If you’re a track fan, you have to love the comeback story of Olympic marathon qualifier Molly Seidel.
And it’s not just because she is an unsurpassed high school talent, with a reputation on the level of Cathy Branta and Suzy Favor Hamilton, who explored the vast wide world of distance running and found out that she belonged in its elite. Nor is it because she is smart as a whip, with a love for music, sailing and people.
No, it has everything to do with what she did and how she reacted after some of her many talents betrayed her at times in the years following the substantial mountain of success she built as a prep.
Her still ongoing recovery left with challenging physical, mental and financial issues, but she has found a way to work around them, tucking her head as she would into a headwind on a cross country course, and succeeding again.
That’s why you should love Seidel’s story.
She completed her prep career at small University Lake School in Hartland in 2012 by winning WIAA state D3 1,600 and 3,200 track titles again, completing a four-peat in both events, still the only runner boy or girl to do that in Wisconsin history (a few years later, Camille Davre of Whitefish Bay would accomplish a similar feat in the 800 and 1,600).
Seidel’s attempt at completing the 800, 1,600, 3,200 sweep in 2012 was foiled by an injury on Saturday afternoon, but her place in WIAA history was already secure.
Her D3 records in the 1,600 (4:51.54) and 3,200 (10:21.93) remain untouched eight years later. She had also won her fourth straight state cross country title the previous fall and was named Gatorade National CC Runner of the Year after claiming the prestigious Foot Locker Cross Country Championship later that autumn.
And that just skimmed the surface of what this overachiever in so many fields would accomplish.
At ULS, she was a “mathalete” with a 4.0 GPA, a pianist, a dabbler in the ukelele, sang in the choir and sailed and walked her dogs for fun. And as she told the Catholic Herald in 2012, her view of herself was not of someone special.
“I don’t see myself as like a big-shot runner, I just see myself as Molly,” she said.
But special she would become when she went to Notre Dame on a D1 track scholarship. She won numerous Atlantic Coast Conference titles in track, and claimed the NCAA indoor 3,000 and 5,000 meter titles in 2016. She also won the NCAA outdoor 10,000 meter title in 2015, becoming Notre Dame’s first national track champion in the process. She also won the NCAA women’s cross country title in the fall of 2015, making even more history.
All the while, however, there were issues eating at Seidel, things that would come to a head after those two NCAA indoor championships in 2016. A stress fracture that year sidelined her Olympic Trials hopes and at that point, an eating disorder along with depression were starting to eat at her spirit and body.
She turned down running contracts from shoe companies to try and get her life back in order, but it took a long time as her eating disorder depleted her bone density which made her more susceptible to injury.
Seidel entered eating disorder recovery programs and spent two years in therapy and still has to work at things everyday, reorganizing her life as both a healthy young woman and elite athlete, not just one or the other.
She slowly worked her way back and went in a different direction. A modest contract from Saucony helped but she still has to work to make ends meet with her sister with whom she shares an apartment in Boston. She got healthy and tried a few half-marathons, turned in excellent times and qualified for the Olympic Marathon Trials.
Then in her first marathon ever on Feb. 29 at said Trials, she performed a remarkable “Cinderella” act, finishing second, and putting herself into the elite of the elite by qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics.
The Olympics were of course postponed until next year by the COVID Pandemic, but Seidel had made history, again, and more importantly, had far exceeded her own expectations.
“Realistically, it’s kind of a moonshot for me doing this race,” she told Johanna Gretschel of Runners World just three days before the Trials’ race. “I might as well do this for the experience. …Be a little bit more conservative, see how the course goes and then, hopefully, get to the last couple miles and see what I can do.
“You never know.”
No one really did until that point and as a result, Seidel became the feel good story of the Wisconsin sports calendar in a year desperate for good stories.
Here’s to her creating more such stories.
POLE VAULT TAKES A LEAP
When the pole vault was introduced into the girls WIAA state track program in 2001, young women flew high and far quickly, with several records set in the next few years.
And during the season of 2005, Jenny Soceka of Madison Memorial cleared the coveted 13-foot barrier, long a height considered a state level achievement for boys, but not even Soceka could top the official state meet record of 12-6 set by three-time champ Liza Lewis of Ashwaubenon in in 2003.
The event flat-lined a bit for about five years until a young dynamo named Bonnie Draxler of Wrightstown came upon the scene in 2011. She won the D2 title as a freshman at 11-3 and then broke through in 2012 to set an all-classes record with a 12-7 effort.
