When approximately three dozen elite high school track and field athletes from the United States take a 10-hour flight overseas soon to participate in a meet featuring potential Olympians, northwest Ohio will be represented at the international competition.
Bowsher's Meshawn Graham and Woodmore's Erin Pendleton will make the journey to the fifth annual IAAF World Youth Championships (July 11-15) as members of the United States girls track and field team made up of student athletes ranging in age from 15 to 17.
Graham, a Division I state 100 and 200-meter champion, is looking forward to the trip to Ostrava, Czech Republic. The fact that she and Pendleton are the only two Ohio residents on the team is something Graham feels proud to talk about.
"It certainly makes a statement," Graham said. "It's an honor to be able to come from Ohio because you have a lot of stereotypical attitudes that the faster [and top] athletes come from the warmer states.
"I think we [Pendleton and I] have been able to shift that in a different direction."
Pendleton is a Division III state runner-up in the discus. She finished second to her sister, Emily, a four-time state champion and state record-holder.
The group representing the U.S. will fly from Chicago to Poland and will take a bus ride from Poland to Ostrava where the track meet is scheduled to take place.
It's an experience of a lifetime, according to Graham's mother, Meshia.
"I think it's a great opportunity for her," the elder Graham said, of Meshawn, who heads into her senior year at Bowsher. "It should be a great experience for her to see how it is to be on her own and to see another country."
Laura Pendleton, Erin's mother, also thinks the trip is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for her daughter, who heads into her junior year at Woodmore.
"I'm very happy for her," she said. "It's exciting and it's an honor.
"This is the first time she's gotten recognized for herself as opposed to being in the shadow of her sister, Emily. She's on cloud nine."
Erin Pendleton has exchanged e-mails with Graham about the upcoming trip.
"I'm very excited," Pendleton said. "I've never flown before so it's also my first time on a plane."
Nevertheless, Pendleton, whose personal best effort of 154-10 is two feet better than her sister's best effort her sophomore season, looks forward to testing herself against other elite competitors in her age range.
"I'm more excited about competing against people from all across the world," she said. "I still want to do my best and throw as far as I can."
A two-time state individual champion, including a 100-meter championship this year, Graham is coming off a hamstring injury that occurred during the state meet competition.
She suffered a slight pull at the end of the 100 final face, before still managing to finish out the meet by running second in the 400 and fifth in the 200. She severely aggravated her hamstring roughly 10 meters from the finish line of the 200 before hobbling the rest of the way.
Graham, who hasn't been informed about what events she will compete in during the international competition, said her injury is about 90 percent healed after receiving regular therapy and taking some time off from any type of running.
It was not until earlier this week that she began jogging around her neighborhood.
Graham's personal-record time of 52.51 in the 400 state finals ranks as the second-fastest time in the country among high school runners this season. She will test her leg next week in a competitive setting for the first time since the injury occurred. She's running in the USA Youth Outdoor Track and Field championships at Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill.
Furthermore, she expects to be completely ready to run by the time the U.S. team steps on the ground in Ostrava.
"I'm making sure my leg is completely healed," she said. "It's exciting and I never thought I would be doing anything like this."
Nevertheless, Graham's greatest concern right now looking ahead to the trip is trying to figure out what to do for 10 hours on a plane.
"Maybe read some and take a DVD player and watch a couple of movies," she said. "I think I'll also be entertained because I'll be meeting a bunch of different people [on the team] coming from other places.
"It should be fun."
Defiance College track coach Matt Lydum will serve as one of three assistant coaches for the U.S. team heading to Ostrava.
Contact Donald Emmons at:
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