As I sat in the air-conditioned (that was a plus) media center inside Drake Stadium going through photos this evening, a vision suddenly entered my mind. It was a look into the future. Let me try to paint you a picture.
It’s 50 years from now and four women in their mid- to late-60s convene near the front door of Gilbert High School. First they hug with tears in their eyes, and then they laugh as they chatter on and on about their lives. And then they hug some more before locking hands and walking side-by-side through the doors.
They head directly to the trophy case and quickly find what they came together for. It’s a picture of four bubbly teenagers on a sun-speckled Iowa afternoon, all of whom have a gleam in their eyes and a smile that reflects pure joy.
They just stare at that photo. And they remember how it was at that moment they became Gilbert legends.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, those four women are Clare Stahr, Sophia Bleich, Keira Andersen, and Sarah Feddersen — Gilbert’s latest collection of talent to bring a state title to our halls. They accomplished that feat earlier today when they lived up to their billing as Class 3A favorites in the girls’ 4×800-meter relay on the opening day of the 2023 Iowa Coed State Track and Field Championships.
They didn’t just win a state championship. They left everyone else in their wake. Their winning time of 9:29.11 broke their own school record by more than seven seconds, and it left no one else in the class with a chance. Solon, thought to be their closest competitor leading up to the day, finished second … a full 10 seconds behind our girls.
As Jonathan Moxon so eloquently tells his teammates in Varsity Blues, that’s heroic.
But what made the moment, the race, and the day so special wasn’t just the gold medals the girls wore around their necks out of the stadium. It was how they captured those gold medals. Simply put, they did it by running for “we” instead of “me.”
In my nearly 23 years as a sports writer, I watched many, many … many state-meet relays. Not all of the time, but often enough title-winning teams had one or two superstars and two or three others who had one mission: get the stick to the stud.
That’s not how it went for our girls. Because, honestly, we’ve got four superstars, unique in their own ways. They were able to put it all together because they worked for it. They dreamed about it. They pushed, and nurtured, and celebrated each other. And when the spotlight was at full brightness shining right in their eyes, they never blinked. Not once.
As for the race itself, it was incredibly nuanced. It really was worth the price of admission.
Clare Stahr was handed the toughest task on the lead-off leg, but to see the look in her eyes … the girl is a bulldog. For 400 meters, every stride was a fight as she attempted to wedge herself out of a large pack, and as she made the turn on her second lap, she was 10th. Over her final 400 meters, she showed why lead-off runners don’t come any better. She took off, passing one girl after another, and by the time she handed the baton to Sophia Bleich, she had pushed Gilbert into the top four.
Seemingly always smiling, Sophia put together the leg that was the turning point in the race. Calmly, methodically, she inched closer to the leaders, and as she reached the scoreboard with 200 meters remaining, Sophia said see ya. She came to the front stretch neck and neck with the leaders, and was the first to hand off the baton. Just like that, Gilbert was in the lead.
Next up was Keira Andersen, a freshman with talent for days. She could have been nervous. Many in her shoes would have been. She could have tightened up. Many in her shoes would have. But with a clear track in front of her, Keira simply went for a run like she was back home in Tiger Stadium. Her stride was even, her pace was perfection. And as the seconds ticked, the gap widened and widened … and widened some more.
That set the stage for Sarah Feddersen on the anchor, a sophomore who just a few months ago had no idea how good of a runner she was (news flash: she’s incredibly good) when she decided to give track a try for the first time. I said it right when she grabbed the baton from Keira and headed on her way: Game Over. Nobody was going to catch her. And nobody came close.
This was four ultra-talented runners coming together with a common goal. It took work. It took sacrifice. Ask them now and I’m pretty sure they’d quickly tell you it was all worth it.
Congratulations, girls. You’re state champions, a moniker no one can ever take from you.
You got exactly what you deserved.