It was not her best effort in 2012, as she had set a then all-time state best of 13-3 just a week earlier in sectional competition, but her efforts set the pace in what would be a breakthrough year for the girls in the event, as records on all three levels were either broken or tied.
In fact, Draxler was not the only female performer to go over 13 feet in sectional competition in 2012, as in D1, Arrowhead senior Cami Gilson cleared a terrific 13-1. At the time, Draxler and Gilson were only the second and third girls to clear the height.
And as it stands, only six Wisconsin prep girls all-time have cleared the height.
Draxler, as she had as a freshman, would also win the 400 in 2012, the second straight time she would achieve that rare double. She would do it all four years and would set the official all-classes state pole vault record of 13-3 in 2014 as a senior.
She would then go on San Diego State and simply become one of the best vaulters in the nation (more on that in a later post).
Meanwhile, back in D1 Gilson couldn’t quite reach the promised land, but she still set a record. She and defending champion Alex Flucke of Ashwaubenon both tied Lewis’ state mark of 12-6, but Flucke got the gold medal because of fewer misses.
In fact, one couldn’t blame Gilson for being more than a little bit frustrated with her prep career, as this was the 3rd straight year she had finished as state runner-up in the event. In 2011, she had lost by a foot to Flucke. Closing the gap couldn’t help her win the title in 2012, but she would share the D1 record for four years.
She went to Minnesota and did well, eventually earning team co-captain status her senior year, as she was a multi-time Big 10 Conference placewinner with a best of 13-5 3/4 (tied for fifth best in school history). Further, she was a three-time Academic All-American handling the challenging double major of accounting and finance.
In earning her title, Flucke joined her sister Melissa Flucke (2008-09) as two-time champions in the girls vault and helped cement Ashwaubenon as the unofficial capitol of girls vault in the state of Wisconsin. Including Lewis (2001-03) and Erin Havener (2006), Jaguars’ vaulters have won the state title in the event eight times in 19 years.
And down in D3, that brings us around to Faryn Wirkus. In helping the Wildcats claim their third impressive state team title in a row, Wirkus achieved the rare feat of being that rare athlete to break a divisional record not one, not two but three times. She broke her own 2011 mark by two inches with a clearance of 11-9, beating the runner-up by close to two feet.
Wirkus was not done with the vault either, as she went to NCAA DII Minnesota State University and because a two-time indoor All-American as well as a conference champion clearing a best of 13-5 3/4. She was also a three-time academic all-conference.
4 x 800 RECORDS ALSO UNDER SIEGE
The Baylor Method of training emphasizing the 200 and 400 meters that got a solid toehold among Wisconsin prep programs the previous decade, began to pay massive dividends in the 2010s, especially around state meet time and would continue to do so for several years, rewriting state records and all-time top 50 lists in the process.
The girls 4 x 800 relay records were among those changed forever, especially in 2012, and it was in D1 where the biggest noise was made.
In 2011, Neenah, behind a breathtakingly young quartet of Claire Knaus and Jennifer, Jessica and Alison Parker, became only the second team in state history to go under when they won with a 9:08.64 time.
The grouping would remain intact in 2012 and their results would turn out to be historic. The Rocket coaches were cagey in 2011 and protected their talented quartet and were able to sleep-walk through sectional qualifying with an absolutely glacial 9:55.15, which put them smack in the middle of the SLOW heat of the event in La Crosse.
Which may have startled the fans still settling into their seats on Friday’s first day, as the Rockets would obliterate the heat by over 33 seconds. In doing so, the Rockets would also take down the near-legendary record of 9:03.38 set by the Westphal twins-led Marinette team in the first year the event was contested in 1994.
And what the crowd really got jacked up by was the fact that everyone was following the Memorial Stadium clock and seeing if the Neenah group would break the hallowed nine minute mark. They came up just a smidgen short with a 9:00.42 time that still elicited great roars and which has not been seriously challenged since.
Arrowhead won the fast heat in a time that would have won many state titles beforehand, but its otherwise excellent 9:19.48 was more than 19 seconds behind the Rockets’ record-shattering effort.
Neenah would go on to win two more 4 x 800 titles with twins Jennifer and Jessica Parker at the head.
*Also in the 4 x 800, Platteville would go back to the well for a third straight D2 championship with the trio of Laura Donovan, Julia Lawinger, and Tricia Serres. And for the third straight year, the Hillmen had a different lead-off runner, this time being Tricia’s sister Allie Serres. Platteville, which had gotten successively faster in each championship, came up a maddening .17 of a second short of Pewaukee’s 2004 record with its 9:21.84 effort.
