By Shane Bennett
Two long years of training came to a glorious end for Kolton McGaha on May 7. He crossed the finish line just ahead of the rest in his last high school race to earn the 3A State title in the 200 meter dash.
The journey to the top of the podium got put on hold because of . . . . what else, COVID. McGaha spent the early spring of 2020 training for the 200, knowing that he had the fastest time in 3A returning from 2019.
“My goal was to train hard, qualify for State and at least place in the top three,” McGaha said.
Then, over spring break, he got a call from head boys track coach Hunter Fullerton that he assumed was about practice. Instead, Fullerton informed McGaha that a global pandemic had brought an end to the school year and cancelled the track season. McGaha was devastated.
“I cried, honestly,” McGaha said. “I had already been training for a long time for it and I even decided not to go out for basketball so I could train. I knew immediately the season was gone and we weren’t gonna get it back.”
McGaha chose a different path for his senior year. Learning with millions of others that some memories only have one chance to be made, he elected to play basketball with his friends.
“I knew I could stay in shape playing basketball and I wanted to be out there with the guys and also to set an example for the younger guys, too,” he explained.
Once basketball was over, McGaha got to work. The relays he had run as a sophomore and practiced as a junior faded away as those former teammates had moved on. Instead, the 200 meters was coming into focus. He added the 100 meter dash to his portfolio as well, and finished every meet in the top two. He even made one spectacular cameo in the 400 this season, winning gold the only time he ran it.
But knowing the field he faced, coach Fullerton eliminated the 400 and put McGaha on track for two events to seek State medals in.
At Regionals on April 30, McGaha posted the fastest time in the state in the 200 and the second-fastest time in the 100. He ran the 100 finals first at State, anxious to get off to a fast start. He was trying to knock off Jimmy Harris of Millwood, who bested everyone at regionals . . . . and he did.
The only problem was another runner edged them both out. Levi Korir of Metro Christian Academy posted a 10.84 to take the gold.
“All three of us were side by side and when Jimmy and I finished we were both pointing at each other laughing,” McGaha recalled. “I told him he was second and he said the same thing to me.”
McGaha’s lean forward across the finish line gave him the edge on Harris and the silver medal by a hair . . . . literally. McGaha’s time was 10.98 seconds, Harris was 10.99.
That left the 200 as McGaha’s last chance to earn a gold medal. Starting in lane four with Korir just ahead of him on the first curve in lane five, McGaha had the race in front of him the whole way.
“I figured he would set the pace and then I would chase him down,” McGaha said.
The race played out pretty close to his expectations and then K-Bolt kicked in the after-burners at the 80-meter mark and pulled ahead for good. His time of 22.45 was 23 one-hundredths of a second faster than Korir and all the other runners in 3A. At last, McGaha was a State Champion.
“When I first crossed the line I thought ‘I just won State,’ but the reality hadn’t set in,” he explained. “When I came off the track the first person I saw was my dad and I hugged him and balled my eyes out. Then I got airlifted by coach Fullerton and my mom was there crying. She said, ‘what a way to end.’”
Within seconds Jeff Brown and Greg Parker, who had coached McGaha since his freshman year, appeared out of nowhere to congratulate him and the parade continued.
“It wasn’t until the awards when they announced my name that it really set in,” he recalled. “I said, no way, I never thought I would end with a State championship.”
He finally reached the top of that podium, flanked by runners who had become his friends, basking in the reward of all that hard work. A fitting end to a long journey.
McGaha and the 2021 class of DHS will graduate on Friday and then McGaha will be off for Oklahoma University . . . . where he plans to walk-on to the Sooner track team.
By Shane Bennett