By Craig Pearson
One of the remarkable American medalists of this 2008 Olympics thus far also provided one of the most sparkling stories in the brief history of the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course here in Terre Haute.
Shalane Flanagan won the bronze medal Saturday (late Friday evening here) in Beijing in the 10,000 meters, becoming the first American woman to medal in the event since 1992.
As a junior running for the University of North Carolina, Flanagan won the first of five NCAA Championships to be contested at the Terre Haute course.
Flanagan’s mother, Cheryl Treworgy, is an Indiana State Athletics Hall of Fame member, and Treworgy was shown extensively on the delayed NBC telecast cheering for her daughter as the focused Flanagan reeled in the third-place runner and went on to break the American 10K record.
Current ISU assistant track and cross country coordinator Geoff Wayton, an ISU alumnus, stays in touch with Treworgy.
“I got all teary eyed watching the camera pan to Cherrie,” said Wayton, who will be the meet director for the NCAA meet this fall. “It’s really fantastic what [Cheryl] went through. I did a project in grad school on what she had to overcome. She got kicked off the track as a young girl. She had to start behind the boys so she wouldn’t humiliate the guys. You see her daughter reaping the benefits of what she had to go through.”
Treworgy, who attended Indianapolis North Central High School, was a pioneer in women’s athletics, particularly running, becoming the first American woman to receive an athletic scholarship. The funding was actually a “talented student scholarship” and the brainchild of Dr. Eleanor Forsythe St. John, an Indiana State physical education teacher.
Originally Cheryl Pedlow, and then Cheryl Bridges when she married as a Sycamore sophomore, Treworgy held the women’s world record in marathon from 1971 to 1973 (2 hours, 49 minutes and 40 seconds).
Women’s running has obviously come a long way since then, and Treworgy’s 27-year-old daughter is at the forefront of today’s top distance runners.
Current North Central girls track coach and ISU All-American cross country runner Jessica Wayton — the former North Central Thunderbird who married Geoff Wayton in July — remembers Flanagan well.
Then Jessica Crowder, she competed in the 2003 NCAA Championships at Des Moines, Iowa, and earned 47th place while breaking a school record with her time of 20:52 in the 6K.
“I never saw her,” Wayton recalled, that is, until watching the replay of the race on television. “I remember watching on TV. There was not one shot of me, but it was cool to watch the whole race, watch Shalane run her race and kind of compare it to mine.”
She also remembers watching Flanagan, who also holds the American record in the 5,000 meters, run to a then-course record performance in 2002.
“I was just in awe of her,” said the English teacher at North Central.
The recent ISU standout has had several opportunities to talk to Flanagan’s mother. Geoff Wayton has invited ISU’s contingent of alumni runners back to campus for a gathering the past two years and Treworgy has attended.
Jessica Wayton enjoyed the conversations she’s been able to have with Treworgy, who is also a teacher.
“She’s a legend, and I have so much in common with her with us both being teachers and the running,” the 26-year-old Wayton said. “She had good advice about keeping students active and moving around even in the classroom.”
Treworgy trained with ISU men’s runners, and when she first got started had to race boys.
“She’s really the first woman to be known for running,” Wayton said. “I remember her saying she was one of the guys, she’d run with the guys.”
ISU head women’s track and cross country coach John Gartland was following Flanagan’s progress, and his memories of Treworgy go back to 1975. Gartland was running the Twin Cities Marathon in St. Paul, Minn., and Treworgy ran the first half of the race as part of her training.
“I got in a rythym with her, and it helped me tremendously,” he said. “It was the first marathon I ever ran and got fourth place so I owe some of that success to her.”
Having Treworgy back to speak to Gartland’s current athletes during an alumni panel last fall was invaluable.
“I thought she was really inspiring to our female student-athletes,” Gartland said. “I think it really opened their eyes. Don’t take for granted what you have, because I think the women from her era really had to work for what they got.”
Jessica Wayton, whose husband has plans to honor Treworgy before this year’s NCAA championship cross country meet, values the link with her community.
“She’s a legend, and now her daughter definitely is,” she said. “It’s great that they both have a connection to ISU. I hope Terre Haute realizes that.”
• Watch Flanagan — Watch Flanagan’s 10,000-meter run on www.nbcolympics.com/video/nbcencore/index.html. The race starts at about the 32-minute mark on the video slugged “Opening Day Track.”
As she crosses the finish line, Flanagan is unsure what place she finished so she’s asking her competitors before someone finally tells her she won the bronze medal.
Then it was off to hug her coach and mother and drape the flag for a celebration jog. Truly unforgettable.
Craig Pearson can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at (812) 231-4357.