LAKEWOOD • Her fifth race on Thursday? That’s one Lauren Gale had never prepared for. Never needed to. She holds five school records, the hearts of the Discovery Canyon fandom, a track scholarship to Colorado State, a head-shaking tale of expedited rehab. But this? This was a first.
This was a race (from a race!) to her high school graduation.
“I’m going to run my 200 (meters) and keep running, straight into the van: ‘Mom, Dad, let’s go!’” Gale said.
If there’s a way around the balancing act that is athletics and academics, I know a few million kids who wouldn’t mind copping the blueprint. One man’s guess: there’s not. Nudging a track and field career onto one end of the high school see-saw and four years of homework onto the other and simply crossing your fingers that it levels off seems like a pretty big gamble to take.
The good ones don’t gamble. The good ones — and the CHSAA state track and field championships at Jeffco Stadium this weekend is jammed full of 'em — come armed with a plan, right up until the final starter’s gun and full sprint to their graduation ceremony.
“I’m going to change clothes in the car,” Liberty sprinter Andrew Doctor said.
Doctor had one race in the morning, a preliminary in the 110-meter hurdles, and a narrow window to reach his ceremony. Andrew crossed the finish line at 14.39 seconds, fourth in his heat to qualify for the finals, and at 10:46 a.m. on my watch. His graduation ceremony was set for 2 p.m. at Clune Arena — 1 hour, 30 minutes, to the south, depending if the other half of Chicago was planning to move here on Thursday or Friday.
He seems like a great kid, hoping to run track at Arizona State, but even I could tell Andrew didn’t have long to chat. Hey, the tassel wasn’t going to flip itself.
“Cap and gown, the whole thing,” he said.
And if there was no way around it — you had to choose between scooting down Lane 4 or scooting across the stage at graduation?
“Well,” Doctor thought out loud, “if I had to choose, I would be here (at state track). Everyone gets a diploma, but not everyone gets to be here.”
Enough jibber-jabber from me. Get movin’, man!
“Gotta go,” he said.
OK, so I guess it’s possible to squeeze by with the minimal schoolwork and sports work being accomplished. You can always get by. But not for the great ones, not in this sport. You don’t cruise over to the rec to play pickup hurdles, or have a game of pole vault with Dad in the backyard. Most of the events that thrilled another sunburned crowd at Jeffco Stadium are lifestyles you must commit to, and the only one hating life through one more 400 is the athlete.
(This seems like a proper time for an aside: Denver East’s Arria Minor. Never seen anything like her. "The Blur Angel" smashed two state records, in the 200 and 400. Her 400 time of 51.92 is the fastest in the country this season. “Came out pretty hard,” she said. You have three options, friends: go watch the Angels' star junior this weekend, next track season, or on NBC when the Olympic Games roll around.)
I dig how Widefield does it. Others surely do the same, but Widefield’s registered: Wednesday night, before the actual graduation ceremony, the school told sprinters Shynesti Johnson and Elijah Whatley to sport their cap and gown to a special ceremony. Oh, and bring a crowd.
“The best part was we could have as many friends and family as we want,” said Shynesti, who admitted she would’ve been in a bind for a normal ceremony, which requires tickets. Shynesti brought 30-plus.
Their own private crowds whistled and hollered as the track stars strolled across the stage, after the national anthem and before two school board members, principal and the athletic director and their adoring fans.
“Pretty cool,” said Shelli Miles, the Widefield AD.
Back to Lauren Gale. High school rushed by. From school to track to her night shift at MOD Pizza. From the medal stand to post-race celebrations at IHOP. She even rushed through rehab after hip surgery last January, a grueling, five-day-a-week recovery that was supposed to cover six months until Lauren trimmed it to four.
“When the doctors said I could start jogging, I took that as ‘you can run at state,’” she said.
Lauren rushed through the 100, 200, 400 and sprint medley on Thursday, qualifying top three in all four, and off to her high school graduation at night. These state track seniors? Catch ‘em if you can.