Story and photo by Doug Petrowski
For every story of victory there is a one of defeat; for every story of winning exhilaration, there is one of failing despair.
The Mountlake Terrace High School track teams experienced both last weekend at the WIAA 2A/3A/4A State Track and Field Championships in Tacoma. The Okoronkwo siblings, Gifton and Chinne, each won state titles in the triple jump; Chinne was also a runner-up in the pole vault. Other Hawks that achieved podium (top eight) finishes included McKenna Hunt, Beau Kennedy, Bryan Wyss and Tye Exparza.
But for Terrace senior Duane Dahl there would be no victory, no medals, no elation.
Dahl, captain of the MTHS boys track squad, became eligible for the state meet in three events — the 300 meter hurdles, and as a member of two Terrace relay teams. “Personally qualifying for state for the 4×100, 4×400 and the 300 hurdles was very special to me as I met the goals that I set out at the beginning of the year, let alone seeing my coaches faces light up with pride,” Dahl said.
Three events, three opportunities to compete at the state level and make a mark on history.
At the state championships, two heat races are run to narrow the field down from 16 runners to the eight that will face off in a sprint or relay event finals. First up for Dahl was the 4×400 meter relay; on Thursday evening the Terrace team finished well behind the competition in the their heat race and failed to qualify for the finals.
While those results were disappointing, Dahl still had two events to go.
Friday afternoon, Dahl finished fifth in the first heat of the 300 meter hurdles with a time of 40.48. It was a personal best for Dahl, but he wasn’t sure if it was good enough to get him into the finals. Following the running of Heat 2, the times were posted and Dahl learned he had indeed made the finals in the last qualifying spot.
“I heard my Head Coach (Russ Vincent) yell, ‘You made it!’” Dahl explained. “As soon as I heard that I quickly ran straight to my hurdles coach, Coach (Sarah) Henry, to tell her. We were both so happy that we made it, that all those late practices and hard workouts paid off. I could finally breathe a sigh of relief.”
The 300 meter hurdles would be run the next day, but Dahl still had work to do on Friday.
“Later that day I had to run the final leg of the 4×100 relay,” Dahl said. “My team was behind when I got the baton and I was running hard to try to catch people. Everything was going well until about 20 meters from the finish line when I felt extreme pain in my hamstring. As soon as I crossed the finish line, I fell to my knees. While on the ground I knew something was wrong, and I thought to myself ‘this might be it, the season is over.’ The next thing I know the official was telling me to stay on the ground, and the trainer walked over and helped me up and walked me straight to the training room.”
Dahl and the rest of the Terrace team did not know the extent of the injury, but did know they missed out on qualifying for the 4×100 meter relay finals by .26 seconds. “It was disappointing, as we came in to the meet with the second fastest 3A time in the state,” Dahl added.
As discouraged as he was, Dahl still had the 300 meter hurdles final on the meet’s last day to do something special and be remembered by. That is, if his leg cooperated.
Dahl iced the injured hamstring overnight. “The next morning when I woke up my leg was not feeling much better than the day before and I began to worry that it was in fact pulled,” he recounted. “When we got to the stadium I went straight to the trainers to see if we could do anything for my leg. We heated it and wrapped it hoping it would help. I went on a jog around the stadium to see how my leg would hold up. I was unable to get above a light jog without my leg tightening up to the point where I couldn’t run.”
Dahl consulted with his dad Doug Dahl, the MTHS sprint Coach Clint Rankin, and his hurdles Coach Henry about the injury and the upcoming 300 meter hurdles final. “At that point the decision was not to run and Coach Henry could tell I wasn’t happy and that the emotions were coming out,” Dahl said.
The decision to pull out of the meet was not an easy one for Dahl, knowing the implications of not competing in an event finals. “It was overwhelming, knowing that if I didn’t start and finish the race, the rules state that you are out. You don’t even get to stand on the podium in 8th place, no medals, nothing.”
“It almost looks like you weren’t there,” Dahl said.
The official state meet results for the 3A Boys 300 Meter Hurdles lists just seven competitors in the event, not the typical eight; there is no mention of Dahl.
“My emotions were high, I felt like I failed in my goals. As I sat dejected, Coach Henry came over and sat me down and we had a heart-to-heart conversation,” Dahl recalled. “She explained that yeah it sucks to not be able to run, but that she was proud of what we had accomplished this year, and that this was not the end and that it did not define my season. I had a great year, and my last race in the hurdles was my best, a personal record.”
Although calling it a “sad ending” to his high school track career, Dahl said he has no regrets about the decision not to compete in his last race. “Although devastated I couldn’t run in the finals, my coaches, family, and every last one of my teammates picked me up and supported my decision to not run, and let me know that they were proud of me.”
Dahl was still upbeat when describing his weekend at the state meet. “Going to state this year was a great experience for me, despite everything that happened. Just being able to go down there as part of one of the best teams ever to walk through Mountlake Terrace High was amazing.”
Dahl pointed to his coaches, especially hurdles Coach Henry, for contributing greatly to his time in high school track, and is looking forward to competing at the next level. Dahl said he will make a decision on where he will attend college soon.