An invitation to participate in the annual Golden West Track and Field Classic held on the campus of the University of California at Sacramento is something only a select few athletes ever receive.
But that's what 16-year-old Whitney Hardt received late this spring after turning in several standout running performances in high school 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter events.
In Sacramento on June 8, Hardt found herself pitted against a field of 16 of the most accomplished long-distance runners in the nation.
Most of the athletes were recently graduated 18- and 19-year-olds bound for college.
"Only three (of the runners) were underclassmen," Hardt's mother, Ellie, said.
Almost from the very beginning of the race, which was the first true mile Hardt had ever competed, the Rim country teen found herself boxed in among the field of runners.
That was an unusual experience for Hardt, who usually is a front runner no matter how stiff the competition. Being unable to turn on her speed frustrated the budding running star.
"I spent the whole race trying to figure out how to get out," she said.
Late in the race, she opted to slow and sprint to the outside lanes which were not as congested.
"That cost her a good three or four seconds," her mother said.
Hardt went on to finish eighth in 4:56.2. The winning runner, who was from Alaska, was clocked in 4:52.
The elite race turned into such a hotly-contested affair that only about six seconds separated the top 12 finishers.
With the Golden West at an end, Hardt will take a break from competition until she travels Aug. 5 to Chula Vista, Calif., where she will train for one week at the Olympic Training Center.