The 400-meter dash can be a tricky track event to navigate, but Whitmer senior Sammi Gwin has found the right balance of speed and endurance to break a nearly 30-year-old school record and earn a college scholarship.
Gwin set the new record at Whitmer in the 400 as a freshman. She broke the record of 59 seconds flat set by Nancy Dmytryka in 1982.
"We knew we had something special right away," Whitmer track coach Jeremy Elliott said. "She came in from junior high doing really well.
"She has progressed every year, which is the great thing about her. She's never had a down year. She's just been breaking her own school record."
Gwin established the latest mark last spring at the Division I regional meet when she ran the 400 in 55.98 seconds.
Her record setting feats attracted the attention of several Division I collegiate coaches. On Feb. 25, Gwin signed a letter of intent to run at Indiana University.
Gwin also was recruited by several other Division I universities including Cincinnati, Dayton, Ohio, Bowling Green, Central Michigan, Miami, and Akron. Gwin said overall the recruiting process was difficult, but she said she visited every college that showed interest in her.
"It was kind of cool," Gwin said. "But it was stressful when it came down to it. I spent hours on the phone talking to coaches. Overall it was a lot of fun."
The 18-year-old said Indiana offered the best combination and was the best fit for her.
"It seemed like the best opportunity," she said. "They had the best coaches and athletes. And they have a good nutrition program."
Gwin, a three-time state qualifier in the 400, has been the Panthers' team captain for the last two years. She took seventh at the Division I state meet in the 400 last spring with a time of 56.51.
Elliott said the 400 is one of the toughest events for high school athletes.
He said athletes can just "flat-out sprint" in the 100 and 200.
"Kids don't want to run the 400," he said. "It is not an all-out sprint. You have to be smart and it takes a little bit of endurance and strategy."
Gwin took fifth place in the state indoor meet in the 400 in 2009 and also was sixth in the event at the indoor state meet in 2008.
"I usually start off a little slow and then I build it up gradually," Gwin said. "Usually I end up coming from behind."
But Gwin said she'd like to alter her style this spring season.
"My starts are just too slow. I need to get out a little faster," Gwin said. "When you move on to regional, it's no joke. It's a little harder to close the gap."
Her biggest goal, however, is to get her time under 55 seconds.
"Even if I run 54.99 seconds, I want to get under 55," she said.
Gwin said the coaching staff at Indiana has promised to increase the value of her scholarship if she drops her time in the 400.
The school already has offered to pay 30 percent of her tuition along with her book expenses.
"But as long as I run under 55 they will give me 75 percent of tuition plus books," Gwin said.
The senior also could win a state title if she gets down to that time.
The winner of the 400 in Columbus last year, Azia Walker of Reynoldsburg, finished with a time of 54.74.
Gwin also qualified for the regional meet in the 200, 400, and the 1600 relay last spring.
She said finishing seventh last year at the state meet is her proudest accomplishment thus far.
"I'd like to try to do better than seventh this year," she said.
Gwin also has excelled nearly to the same level on the soccer field.
She has been playing since she was seven and is a four-year varsity starter for the Panthers.
She plays forward and midfield.
The last two years Gwin earned first team all-district and All-City League honors.
She said she once considered playing soccer at the collegiate level.
But she said it was "just not going to work" because of the conflict with running.
Gwin also competes on the Panthers' 400 relay and 800 relay teams. She ran the 800 last year.
Gwin said she hopes to successfully defend her City League and district titles in the 400.
"She is gutsy and she's a hard worker," Elliott said. "She is a silent leader on our team. All the girls look up to her quite a bit."
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org,