MOST OF US have done the mundane routine of running the mile in middle-school gym class.

It was the introduction to distance running (for 12-year-olds, 1 mile is distance running) for Massachusetts native Sean Quigley. After the run, he quickly looked up the world record for that distance.

"When I saw it, it boggled my mind," he said.

Now in his senior season of track and field at La Salle, it's Quigley who has been boggling other people's minds with his success in the sport.

Beginning on June 27 in Eugene, Ore., Quigley will compete in both the 10,000- and 5,000-meter races at the Olympic Track and Field Trials for a chance to run at this summer's Olympics in Beijing.

Before then, Quigley will run the 5K race in the NCAA East Regional Meet on Friday at Florida State to qualify for the NCAA Championships, June 11-14 at Drake in Des Moines, Iowa. Quigley already has qualified for the 10K, in which he placed fourth last season.

For Quigley, who grew up in Braintree, Mass., this whole running thing didn't become an obsession until a few years after that first mile run.

"My freshman year in high school is when I started running on the cross country team [at Archbishop Williams]," he said. "I wasn't super into it at that time. But I knew I had an ability for distance running. I thought I could be really good at it. At that time I was playing other sports. I felt like I was pretty good at those sports. But running, I knew, was going to be my best sport."

It didn't take long for him to start dominating.

"The first cross country meet I had as a freshman, I came in like fifth or something," he said. "It was early in the fall, so it was pretty hot and I felt like crap. Then my next race I won. It wasn't saying much, because our league was pretty crappy back then. My time was probably like 19 [minutes]-something. But I improved as the year went on.

"I also played hockey my freshman year, but I quit that the fall of sophomore year and just focused on running. Sophomore year I became real serious about it. I mean, I was serious during races all along, but I didn't really know how to train at that point. I didn't know what you had to put into it to be really great. I started to realize it's a lot of hard work."

As Quigley's wins piled up and his times spiraled down, colleges took notice. La Salle coach Charles Torpey liked what he saw when he recruited Quigley.

"When I saw him, I knew he was right on the fringe of being special," said Torpey, now in his 15th season at La Salle. "He won the Nike 5K indoors, which is a pretty big meet. He was a state champ in Massachusetts, which is a very good state. His times weren't great, they were good. But he won most of the time. There were a lot of reasons his times weren't great, including being in the Northeast and the cold weather. Maybe because of that other schools didn't recruit him. But for us, it's just the way it worked out. Fortunately."

Torpey has overseen three Olympians during his tenure at La Salle, and Quigley will end up being his most decorated runner. He already has been an All-American six times, including a school-record three times last season, with his final NCAA meet still to come.

Now, as the college competition winds down, the 5-7, 130-pound Quigley allows for some reflection.

"Seeing myself progress every season was fun and it was exciting to see what I could do next," he said recently after an 80-minute run through Fairmount Park. "I expected to be at this point once I started to get better, but I also kind of surprised myself, too.

"My best memory of running at La Salle is competing in relays, which is really exciting. It gives you a great feeling of being part of the team. At the Penn Relays, running with the team [in the 4 x 1 mile] was an awesome feeling. The fans were cheering and getting into it. It was great."

He's hoping to see many more of those types of days in the near future. Quigley graduated from La Salle a few weeks ago, majoring in history. He's not sure how he will use his degree, but he does know what he wants in his immediate future.

"I'm looking to run professionally for the next few years, at least," he said. "The way it works is, you get a shoe contract and you get a salary from that. Then you do different meets, where the meets will pay appearance fees. Some meets give winners a certain amount, or give money to the top-three finishers. But really, for a professional runner, the money comes from the shoe company."

His coach is confident his star runner can achieve all of that. After all, he has seen the amazing progression up close.

"He's talented, hard-working and has a good head," Torpey said. "He's stable most of the time. He puts in the time. He has consistency and patience. And he's always progressed very well.

"His freshman year when he ran 30 minutes and won the 10K, I thought that was pretty good for an 18-year-old. Then, in his sophomore year he went to Stanford [for the Stanford Invitational] and ran a 28:59. That was the first time he went to that meet.''

Torpey did not accompany Quigley, but one of his assistant coached did.

"I called one of my assistant coaches,'' he said. "It was like 2 in the morning here and he was saying, 'He's 25:50-something with a lap to go.' I said, 'You better not be [lying to] me.' That was the first time I was like, whoa. That was pretty incredible. Since then it's been steady progression."

No doubt one that will continue for years to come. *