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The IHSA State Track and Field Meet is this weekend, and each year when it comes up, it makes me recall my favorite state memory.
It happened five years ago.
It involved an athlete who no sports writer other than myself paid any special attention, and she was only mentioned in passing in state track articles.
The athlete was my sister Molly.
Just seeing her and her 1,600-meter relay teammates jog onto the blue track at Eastern Illinois University’s O’Brien Stadium was a moment of immense pride for me because of the path she took to get there.
Molly was a standout sprinter at Andrew High School — she held all the school sprinting records upon graduation — but state eluded her for three years.
She missed qualifying in the 100-meter dash by five-tenths of a second as a junior and had a few relays fall just shy of meeting the qualifying standard.
Finally for her senior year, everything seemed to fall into place.
After another offseason spent lifting weights and running club track, Molly had a very successful regular season.
However, just before the Class AA Andrew Sectional — in which she was seeded to qualify in the 1,600 relay and the 100 — bad luck struck as Molly was diagnosed with pneumonia a few days beforehand.
She gave it a go and ran the 100 preliminaries, but didn’t advance to the finals and her prep career appeared destined to end with her crying next to the track where she enjoyed four years of success.
But her teammates managed to qualify in the 1,600 relay without her, giving Molly a glimmer of hope that she’d be able to compete at state.
Luckily, she was cleared to run a few days before state, and a teammate gave up her spot in the relay to give Molly her chance.
Molly only spent 58 seconds running on the track in Charleston, but it gave her a satisfying culmination to years of hard work.
From medalist to last-place finisher and everyone in between, those moments of personal triumph — along with the overall atmosphere — are what make state track and field one of the highlights of each school year.
While Molly’s race was my favorite, I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing and writing about many memorable moments over the years.
I saw Bureau Valley’s Alisa Baron glide around the track in record time to put an exclamation point on her illustrious career with a state championship in the 400 in 2008.
Last year, I was standing near the track as Marquette’s Dani Aurit pushed herself to exhaustion to earn a spot in the 1,600 finals and then do it again two days later to earn medals in the 1,600 and 3,200.
I saw Fieldcrest runner Maria Baldwin’s joyful reaction after learning she earned the final spot in the 1,600 final, watched Air Force-bound Bureau Valley senior Carly Grunloh cap her running career with her first state medal in three tries and witnessed many others relish in medalist and/or personal-best performances.
With 20 area athletes and two area relays set to compete this weekend in Charleston, there are sure to be many more memorable moments, and I can’t wait to witness and write about them.
Kevin Chlum is the NewsTribune Sports Editor. He can be reached at 220-6939, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.
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