Lauren Soobrian is a normal American teenager by almost all standards. She has two sisters. She likes to bake in her spare time. She’s currently growing an avocado tree in her backyard.
But there’s one thing that sets the Los Altos senior apart: how extraordinarily fast she is.
Soobrian has been running since the fifth grade, when her teacher doled out jelly beans to students who ran laps around the school.
“I did a lot of other sports when I was little,” she said. “But I got more serious [about running] in eighth grade because … I found out how much I liked it when I tried all the different events for the track team.”
Now, she runs on the Los Altos cross country and track teams, and is committed to Duke University for both sports. She is consistently the varsity girls cross country team’s top scorer; last season, she led the group to place first in the Division II state rankings and 13th nationally.
With Soobrian leading the pack, the cross country team has school records for the Woodward, Baylands and Crystal Springs courses. Soobrian herself has won both the Woodward and Baylands courses and placed second at Crystal Springs. Last season, she won seven of the nine races, placing 10th and 13th in the latter two due to injuries.
“It’s [running’s] just something that’s really fun to me,” Soobrian said. “If I’m stressed about school or life in general, I always run to … relieve that stress, even when we’re doing a lot of competitive training and all that.”
Exercising to relieve stress isn’t a new concept for Soobrian — she and her family have been doing the same since Soobrian can remember. Their older sister is on the triathlon team at UC Berkeley and was a student-athlete in high school, and both parents run for fun in their spare time. An important aspect of their “family values” is learning to balance academics and athletics, Soobrian said, and her parents have always been supportive of her athletic career.
However, running still has its fair share of mental hurdles to overcome. Soobrian said it can be easy to fixate on times and “get lost in the splits” — the time it takes to run a specific distance — so she tries to prioritize the experience of running over numerical achievements.
“Over the years, it’s been fun to be able to … develop as a runner and learn more about the sport of running besides running, if that makes sense,” she said. “Like, it’s more about the team aspect and the growth over time versus the performance that you might have.”
When her teammates were asked to describe Soobrian in a few words, they said she was “sweet,” “shy,” “never out of breath” and “her own little running pack during practice.” But the overwhelming consensus was that Soobrian is an unfailingly humble, supportive teammate.
“This year, we’ve had a lot of success … and they’re [the team is] getting a lot of press and coverage and hype,” Los Altos coach Stephanie MacKenzie said. “That can get to people’s heads. But I think because Lauren’s so calm and cool under pressure and kind of doesn’t buy into all that, it’s really trickled down and helped these girls just keep doing what they do and not get caught up in that sort of excitement.”
Her teammates said they had always sort of naturally gravitated toward Soobrian due to her sheer speed and humility.
“[The rest of the team sees her] as a role model, I think, since she’s so fast and so not cocky about it,” said teammate and senior Fiona Bodkin. “And that just brings us all … [to not] really want to brag about making progress. I mean, she’s definitely like our pusher, if that makes sense. She sort of just carries us.”
This year, Soobrian was able to exercise her leadership abilities as a house team captain. The house teams work a little like the ones in the “Harry Potter” series: the 125-person cross country team was split into five even groups, each with its own captain. As a house team captain, Soobrian’s job was to take attendance, lead warmups and motivate their team to win the weekly team challenge. It was Soobrian’s first time being in an official leadership capacity, but judging by MacKenzie’s verbal assessment, she did a pretty good job.
“It was really nice watching her lead the group,” MacKenzie said. “They’re so inspired by her and impressed by her, so it’s just really nice the way she shares with everyone.”
When asked if all the praise — and pressure — ever gets to her, Soobrian’s response was quintessentially her: direct, humble and honest.
“I don’t really see myself differently,” she said. “And [other] people might [see me differently], but I try to not really think about that. I view myself mostly the same.”
However, during Soobrian’s sophomore year, she faced injuries and appendicitis — and surgery for the latter — which rendered her unable to run during both cross country and track seasons. She came back late in her junior year cross country season — especially disappointing, she said, considering the pandemic-induced cancellation of her freshman year track season.
“It was frustrating, you know, … getting injured and turning around and then getting injured again,” Soobrian said. “But I definitely found that they [the injuries] made me stronger, because they just really pushed me to develop and be able to mentally overcome these hurdles and obstacles.”
Soobrian said most of the time she was injured was spent cross-training by herself at home, building up her non-injured body parts through exercises such as cycling and using the elliptical machine.
Sophomore Emily Soobrian, who is on the cross country team and Soobrian’s younger sister, said Soobrian’s perseverance shone throughout her recovery.
“When she’s injured, she never really gives up,” Emily Soobrian said. “She just cross-trains a lot, which isn’t as fun as running because she’s just in our garage on the elliptical for an hour. But she never gives up even when she gets injured over and over again.”
When asked if it’s weird being on the same team, both sisters said no. In fact, the two have long run together outside of practice. Soobrian said running with her sister is relaxing and a good way to bond. According to the younger Soobrian, however, the runs aren’t entirely stress-free.
“A lot of times she [Lauren], like, tells me to stop breathing really loudly and tries to get me to fix my form,” Emily Soobrian said.
Nevertheless, she said she’s grateful for the extra pointers — and the experience of watching Soobrian pursue her love for running through the years.
“I think it’s really motivational [to watch Soobrian run] because she’s been through a lot, especially with injuries,” Emily Soobrian said. “It’s pretty amazing to watch her go from running in sixth grade to now.”