It should have been an exciting, but relatively minor, event at an end-of-the-season high school track and field meet.
It was anything but.
The Swedish Relay is one of those obscure events you rarely see, with runners combining to race 100, 200, 300 and 400 meters. And except for one runner, it would have raised nary an eyebrow on the track and field consciousness.
But Sydney McLaughlin changed all of that.
A senior at Union Catholic High School in New Jersey, McLaughlin made the 2016 United States Olympic team in the 400 meter hurdles as a 17-year-old, the youngest American Olympian in five decades.
Running the anchor leg, McLaughlin was well behind and in sixth place in an eight-team field when she took the baton.
What happened next has never happened in a high school girls meet.
McLaughlin set sail and almost immediately moved into fifth place. Then fourth. She caught the third-place at about the halfway mark of her leg and by the time she hit the home stretch she was in second place and gaining steadily on the leader.
By the time she crossed the finish line, comfortably in first, she had run 400 meters in 49.85 seconds, the fastest split time at that distance ever run by a high school girl.
Talk about rising to the occasion.
McLaughlin’s personal best time in the 400-meter hurdles is 53.82 and her personal record in the 400 is 51.84, but running a sub-50-second split is, well, amazing.
And considering the timing, incredibly appropriate.
McLaughlin’s heroics came a week before the 45th anniversary of the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972.
A world of achievement by women in sports can be traced back to that piece of legislation, which reads, in part, that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
The shoulders that lifted up generations of young athletes are both broad and strong. And they are legion.
The numbers include anyone who has ever coached a team made up of female athletes and showed them that they can be more together than they can be separately. That they can achieve any goal if only they believe in it and work hard to reach it.
They include anyone who has ever taught youngsters that good enough isn’t good enough and pushed them to get better each and every day.
That number includes such local giants as Linda Sheridan, who coached Shadle Park to seven state championships, five of them in volleyball. And it includes Judy Kight, who played volleyball under Sheridan and went on to coach Mead to seven state volleyball titles.
It includes mothers and fathers who encouraged their daughters to play competitive sports and make a life out of athletic competition. Fathers like Jim Stinson, who coached basketball and track at Davenport High School and encouraged his daughter, Jennifer, to explore her own athletic prowess.
Jennifer Stinson set a state record, for both genders, with 2,881 points in her high school career. She went on to play volleyball at Washington State and now Jen Greeny is the Cougars successful volleyball coach.
The legion includes men like Kelly Graves, who switched his goal from being a men’s college basketball coach to turning Gonzaga into a women’s powerhouse, and it includes Lisa Fortier, who grew up under Title IX herself and now is expanding Gonzaga’s profile on the national stage.
In includes Courtney Vandersloot, who blossomed on that GU stage and now is a standout player in the WNBA. It includes Briann January, who excelled at Lewis and Clark and is now a rival of Vandersloot.
And it includes former West Valley standout Lisa Comstock-Schultz, who was an All-American at Eastern Washington and went on to lead Lakeside to state championships in basketball.
It says much that a first reaction to seeing what McLaughlin did by a number of coaches was to wonder just how much faster she will run in her college career, which now begins at the University of Kentucky.
Because that’s the way it is when you unlock the limitless potential in young people. The sky changes from a ceiling to a goal. And when that happens, anything is possible.
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