Stow girls track coach Aaron Morris recalls the frustration. He needed to find a runner for the 400 due to an injury. Track athletes tend to stick to their usual routine, so he kept getting the same answer: “I’d rather not.”
It was driving him crazy.
That is when Melanie Winters found him.
“I guess rumor got around that so-and-so was injured, and I get a text on my phone from Melanie that reads ‘I’ll do it,’ ” Morris said of the situation last season. “I had never ran her in the 400 before, but I put her in and she ran the third-fastest time of the year. She thinks of the team and not herself.”
Up to that point Winters, now a senior, was already running a couple of events.
“I always wanted to fill it [by running in four events] and wanted to do it more and push myself,” Winters said. “They had an opportunity for me.”
It’s a work ethic that has carried over from practice to every meet.
“We give her something to work on for the day, and it’s almost like I have to drag her off the track,” Morris said. “I usually give them a number of jumps for the long jump that I’ll allow for that day. She’ll go over, jump, get done and say ‘One more?’ It’s kinda an ongoing joke now.”
Winters is no joke. She had some success in the long jump but wasn’t spectacular in any event. So she upped her weight training and got an early start in conditioning before this season. Winters is nearly undefeated in her usual events, the 100 hurdles, 300 hurdles, long jump and the 1,600-meter relay.
“I think I took this year much more seriously, knowing it was my last year, being a senior,” Winters said. “I pushed myself as much as possible in every conditioning. I also lifted a lot more than I had. I went into it with the right state of mind.”
Morris knows what he has in Winters.
“This year, she’s on a different level, and it’s rare to see a girl do that at this point,” Morris said. “Usually between sophomore and junior year, they become ‘women’ and have to work extra hard to improve that much. It doesn’t happen often.”
Winters now has a good chance of making it to the state meet, especially in the 300 hurdles. It was a distance she never wanted to run when she came to high school, but she has broken a school record that had stood since 1995 when Laura Thompson ran a 46 flat. Winters clocked 45.9.
She’ll have to do it while battling shin splints, something she’s dealt with for most of the season. Before every meet, she wraps her leg with a foam brace to keep her calf muscles from separating away from the bone any more than they already have. If that happens enough, a stress fracture can develop.
Winters is usually able to put the pain out of her mind until after the meet.
“While I’m running, I’m concentrating on so many different things, the pain is the last thing I’m thinking of,” Winters said. “I’m focused on my timing and form, so my comfort isn’t important when it comes to times and scores.”
It’s a discomfort that Winters is pushing through rather than letting it hold her down. It isn’t enough to stop her from practicing to the point of having to be removed from the track every day at practice, even though Morris knows how bad it can hurt after running around.
It might not be enough to keep her away from the state meet, either.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.