Spencer Wordell ran the race of his still-young college career Tuesday at Spokane Falls, but he’ll never have a medal to show for it.
Which will ultimately go down as the real highlight of the NWAACC track and field championships.
It came long after the stirring relay duels and crushing distance runs and upsets minor and significant. The Titans of Lane Community College were leaving the awards stand with the third-place men’s trophy when coach Grady O’Connor was approached by a small group of athletes from other schools.
They were the medal winners in the 400-meter hurdles and to O’Connor they turned over their prizes with a request to pass them along to a young man named Larry Ragsdale.
He was supposed to be in their race Tuesday. But since March 11 he’s been in a coma in a Corvallis, Ore., hospital after suffering a traumatic brain injury in a head-on collision with a drunk driver. Ebullient and fiercely competitive, Ragsdale’s condition has been both haunting and inspirational for the Titans, who have been selling blue rubber bracelets to help defray the mounting medical costs. “Everybody Loves Larry,” they say, and on Monday at the meet banquet nearly 300 were sold. And then Clackamas hurdler James Ratliff had another idea.
“He approached me just before the 4x400 relay and asked me if I’d be willing to give up my award,” said Wordell, a Community Colleges of Spokane freshman from North Central. “I was happy to. Nobody deserves to be in a situation like that.”
All the other place-winners agreed, which made CCS coach Larry Beatty right twice when he called it “the race of the day.”
No NWAACC hurdler had run faster than 54.40 seconds all season, but Wordell – in obvious discomfort from a back injury lingering for two months – blasted a 52.99 and held off a fast-charging Ratliff by just .04, with CCS teammate Tanner Shalk also breaking 54 seconds.
It was just part of a pedal-to-the-metal meet for the Sasquatch men, who scored in every event and for most of the day had a big goal in sight.
“I’m hoping we score 300,” said freshman Anthony Brown after polishing off an impressive distance double with a 120-meter victory in the 5,000. “It’s never been done before.”
It still hasn’t – the Sasquatch scored a record 290 and won by 132 over Clackamas, their sixth straight men’s title.
Of course, it’s news when CCS doesn’t win the NWAACC, so no news is good news. That doesn’t mean there was no drama. That came on the women’s side, where the Sasquatch inched past Lane in the third-to-last event, the hammer throw, and held on to win by 71/2 points, the narrowest margin since Clark beat CCS by five in 2003.
“It’s good to get that push,” said CCS standout Chanel James. “It humbles you and that’s awesome. Sometimes you need to look in the mirror and dig down a little bit.”
So she did after suffering a minor upset in the triple jump at the hands of Lane’s Kim Wilson, coming back to roar through the 100 and 200 (“that one felt so good”) and run legs on both winning relay teams.
But there was a little panic. Rachel McDaniel felt some before the 800 – she was nearly in tears – then went wire-to-wire, charmingly oblivious to a backstretch challenge by Lane’s Angelyn Salyer.
“I was nervous – I’m a freshman,” McDaniel said sheepishly. “Was she close?”
Not as close as Lane’s Diana Batson was to CCS anchor Nicole Nida in the 4x400 relay, the two running shoulder-to-shoulder for 250 meters before Nida capped a roller coaster day by edging away.
The sophomore from Cottonwood, Idaho, had won the 400 in a lifetime-best 57.25 – then was last in the 100 just 10 minutes later.
“I was so embarrassed,” she said. “I was cramping after the 400, but in the blocks of the 100, I felt great. Then the gun went off and my legs felt like Jell-O.”