Smithville’s Lucas Clark raised his hands in triumph as he crossed the finish line at the end of the boys Div. II 1600-meter run at the state track and field meet in Columbus on Saturday, June 2.
No, he had not won a state title, but what he and teammate Justin McKeal did do was go two and three and reached all kinds of personal goals in the process.
The two standout Smithville Smithies distance runners have worked hard all season to end their season on a high note and did so, Clark taking second in 4:15.65 and McKeal grabbing third in 4:16.05. They trailed only Ottoville star Brendan Siefker, who won in a time of 4:14.30.
The strategy coming into the race was simpler for the Smithies: try to hang with Siefker, the king of this particular run who was a heavy favorite to win it all.
The two did and pulled off a grand feat. However, it was not the finish but the time that caused Clark to raise his hands in triumph.
“I wanted to hit 4:15 so badly this year, which was why I was so excited,” Clark said.
Hanging with Siefker was a challenge, and McKeal said that all season long the two Smithies have run out front with people chasing them. They knew coming in that this would be a different strategy, and McKeal noted that it was kind of surreal.
“It was difficult, especially over the third and fourth laps,” McKeal said of hanging with the leader. “To have Brendan there to lead us and show us that we weren’t alone running this hard was inspiring and helped us to push ourselves even harder than we had all season. We both PRed by about six seconds each, and in the mile that is a lot. It’s always hard to put yourself in a position that you aren’t used to, and I wasn’t used to running a 4:16, so I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel. But as a runner who wants to get better, you have to put yourself in a position where you have to test yourself. That is what both Lucas and I did this year. We walk away not with a first place but with a PR and a new place to put goals.”
While Clark raised his hands momentarily, exhaustion settled in a fraction of a second later, and he laid his head and shoulders on McKeal, who was hunched over just past the finish line.
“Justin and I always push each other,” Clark said of the two star runners. “It’s a big advantage for us to run together and push each other in races.”
McKeal said being part of a Smithville team that has now put up back-to-back runner-up titles and has brought Smithville’s program into prominence was not something he would have ever thought possible when he first came on to the scene in middle school.
“If you had told me I’d be one of the most memorable distance runners at Smithville, then I would have laughed,” McKeal said. “But as the years went by, we pushed each other and wanted to bring out the best in ourselves, and becoming a great athlete that can represent Smithville kind of grew along with it.”
Clark will attend Malone University next year to run cross country and track and turn his studies toward becoming an English teacher. McKeal will attend Kent State University, where he too will run distance, and he is excited about the future. He will study engineering and realizes that field and running will be difficult, but he said the dedication and focus it takes to run distance should help him move smoothly through that transition.
“It’s time to set new goals and to work toward even bigger and better things in college,” McKeal said. “I am excited about the future.”
For now these two great Smithies runners will be excited about the present, where they have forever etched their names into the SHS all-time greats.