33. That wasn’t far off her personal-best time of 25.99, set at the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League championships May 29. Hernon also ran the first legs of the Spartans’ 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams that came in third at the league meet (both advanced as far as the CCS semis).

Next up: Tufts

Hernon said she hopes to be part of the 4x400 relay at Tufts University next year; the college recruited her after she reached out to the coach via email a year ago.

“It’s been one of my dream schools for a while, and I’m very excited (to go there),” she said. “It has a great environment and good balance of academics and athletics. I’m very grateful to be part of the team.”

Hernon added that while she loves running the 400, she may focus on the 100 and 200 dashes in college.

Rutner is sure that Tufts will be pleasantly surprised by what Hernon has to offer the team.

“The athlete that they recruited to run is a completely different athlete than they will be getting,” said the coach, a former standout sprinter at Mountain View. “She is talented, she is driven and she is a natural leader. MVHS was lucky to have her, and Tufts will realize that very quickly.”

As for majors, Hernon said she is considering psychology and may minor in entrepreneurship or art. The Irish-born Hernon, who moved to Los Altos in grade school, paints with watercolors and has also started a small fabric painting business.

“Anything creative, I like to do,” she said.

That and sprinting, of course.

“I really enjoy the sport,” Hernon said, “and that’s pushed me to work hard – and so did the (Mountain View) team. ... My team was a really big part of my success. I’m grateful for all their support.”