Angst boosts edgy sprinterApril 18, 2013
By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer
As she stands a few feet behind the starting line, Darian Mehne begins her routine.
She jumps a couple times, stretches her hamstrings while asking God for assistance. Then she focuses.
Mehne picks a spot at the end of the track — anything really — and doesn’t break concentration from it until she enters the blocks.
All she ate before the race was a banana, because right now, her stomach just can’t escape the turbulence. It’s the same prerace fear she’s had since her first heats in middle school, when she was quickly becoming the next big thing in Jasper track and field.
“It never goes away,” she said of the mental and bodily discomfort.
Her hands are shaking. She enters the blocks. The gun sounds. She explodes forward and doesn’t hear anybody. Thoughts are minimal besides a constant self-reminder: Just breathe, just breathe.
“People make fun of my face when I run,” said Mehne, a senior.
“She’s not very relaxed,” Jasper girls track coach Dean Jerger said before offering advice to his standout sprinter. “You need to be a little bit more relaxed.”
“People are like, ”˜You look like you’re going to kill someone,’” Mehne kidded.
She’s scared she won’t win. Before the race, she wonders whether the girl to her right or the girl to her left is going to beat her.
Therein lies the comedic truth of it all. Fact is, Mehne rarely sees anybody on the periphery during the 100- and 200-meter dashes. She is seldom in any position but first.
Through her first three years at Jasper, Mehne has fused natural talent with an unrelenting competitive spirit that Jerger said simply doesn’t come around often.
Accolades? Mehne’s got ’em.
A two-time Big Eight Conference champion in the 100, 200 and long jump (she tied Jasper’s 200-meter school record of 26.59 seconds in the conference meet as a sophomore). A three-time sectional champ in the 100 and two-time champ in the 200 and long jump. She seized first in the 200 and second in the 100 at regional her sophomore year and third place in the 200 during her junior campaign. She contended in the state finals in Bloomington the past two years, laying claim to 17th in the 100 and 21st in the 200 her sophomore year and 22nd in the 200 last spring.
Mehne says she’s fueled by anger before each race, which seems bizarre given the former cheerleader’s personality. She sometimes kids competitors, “Want to walk?” in an attempt to lighten the mood before races. She is also brutality honest — about the prospect of her setting records and about what the success has meant to her.
The fact that she hasn’t made it past the preliminary heat in her state races propels Mehne daily. Remaining cognizant of the talent pool at that level is what keeps her grounded and motivated all at once.
“I think that’s been one thing that always keeps me in check,” Mehne said. “I am from a small town, so when you go there, you realize, ”˜You’re not really that fast.’ There’s always girls faster than you. And that makes me want to try harder.”
Cue the competition: “Uh-oh.”
While she sits 8 inches shy of the school record in the long jump (18 feet, 6 inches) and still blisters down her lane in the 100, it’s the 200 that’s become her darling, she said. The chance to truly open stride pleases her.
What’s more has been the competition she’s encountered in recent years. Racing against the likes of 2012 Forest Park graduate Adi Dilger and 2012 Northeast Dubois graduate Keina Lanman impelled Mehne to be the best, an attribute Jerger views as her defining quality.
Mehne entered high school in Jerger’s first year at the helm of the girls team after three years of working with throwers. He marvels at her consistency and ability to continually shave off time in the sprint events, typically a hard thing to do.
At the root of that is the true disdain for anything but blue ribbons.
“She maybe takes it a little harder than most when they don’t get a first-place finish,” said Jerger, who underlined the 400 relay as the race in which he sees her ferocity most evident.
As for motivation, it isn’t solely personal. Mehne had an eighth-grader tell her she’s her idol. Many other youngsters have come up and congratulated her after races as well. Inspiring kids, for whom Mehne admits to having an affinity — she also teaches youngsters at Hodgini School of Dance and Gymnastics in Jasper — is something she cherishes. And uses.
“It makes me feel like I’ve got to step up,” she said. “I have to be a role model.”
Mehne is also an avid reader. Her genres of choice? Mystery and anything involving real-life problems. At the onset of the season, she became aware of a personal obstacle that has left the conclusion of her high school career similarly unsolved.
Mehne discovered abnormal growth of a bone in her big toe, which causes her joint to jam with each stride. She’s received a Cortisone shot, but surgery still might be necessary after the season.
It hurts, but Mehne still aspires to finish the year with career marks, most notably in the 200.
“It seems like it’s slipping farther away, you know?” she said of the prospect of setting a record time, with a smile and remarkable calm. “But I’m trying, so we’ll see how that goes.”
Next year, Mehne will head to Indiana State, where she’ll study accounting and to become an athletic trainer. While she hasn’t been offered a spot on the track team, a chance to walk on would be an opportunity she’d take “in a heartbeat,” she said.
Mehne still has a checklist to complete.
Break the school record and advance into the 200 final heat at state. Secure all first-place finishes during the regular season. Help ensure continued success for the 400 relay team in the upcoming years by mentoring and advising a group with no other senior but herself.
“Loving the sport, I don’t want to leave not doing as good as I can do,” said Mehne, who tries assisting teammates in any way possible — from helping sprinters become comfortable in starting blocks to showing support for distance runners. “Feeling that I have enough knowledge to show the girls what they can do, I want that for the team.”
Jerger’s fear is that people don’t appreciate competitors like Mehne and 2012 Southridge graduate Cassie Wertman when they’re still in high school. Multiple trips to the state finals and sustained improvement at that level is more difficult than it looks.
“If people take that for granted, they’re foolish,” the coach said bluntly.
While the final chapters in Mehne’s Wildcat career remain unwritten, an undeniable truth rests when it’s all over.
“It’s one of those things you don’t want to see go,” Jerger said.
Contact Joe Jasinski at email@example.com.
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