Jenny Vacala crammed a tent and chairs and a cooler wagon and food and beverages and several pieces of luggage into her vehicle for a three-day, four-hour trip to steamy Indianapolis last month. The Lake Forest resident, somehow, also found room to load her most precious cargo: Isabella Marsico, Olivia Marsico and Lola Marsico. Vacala’s three daughters.
Isabella and Olivia (triplets with brother Rocco) will be seventh-graders at Deer Path Middle School in Lake Forest this fall; Lola enters the sixth grade at DPMS.
Each headed to Indy to run in an AAU Junior Olympic Games regional qualifier track meet, as members of the Waukegan Invaders track and field club team.
“Hot. It was incredibly hot there, 96 degrees,” Vacala recalls. “The kids had cold rags around their necks, constantly. We made sure the kids stayed hydrated all day every day. Fans, some fans, kept them cool, too, but there were times when the kids had to sit in air-conditioned cars in between events.”
The coolest news?
The Marsico sisters raced to a combined six age-group AAU Junior Olympic Games berths. The meet runs from July 25-August 4 at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Isabella paced the trio at the regional qualifier with three berths, advancing to the national meet after finishing first in the 800- and 1500-meter events and collaborating with three other Invaders (twins and DPMS students Olivia and Alexandra Palmberg, along with Savannah Vasher, daughter of former Chicago Bears cornerback Nathan Vasher) to top the field in the 3200 relay. Olivia motored to top-six finishes in the 800 and 1500, and Lola’s strong finishing kick and sixth-place showing in the 400 meant she would get to join her mother and older sisters for another summer trip to a track meet.
“A huge deal,” Vacala, the sisters’ chief videographer, says of the AAU JO Games. “It’s a huge honor to compete in a meet like that. Did I think all three would make it? No, not at all. Olivia came out of nowhere to do as well as she did, improving her times drastically. Lola, wow, what she did, how hard she ran at the end of the 400, was amazing, great to see.
“So happy for her, for all three of them,” the proud mother adds.
Isabella — sixth in the 800 and ninth in the 1600 at the Illinois Elementary School Association state track and field meet in East Peoria in May — hasn’t lost an AAU race since beginning her AAU career in 2017. Her personal-best time in the 1500 is 5:02, clocked this year, but it likely would have been a sub-five-minute time had she had some fast company from her fellow racers at the end of the race.
Hearing others’ footsteps tends to push an elite runner to better times. Vacala expects her decorated, highly competitive daughter to be pushed at the JO meet in Iowa.
“This takes discipline, succeeding in a sport like track,” Vacala says, adding the Waukegan Invaders, coached by Kenneth Almond, practice two hours (6:30-8:30 p.m.) three days a week and compete on most weekends during the club season. “The coach is pretty strict, and the amount of time the kids spend training and competing is pretty significant. They’re also told not to drink pop, not to eat junk food.”
Each Marsico sister sports a double French braid hairstyle on Race Days. Each also covers parts of her locks with a Nike headband on Race Days. The Marsico with the high pink or high purple socks on Race Days? Isabella. Only Isabella. Signature looks at track meets come in handy, especially when you’re related to runners wearing distinctive garb and accessories and you want to know exactly where they are from behind your video device.
The girls’ No. 1 fan might very well be triplet Rocco Marsico, who ran cross country at DPMS for the first time last fall and, as a Lake Forest Lacrosse Association middie, battled in a recent all-star game. Ask Rocco about his sisters’ results at meets, about his sisters’ personal-best times, about anything that has to do with his three sisters and track. He’ll spew quick answers, a Sports Information Director in the making.
There’s more to each sister than running briskly around an oval. Isabella welcomes any challenge in any sport, capable of picking up, say, a ping-pong paddle for the first time and using it to smack shots past a seasoned opponent and then finding the nearest hoops court and netting layups at will in a pick-up game. Olivia keeps her room at home cleaner than the other two do and likes to swim and play volleyball. And Lola loves executing gymnastics routines, even atop as cushiony pole vault landing area — as long as competing pole vaulters aren’t in the vicinity.
Before departing Indianapolis following that grueling meet in stifling conditions last month, the Marsico sisters, owners of six medals, piled into the family vehicle again, angling and contorting their frames to find room among all those items that had been reloaded. Vacala drove. Her daughters slept.