But the quartet would make themselves feel better by later winning the 4 x 400 title too.
And Tricia Serres was far from done winning, upping her level of competition dramatically, earning the 2015 NCAA Division III national championship in the 1,500 with a time of 4:26.3 for Luther College of Decorah, Iowa.
At the time, Serres was only the second Luther woman to win an outdoor NCAA DIII title. She had placed fifth in the 1,500 2013 and was the national runner-up in 2014.
And in a test of stamina, just a few hours after her title, Serres earned the seventh All-Americanhonor of her career, placing second in the 5,000.
*And in D3, Fond du Lac St. Mary’s Springs would make history of its own and start a run of four straight 4 x 800 relay championships behind the efforts of Liz Bohn, Grace and Elaina Meurer and Abby Busse. They won the 2012 title by close to 10 seconds and established a new divisional mark of 9:37.64.
The Ledgers time took down the old mark of 9:39.67 set by Frederic in 2009. Bohn and Springs weren’t done in the record-setting department yet and would draw down their 2012 mark considerably in 2013.
Bohn would go on to anchor all four of Springs’ championship units.
THE 4 x 400 DIDN’T STINK EITHER
One of the things I overlooked in Bradley Tech’s great run of championships from 2009-11 (the Trojans still hold three all-classes state records), was the fact that in 2010 Tech broke Milwaukee North’s 30-year old state 4 x 400 record of 3:55.19 with a 3:53.64 mark set in the preliminaries. The Trojans would not win the race in the finals that season (one of their few failures in that three year stretch) as Waukesha West would win the title, but they would still hold the record going into 2012.
However, the Tech standard would not have legs, as the 4 x 400 was now entering a five-year period of sustained excellence thanks to the aforementioned Baylor Method, almost completely rewriting the all-time girls top 50 list in the process.
In fact, according to WisconsinTrackOnline.com, the premiere online source for information on Wisconsin girls track, 21 of the 22 all-time 4 x 400 relays have occurred since 2012, with the only exception that aforementioned 2010 Tech record. All told, 36 of the top 50 have taken place in that time frame.
Milwaukee Riverside got the show started in 2012, as the team of Angel Malone, Helen and Valerie Thames and Crystal Malone clinched a surprising team state championship by slicing more than a half-second off of Tech’s state record with a winning effort of 3:53.07. West Bend West, which itself was rolling through a period of relay excellence, was second in a very fast 3:54.5.
Riverside’s all-underclassmen group would go even lower in 2013. The Tigers also got a first out of Crystal Malone in the 400 as they edged Plymouth, 37-34, for the team title.
FULLER-STEWART, SMITH JENKINS AND GARNER GO OUT ON TOP
*Bradley Tech was just a shadow of itself after extensive graduation losses from its 2009-11 D1 state championship trifecta, but Elexis Fuller-Stewart was still around and she turned out to be the dominant performer of the 2012 state meet, sweeping the 100 and 200 dashes and repeating as 100 hurdle champion, an event she set a state record in the year before in an epic race with then two-time champion Marissa Savitch of Homestead.
She dominated the 100 dash with an 11.8 time and was unchallenged in the 200 with a 24.12 effort. In the 100 hurdles, she narrowly missed her own state record of 13.89 with a 13.90 in the trials and cruised to victory with an impressive 14.02 finals time.
Fuller-Stewart’s legacy is set in stone as she was part of Tech’s 2011 WIAA state record 4 x 100 relay (46.02).
Of note, is the fact that the D1 100 hurdles field was very deep in 2012, as six runners went under 15 seconds including future star Danielle Riggins of Kenosha Tremper, who was second in 14.47.
Fuller-Stewart went to Central Arizona Collegiate Junior College, where she recorded six top five performances in the NJCCA National Outdoor meet in 2013 and 2014. She is still in the top 10 all-time for the school in the 100 dash and the 100 hurdles and the 2014 4 x 100 relay she anchored still holds the school record at 44.78.
*Deysha Smith-Jenkins of Whitefish Bay Dominican also went out a champ in 2012. She claimed her third straight D2 200 title (24.78) and her second consecutive 100 (12.23). All told, she graduated with five total titles and she still held the D2 200 record (24.64) when she graduated.
