Sonderman was state champion at Forest ParkJune 10, 2020
BY COREY STOLZENBACH
It all started when Ann (Schwoeppe) Sonderman was little, growing up with a lot of other kids in the neighborhood, and winning races against said kids.
“I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, this is really awesome,’” Sonderman said of her ability.
She remembers racing on field day when she was in third grade, racing against both girls and boys, where she flaunted the speed that she would show as she got older. Sonderman began racing competitively when she was in junior high, and was undefeated in the 100-meter dash both in seventh and eighth grade.
Sonderman knew something about track by the time she came out for her freshman year in 1983, but the 1986 graduate told The Herald that her running form was terrible, and her coaches helped her fix that.
“My arms would kind of cross over my chest and then I also had trouble even kind of staying in the lanes because it just wasn’t an efficient form,” she said.
It took her several months, she said, to get her new form down pat, but her freshman season was nothing short of historic. Sonderman didn’t always have the greatest start to her races, but she made up for it with the kind of speed that helped her rewrite the record books.
She set a new school record of 25.1 seconds in the 200-meter dash, which she broke in the regional with a time of 24.9 seconds and another new record in the Bedford North Lawrence regional. Sonderman won the sectional and regional titles in both the 100 and 200 that season to qualify for state.
“I’m tall and I have a longer stride,” Sonderman said of her speed. “I had fully strong leg muscles, too, and that probably really helped.”
Sonderman competed in the long jump, though she didn’t enjoy it as much. She did it, though, to score points for her team, and anchored relays that also featured Lisa Kluemper, Julie Knust and Shelly Rasche, but considered the 200 to be her strongest event because of how much she excelled.
She recalls the outpouring of support she received from Forest Park and the entire community when she made the trip to state that year.
“They were incredibly supportive; over-the-top supportive. It was just such an awesome experience for me,” she said. “Before state, they had decorated the town with signs, ‘Good luck, Ann Schwoeppe at state,’ just all over the place — signs everywhere, on businesses and things.”
Sonderman went into state not knowing what lay ahead of her. She had never been to one, not even as a spectator, didn’t know what it looked like. And with no internet back then, she had a limited grasp of the competition she would be competing against.
Nevertheless, she won both of her heats — a sign of things to come. The dream season was complete when she ran a time of 12.06 seconds in the 100 and lowered her 200 time once again with a time of 24.22 seconds.
“I was just in disbelief, shocked, very excited,” Sonderman said.
The community celebration continued once she won. The fire engines were out and the Forest Park team got a fire truck ride following her triumph. She remembers the assembly and signs put in her yard congratulating Sonderman on her championship. Sonderman also received cards and flowers in commemoration of the achievement.
She couldn’t believe all the attention she got in the wake of the win. Sonderman knew it was a big deal, but didn’t know it was that big of a deal. She merely saw herself as a freshman doing her job as an athlete without the expectation that that many people would be excited for her.
One might think that Sonderman achieving all of this success as a freshman would lead to only more state championships down the road. She was certainly hopeful that more would follow.
Sometimes, though, competitors get overshadowed by somebody else and end up competing in the wrong time. She continued to run fast times as a sophomore, but would never be able to replicate her freshman feats because she’d have to contend with a future Olympic gold medalist.
North Central had a runner by the name of Maicel Malone, who ended up winning gold for Team USA at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta in the Women’s 4x400 meter relay, and Malone was the one who took center stage, beginning in 1984.
Sonderman still attained success by finishing third in the 100 and 200 as a sophomore, and fifth and sixth as a junior in two races, respectively. She also competed in the 1984 AAU Junior Olympics, taking third place in the 100 and third in 400-meter dash in the Athletics Congress (now known as USA Track & Field) Olympic Games.
She ran into a bad stretch her junior and senior years, however. Sonderman came down with mononucleosis as a junior, which took a long time for her to recover from, though she still qualified for state. She also played basketball at Forest Park, and tore her ACL as a senior while trying to pull down a rebound, and dealt with a torn hamstring on top of that.
She went from winning two state championships as a freshman to failing to qualify for the state finals as a senior — which was hard for her to swallow.
“I understood why it didn’t happen,” she said.
Sonderman may have been injured, but that didn’t scare away the collegiate interest in her. The recruiting took off following her success as a freshman. Purdue University, Florida State University and the University of Texas all pursued her, but in the end, she chose the University of Wisconsin, citing their track program and how good they were with academics.
“I was really excited to be able to go to college on a full scholarship and not have to pay for anything,” Sonderman said. “It was really wonderful because I’m the youngest of seven. My older sisters and brothers went off to college, but they had to get student loans and it wasn’t as if my mom and dad were able to pay for their education.”
It was a big adjustment for her, likening competing at the NCAA Division I level to a job, but she enjoyed being busy and loved the huge commitment that it took. She helped her team win two Big Ten Conference championships when she ran there.
Sonderman also has memories of rooming with Mary Ellen “Dolly” Chryst, the sister of current Wisconsin football coach Paul Chryst.
“We just got along just awesome,” she said. “We had a great time and just our whole team was really close and just a lot of great people.”
She passed her love of running onto her daughter, Emily, who missed her senior track season at Indianapolis Roncalli due to COVID-19 forcing the cancellation of spring sports, and she really wanted to focus on track her senior season to lower her times and better her chances for college.
Emily competed Feb. 15 in the University of Kentucky’s High School Invitational that was held indoors in Lexington this year, taking second place among Indiana runners with a time of 2:14.50 in the 800-meter. She had moved to the 800 after previously being a sprinter, and is set to continue running for Indiana University.
Ann wants to make sure her daughter is diligent about balancing her time with classes, studying and working out, but thinks Emily is good at that already.
“I think she’s very ready to run at the collegiate level and to move on to the college level,” Ann said.
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