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The Oak Park High School community is mourning the death of former standout long distance runner Sarah Shulze, who was the Daily News girls cross country Runner of the Year in 2018.
“We suddenly and tragically lost our dear Sarah on Wednesday, April 13. She was surrounded by her loving family,” a tribute website set up by the Shulze family reads (SarahShulze.com).
The tragic news was confirmed by Oak Park athletic director Tim Chevalier.
“Sarah took her own life. Balancing athletics, academics and the demands of every day life overwhelmed her in a single, desperate moment. Like you, we are shocked and grief stricken while holding on tightly to all that Sarah was,” the message continued.
Shulze died in Wisconsin where she was a student-athlete at University of Wisconsin-Madison. She was 21 years old.
“The world is a better place for Sarah having been part of it. While her passing has been difficult to process, I take hope that her stories will continue to be told and her positive impact on others will be forever remembered,” Chevalier said. “In the classroom, Sarah was a top-notch student. On the track, she was a fierce competitor who was absolutely electric and continually pushed herself to be great. Off the track, Sarah was a gentle and kind soul; a loving daughter, sister, friend, and human who will be dearly missed by those that knew her and loved her.”
Shulze won the CIF Southern Section Division 3 championship in November 2018 with a winning time of 17 minutes, 15.9 seconds on the 3-mile course in Riverside. She ran in eight events that fall season, won five of them, and finished the runner-up in the CIF State Division III final.
One of Shulze’s best moments was winning the Ventura County Championship with a time of 17:30.3, which put her in the record books at sixth all-time. Steve White coached Shulze for 10 years in youth track and including her time at Oak Park.
“She was the consummate teammate and leader. She led by her example of hard work and true concern for her teammates while making them better in their own right,” White said of Shulze. “Her selfless attitude combined with her own personal drive made her an absolute joy to teach and coach.”
She later crowned herself the CIF Southern Section, CIF Masters Meet and Mt. SAC Relays champion in the 3200 meters in the spring of 2019 in track and field. Like Chevalier alluded to, Shulze was also an impact in the classroom from a young age.
“I was blessed to have Sarah in my middle school leadership/student government class where she worked everyday to help the rest of the student body understand that they were important,” White added. “Her tireless dedication to make life fun and meaningful for all around her made her a standout student, athlete, and friend.”
Shulze earned a scholarship to Wisconsin where she certainly left her mark. She recently finished first in the 3000 meters with a time of 9:43.98 and completed a personal best in the mile with a time of 4:56.57 at the Larry Wieczorek Invite this past January.
It’s the second heart-breaking tragedy that’s hit the east side of Ventura County in the past two months. Former Newbury Park High soccer star Katie Meyer was found dead by suicide in an on-campus residence at Stanford on March 1.
“As the new Superintendent in the Oak Park Unified School District this year, I sadly never had the honor to know Sarah,” school district Supt. Dr. Jeff Davis said. “However, I can tell you that Sarah left a lasting and indelible imprint on the district, Oak Park High School and the community of Oak Park that will never, ever go away. Sarah was a top student, a tremendous athlete and teammate, a wonderful friend, and a loving daughter and sister. She will be missed by so many, yet never forgotten by those that were fortunate enough to know her”.
Shulze is survived by her father and mother, Scott and Brigitte – both Wisconsin alums – and her sisters, Abbey and Ella.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified listener, call 1-800-273-8255.