Smith-Jenkins was grateful to go out with two more titles as she had leg issues going into the meet. She thanked her trainer and chiropractor profusely for getting her ready.
“They helped me out a lot,” she said. “I didn’t reach the heights I wanted to this year. …but I’ll take this (the championships) and be thankful for the opportunity to run here today (in La Crosse).”
In attendance at the meet was the coach for the University of Connecticut where Smith-Jenkins would go to college and have a fine career. She ran the 200 and 400 dashes, earning a second-team All-American honor as part of the 4 x 400 relay as a sophomore and qualifying for the NCAAs as part of the 4 x 100 as a junior.
“That was amazing,” said Smith-Jenkins of the surprise visit by the coach. “I went ‘Oh my God, what are you doing here?’ He just told me that he wanted to see my potential as a sprinter.”
*The mighty Michelle Garner of Greenfield claimed her third straight D1 300 low hurdles title. For the second straight year she won it by an eyelash as she held off Amber Sanderson of La Crosse Logan, 43.69-43.75. Garner also just narrowly missed out on the 15-year old record of Angie Breucker of Seymour (43.46).
She wound up going to UW-Milwaukee and became the best 400 hurdler in school history, winning three straight Horizon League Outdoor titles in the event. She qualified for the NCAA West Regionals her junior year of 2015. Her time of 1:00.0 is still the UWM school record and she also ran on the Panthers’ second and third fastest 4 x 400s ever.
*Notes of consistency: Milwaukee King claimed the D1 4 x 100 and would start a streak of three straight state titles in the event. The Generals’ efforts, which would conclude in 2014, would be part of a nine-year run of event dominance by Milwaukee City Conference schools. Vincent claimed the first crown in 2006 with Bradley Tech and King swinging back and forth in terms of dominance to the tune of four titles each over the next eight years.
*Another run of relay dominance that got started in 2012 was that of La Crosse Logan as it won its first of three straight D1 4 x 200 crowns.
BLAHNIK DOES IT AGAIN
Kennedy Blahnik of Algoma had a remarkable freshman year in 2011, as just a callow freshman, she set D3 records in both the shot put and the discus. She would continue her winning ways in 2012, claiming both disciplines again, and would also add 10 inches to her shot put record with a 47-11 effort.
She was halfway home to an historic four-peat in both events and was just getting warmed up in terms of records too.
EDGAR AGAIN AS THURS AND HEIDMANN MAKE HISTORY
Experience pays off.
That was the story for the third straight year in D3, as the Edgar Wildcats made the impossible look probable again as for the third absurd year in a row, they swept past the preposterous 100-point barrier with a winning total of 112.
For the second straight year, Manitowoc Lutheran was second with 51.
As they did it in the past, the Wildcats did it with up-top firepower winning 10 of the 18 events, including sweeping all three sprint relays for the third straight year.
Aside from Wirkus’ third straight mark in the pole vault, they set D3 records in the 4 x 100, as the group of Kelsey Steinke, Wirkus, Jena Heidmann and Kira Dittman broke the Wildcats’ 2010 record not once, but twice with clockings of 49.26 and 49.21, respectively; and in the 4 x 400 as the team of Heidmann, Holly Denfeld, Tessa Thurs and Elizabeth Pospyhalla took .12 of a second off its own 2010 standard with a 3:58.31 effort.
Both marks still stand.
As opposed to previous years, this Edgar crew was senior heavy, as Thurs and Heidmann went out with meets for the ages becoming just the third and fourth female athletes to win four events in a single state meet.
Thurs did it by not only claiming her fourth straight 4 x 400 crown, but also her third straight 300 hurdles championship and her second straight 100 hurdles title.
She climbed into the rarified air of the four title club when she earned her first triple jump gold medal. In doing so, she joined the great jumper Jaclynn Kriegel of Florence as the only female athlete to win a total of 10 state track titles in their career. She was joined a year later in that club by teammate Pospyhalla and later still by Draxler and Davre.
Heidmann achieved her four-title honors by being a true team player. She was part of her third straight 4 x 200 relay championship and also her second straight 4 x 400 crown as well as handling the stick for her second 4 x 100 victory in three years. What put her over the top was her first championship in the long jump.
Pospyhalla also made a little history herself by claiming her third straight 800 championship.
But despite losing the elite talents of Thurs and Heidmann, the Wildcats would have one more championship run in them.
UP NEXT: Wheelchair competition gets its first three-time champions and Brookfield East surprises itself with a second boys title.