Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of articles that will look back at some of the all-time great track and field athletes in southwest Kansas. The 100th KSHSAA Track and Field Championships begin Friday at Cessna Stadium in Wichita.
By BRETT MARSHALL
Megan McClain remembers her first experience competing in the Kansas State High School Track and Field Championships at Cessna Stadium in Wichita.
It was her freshman year in 2001 and she was simply trying to find her way onto the track to prepare for the 100-meter dash preliminaries.
"I couldn't figure out how to get down there on the track," McClain said. "I was hurriedly trying to roll my warm ups off and get to the (starting) line, but I did make it and I eventually finished second in the finals."
That would be the only loss in an illustrious high school career that the Lakin Lady Bronc track star captured eight gold medals in three years at the state championships.
During her three years at state, McClain won the 200 three times (25.66, 25.62 and 25.64 seconds), the 100 twice (12.6 as a sophomore and 12.45 seconds as a junior) and the 300 intermediate hurdles three times (44.07, 44.97 and 44.98 seconds). Her hurdle time ranks as the all-time best in The Telegram's Honor Roll and she is the only female to run that race in under 45 seconds.
Who knows where she would stand in the state annals had she competed her senior year?
In the final minute of a state basketball game her senior year, McClain tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee.
For McClain, she used the right leg as her lead over the hurdle. She would not experience that feeling of going over a hurdle until her freshman season — more than a year later — at Fort Hays State University. By then, she had switched to using her left leg to lead over the hurdles.
"A little of it is bittersweet," said McClain, who has just finished her first year of working toward a Doctorate of Physical Therapy degree at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City. "I think at the time it was worse on my family and friends than it was on me."
McClain says she has nothing but fond memories of the state track and field meet though, and plans to be in Wichita this week when the event celebrates its centennial for boys and the 39th girls event on Friday and Saturday.
"The whole experience there is overwhelming," McClain said. "I'd been going to the state meet since I was a little girl, but to get out there and be part of competing, it was like, 'wow, I'm really here.'"
McClain said she never had trouble getting herself prepared for races.
"I was always looking to see how far I could push myself," said McClain, who also holds the fastest time in the 100 in the area at 12.0. "It was never really about medals but always about how well I could compete with myself."
McClain recalls the winning mark in the 300 hurdles her freshman set a Class 3A record at the time.
"After that, winning the 200 was really like icing on the cake," McClain said. "The 200 felt awesome and it turned out to be my favorite race. I was always running against myself and I was just a naive freshman. I had high expectations all the time."
McClain said the high school track season is comparatively short and in her sophomore year everything jelled in Wichita at the state meet.
"It was really satisfying to see all the work come together," McClain said. "I was able to cut down on my times but the hurdles were always the toughest. They're kind of finicky."
In addition to her three individual gold medals, the Lady Broncs won the 3A state team championship. It came despite McClain was involved in a baton exchange mishap on the final leg of the 400 relay. As the No. 1 seed going into the finals, it was a disaster at the time.
"It really kind of just hit me badly because it was a team thing and we wanted to get a gold together," McClain said. "That's what made it so amazing to pull out our best performances in the other events and win the state championship."
In her junior year, McClain and her teammates duplicated the title feat and she claimed three individual titles.
"It was by far the best because we wanted to come back that year and prove to everyone that the year before was not a fluke," McClain said. "The coolest part was to take the victory lap with the team around the track. We did it together."
The bittersweet senior season of 2004 is a fleeting memory today for McClain, but she said it made her realize the good things she had in life and those lessons have served her well.
"I had to finally tell myself that I'm OK and even though I didn't get my senior year, I still had many wonderful things that had happened to me," McClain said. "The best part was learning how strong I was. It wasn't a comfortable time but I always look back and value those things because they set the tone of who I am today."
After her senior season, McClain was awarded a track scholarship to Fort Hays State University. In her own words, the four years there competing in NCAA Division II was a mixed bag.
"I had a transition year my freshman season and it was very difficult," she said. "I was just trying to get my feet back under me after the injury and the hurdles were now 400 meters and not 300 and it was kicking my butt. It's such a hard race."
Her sophomore season was back on track as she ran the 400 hurdles in 1:02.11 and qualified for the NCAA Division II national championships.
"I felt amazing and thought I was really just getting back into shape," McClain said.
Then injuries hit her once again. Early in the spring of her junior year (2007) she tore the meniscus bone in her right knee, the same knee that suffered the ACL tear.
"I felt that I was in the best shape I'd ever been in," McClain said. "I got in two outdoor meets before the injury and then the season was gone."
Following months of rehabilitation again, McClain worked herself back into shape but opted to give up the 100 hurdles and focus solely on the 400. She was able to qualify for nationals once again, but said her second best time ever in the event was usually just good enough for fourth place.
"I knew where I was and had to accept that or just be crushed," McClain said. "It's just something you've got to accept. My senior year ended well, I had no injuries and I was able to leave my best effort out on the track."
Upon graduation from Fort Hays in 2008, she spent a year working as a physical therapist aide at the Hays Medical Center and is glad now that she took that year to get a first-hand look at the physical therapy world.
"I'm really glad I just didn't jump from school to school to school," she said. "I've been through what a lot of athletes will go through and if I can help them through their tough times, then I will feel good about that. I think when someone suffers an injury that it can be devastating and I know that my experiences can help others get through it."
The McClain Medal Count
2001 — Freshman (Second-100; First-200; First-300 hurdles)
2002 — Sophomore (First-100; First-200; First-300 hurdles)
2003 — Junior (First-100; First-200; First-300 hurdles)