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Alison Lee doesn’t like to talk about it much. She doesn’t like to brag or make it seem like she’s better than anyone else. But quietly last month the Cardozo senior committed to Harvard on an academic scholarship, spurning track scholarships from a handful of Division I colleges.

“It’s not that I don’t tell people about it, but I know a lot of my friends didn’t get into their dream schools and for me to be able to choose between all my dream schools was an amazing thing,” Lee said. “So, I try to keep it on the down low sometimes. Just to make people feel a little better.”

Lee, the premier distance runner in New York City, could have gone to any number of track powerhouses with her grades (she has a 100.06 average) and her athletic ability. But she wanted an Ivy League school, so she chose Harvard over Princeton, Brown, Penn and Columbia.

“That’s tops right there, that’s a goal reached, a goal accomplished,” Cardozo coach Gail Emmanuel said of Lee’s college choice. “It defines what a student-athlete. It’s like the definition.”

Lee finished first in the 1,500-meter run and her relay team won the 4x400 meter at the PSAL girls’ track and field Queens Borough championship Saturday at Bayside HS. With her classes at Cardozo finished, all she has to worry about next is the PSAL outdoor city championships June 8 at Randall’s Island.

That means no more juggling Advanced Placement courses and a sport that consumes her time three out of three seasons per year.

“Freshman year was a big one, because that’s when I first started,” said Lee, who won the Heisman Wingate award (given to the PSAL’s best senior athlete in a given sport each year) in cross country in the fall. “I didn’t know how to incorporate track into my studies. Sophomore year and junior year were tough – junior year was just killing me every day.”

When she started at Cardozo three years ago, track was just a hobby, an extracurricular activity. Lee had never run before, but she got very good quickly and Emmanuel told her that the sport could serve as a vessel to a college scholarship. Track and good grades could work hand in hand in finding the best possible college, the coach said.

“When she started believing (assistant) coach Ray (James) and I that she can start excelling at this, then she started putting more effort into the track,” Emmanuel said. “She started thinking, ‘Hey, this can really take me somewhere.’”

The coach thinks Lee is good enough to make the NCAA Championships as a distance runner at Harvard. But the same problem of prioritizing academics and track will resurface again in Cambridge. She plans on majoring in Engineering.

“I hope I can handle it,” Lee said.

Then she paused.

“I’m tough,” Lee continued. “I can handle it.”

Reach Associate Sports Editor Marc Raimondi by e-mail at mraimondi@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.

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