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For one day, Phoebe Wright was like any other 20-year-old home from college.

No boosting that 3.97 grade point average in biological sciences at the University of Tennesseee by completing her research grant on soil microbes three weeks early.

No solitary run beneath a grilling sun to improve her SEC-best time in the 800 meters.

No diet measured out to the last calorie and nutrient.

"You'll go crazy if you devote 100 percent of your life to one thing," Wright said on the Fourth of July as she hung out at her parents' home on Signal Mountain. "You need to get away now and then."

So she pigged out on grilled hot dogs, hamburgers and potato salad. She looked forward to a fireworks show with her parents and 10-year-old sister Chloe. She relaxed. Finally.

"Then it's back to Knoxville," she said. "I've got a lot of work to do."

The work on Wright's summer-long research grant to investigate how soil microbes are impacted by nutrients and insects in agriculture just got a little tougher. She is flying to Belgium this morning, enduring an 18-hour trip so she might shave 1.12 seconds off her 800-meter best of 2:01.12. If she can do that, she'll earn a spot on the USA squad for the World Championships in Berlin in mid-August.

Wright's third-place finish in the USA Outdoor Championships on June 28 in Oregon opened the door for Berlin. But before she can walk through, she must run a time of 2:00 flat or better in an IAAF-approved event.

"We're going out there to get good competition and a time that will qualify her for the World Championships," her UT coach, J.J. Clark, said Tuesday.

"We searched high and low for a similar competitive situation here in the United States, and we couldn't find any meets that were worth the trip. We may have to get her in a couple of races in Europe, but for right now we're going to Belgium, take it one race at a time and see how it turns out."

Wright hopes her stay in Europe will be brief.

"If I run a 1:59," she said, "I'm coming home (until August). If not, I could be there awhile. We just don't know yet."

We already know there's been almost nothing wrong with Wright's year so far. She won the 800 in both the SEC indoor and outdoor meets, finished second in the NCAA national indoor meet and was fifth at its outdoor event.

"Her learning curve has been very fast," Clark said earlier this summer. "She's a junior and she's maturing now. There's always more as you mature."

Indeed, one of her Red Bank High School coaches believes that could mean London for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

"If Phoebe finishes third at the U.S. trials three years from now, she'll be going to London," said Rodney Stoker, now coaching at Bryan College. "Right now, she's tearing it up. If she continues to improve, there's no telling what she can do over the next four years."

The past four years have been eventful enough. Despite a sterling prep career that included 800 and 1600 titles in the 2005 Volunteer Track Classic at UT's Tom Black Track, the Big Orange didn't offer her a scholarship.

Undeterred, Wright -- who finished fifth academically at Red Bank -- walked on.

"I thought it was going to be easy," she said. "I figured if you were decent in high school and got some good training that you'd become an All-American. I got a little shock when I got there."

Actually, more than a little, even if it's all pretty much turned out the way she planned.

"I wasn't just last on the team," Wright said of those first weeks in Knoxville. "I was the very last. It was the first time I'd been exposed to weightlifting, and I was so sore I couldn't even walk across campus."

She was so sore that any class that forced her to talk up UT's famed "hill" began at the bottom floor of the geology building, then continued through the science building.

"Both buildings had elevators," she said. "So I could get halfway up the hill in the geology building, then make it most of the rest of the way up in the science elevator. There were a lot of days I wanted to walk through practice, but I kept running."

Yet by the indoor season her freshman year she helped UT win a relay race at the SEC indoor championships. She followed that in the outdoor season with a stirring leg on the Lady Vols' 4x800 runner-up team at the Penn Relays.

"I never questioned I was good enough," Wright said. "I just needed somebody to believe in me."

Said Clark in May of his decision to become that person: "Her personality stood out. I saw someone I believed I could coach."

Stoker said there was a time she needed to believe in herself.

"The first year I was Phoebe's coach was her sophomore year," he said. "We went to Baylor for the first meet. She was right with the leaders the whole time, but she finished behind them. After the race I asked her why she didn't pass them and she said, 'I didn't think I could.' The next time we raced she dominated those same girls. You could tell right away that she had some wheels."

She now has some of the hottest wheels in the 800-meter world. And she should only get better.

"You don't peak as a runner until you're 30," Wright said. "A lot can happen, but right now I want to keep doing this."

You wonder how she keeps doing it. The running. The schoolwork. The sustained excellence in both.

She's so focused she doesn't even listen to music when she runs because, in her words, "you can't concentrate."

Yet Wright dismisses the notion that she's unique by releasing the smallest of laughs, then adding, "I'm just an average college student."

One day a year, at least.

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