When it comes to identifying what events best suit an athlete in high school track, it takes more than just lining said athlete up and seeing how fast he or she can run.
Take, for example, Lake City senior Tanner Schalk. He was always the fastest runner in his class, but not the fastest among his peers in the Inland Empire League.
So his coaches put him in an event that would best exhibit his abilities. Enter the hurdles.
Schalk put speed, strength and technique together last spring to capture the 5A state championship in the 300-meter hurdles. He also took third in the 110 hurdles.
He broke school records in both events at state – 39.3 seconds in the 300 and 15.08 in the 110 – and was named LC’s male track athlete of the year. He’s well ahead of his pace year over year.
At the LC Invitational a week ago, Schalk had season bests, 39.7 in the 300 and 15.2 in the 110. Those times are about a half-second ahead of where he was last year at the same time.
What makes those times even more impressive is the fact that he was coming off a slight quad injury he suffered the week before at the Pasco invite.
“His legs were fresh,” LC coach Kelly Reed said of Schalk’s efforts at the LC invite. “He’s so athletic and so powerful he may have needed a little rest like a racehorse. Those times didn’t surprise me at all.”
Schalk took two days off from practice after the Pasco meet and then did some light nonhurdle drill work two days in a row before testing his quad the day before the LC meet.
“(The Pasco invite) was the worst day of racing for me the whole year,” Schalk said.
In his 110 prelim at Pasco, Schalk had a 16.1 – nearly a second behind his season best. Then in the 300, he felt his quad tighten as he went over the third set of hurdles.
“I couldn’t snap my leg down like I usually do,” Schalk said. “I finished the race but I backed off and didn’t run hard because I wanted to avoid serious injury.”
LC’s trainer, Beven Rich, advised Schalk to take a couple of days off practice.
“He did what he was told to do and treated the injury properly,” LC head football coach and assistant track coach Van Troxel said.
Schalk credits Reed, Troxel and hurdles coach Joe Partington with where he is today.
“(Partington) has been a big part of keeping me focused and motivated,” Schalk said.
Schalk has been coachable and especially dedicated in the weight room.
“He’s been pretty disciplined in the weight room and with his drill work and technique,” Reed said. “He’s a thoroughbred. Some kids struggle with various aspects of the hurdles, but Tanner just seems born to go over them. The 300s look so easy for him.”
Schalk admits the 300s come easier than the 110s. The longer race allows him to get the most out of his speed in between hurdles. The shorter race, which involves higher hurdles, doesn’t afford him space to take advantage of his speed. And mistakes are much more acute and difficult to overcome in the shorter race.
While he surprised most by taking third in the 110s at state last year, he didn’t surprise himself. In fact, he thought he could have won.
His confidence was buoyed after the prelims when he was beating the eventual state champ, A.J. Boully of Borah, with three hurdles remaining.
That’s when Schalk knocked down a hurdle, stumbling briefly before he regained his balance and finished third. The top three advanced to the state final.
“I just didn’t have enough time to recover after I knocked down the hurdle,” Schalk said. “It was all I could do to keep my balance.”
Then in the final, a slow start out of the blocks doomed Schalk.
Boully, who won the race and finished runner-up to Schalk in the 300, is back.
“I’ll concede that he’s the favorite in the 110,” Schalk said. “I got his attention in the prelims. He knows I’m coming for him this year. He’s not going to get anything easy. It’s going to be a tough race.”
It took Schalk until regionals last year to break into the 39s in the 300.
“I wanted to be in the mid-39s at the start of this year,” Schalk said.
He understands that colder weather in March isn’t conducive to personal-best times while athletes in southern Idaho, particularly the Boise area, post better times well ahead of North Idaho athletes each year.
“It’s not unfair, but it’s unfortunate,” Schalk said. “They get the better weather and we’re inside trying to train.”
So Schalk has been patient, knowing his times would begin to improve measurably as he got closer to May.
He has his sights set on getting his times into the mid-38s in the 300 and mid-14s in the 110 by state.
“If he hits the hurdles right, he could be in the 38s easy,” Reed said. “Tanner has worked for everything he has; nothing has come easy for him. He’s self-made. He does have a lot of natural gifts, but he’s worked hard. He’s made himself in the weight room.”
Schalk’s dream is to challenge the state record (37.74).
“If the weather is good and I have the perfect race I think it’s possible,” Schalk said.
Schalk wants to go on to college and compete in the hurdles. He’s being recruited by Community Colleges of Spokane, but he’s keeping his options open.
He earned four medals at state last year and wants to do so again this year. He’ll run legs on the 400 and 1,600 relays – both of which Schalk believes could finish as high as third at state.
Troxel appreciates Schalk’s dedication.
“He’s as good as they come,” Troxel said. “In terms of effort and ability, he’s going to give you everything he’s got every day. You can’t ask for more.”