More than a month has passed since Nathan Vogel capped an outstanding senior track-and-field season at Hills?boro High School with a gold and silver medal at the state track meet.
He?s still smiling about it.
Who can blame him? Winning Class 3A gold in the 800 meters and silver in the 400 would satisfy most any high school athlete.
But Vogel?s accomplishment is more significant than the sum of his medals, given the twists and turns of his running career.
As story lines go, the gold medal in the 800 may be poetic symmetry. The metric half-mile was the first ?official? race he ran and won when he took up competitive running as a third-grader and remained his signature race as he entered high school.
At the same time it may be irony, because Vogel almost gave up the 800 to focus on the 400?a race he stumbled upon almost by accident as sophomore, found notable success in as a junior, then broke the school record as a senior as he became the first Trojan to crack the 50-second barrier at 49.89.
The gold medal may be a story of personal vindication, accomplishing by himself what he could not achieve in five relay races at state, including two heartbreaking losses at the tape in 2008.
But if you ask Vogel, it?s mostly a story of perseverance.
?I just think for me, in whatever you do, do it the best you can and it will probably turn into something good,? he said. ?The biggest thing is sticking to it.?
Early success and hardship
Vogel experienced success in track as a youngster, competing in summertime AAU and Hershey meets. Twice he qualified for nationals in the 800 in the Hershey system.
Then, as an eighth-grader at Hillsboro Middle School, Vogel broke his arm during a football game, ending what appeared to be a promising future in that sport. The injury caused significant nerve damage to his wrist and hand.
?My doctor didn?t think I?d have any hope of recovery,? Vogel said. ?But my physical therapist was positive and encouraging.?
Through a long and painful rehabilitation, Vogel persevered to the point that he became a two-year starting guard on the HHS basketball team, even though use of his thumb still isn?t 100 percent restored.
The experience shaped his approach to life.
?I don?t get as frustrated as easily as I did back then,? he said. ?Before, if I couldn?t get something, I?would more than likely get mad or quit. After (the injury), it?s like who knows what will happen with it? So if I hang on and keep going maybe something good will happen.?
Vogel?s determination paid off early. In spring of his eighth-grade year?some seven months after the injury?he set the school 800 record (2:12) in the last race of year.
High school surprises
In high school, the arm injury made cross country the logical fall sport for Vogel. He ran in the state race three out of four years even though, in his own words, ?I wasn?t a phenomenal distance runner.?
Track became his favorite individual sport.
?I really like the speed of it,? Vogel said. ?Track, as opposed to cross country, seems just a lot more competitive for me. I really like trying to be the fastest one out there.?
Though committed to running 800 meters through his freshmen year, Vogel discovered as a sophomore, literally by accident, that he had undiscovered speed in the 400.
In an early meet, Vogel was a late substitution on the 4×400 team after one of the runners tweaked a groin muscle. When the relay was over, Vogel had run the fastest leg.
?It was like, ?Wow, I didn?t know I could do that,?? he recalled.
Vogel remained on the 4×400 team and was a fixture on the 4×800. By late in the season, he had dropped the open 800 altogether to focus on the 400.
?When I had been running the 800, I wasn?t placing very well,? he said. ?But with the 400, bam, I was already as good as some of these guys. So I really focused on that one.?
Entering his senior season, Vogel toyed with the idea of running both the open 400 and 800.
?This year, we didn?t have a ton of guys for a relay like we?ve had in the past,? he said. ?So it was like, I?ll try to do the 400 and the 800, which is incredibly hard because you have the 400, then the 300 hurdles, and then you have to run the 800 right away.
?I tried to do that once my junior year at a small meet. After the 400, I started the 800 and went around the first lap in first place?and then I died. I ran terrible and got passed. It wasn?t good.?
As a senior, Vogel started strong in the 400, and had his eye on the school record of 50.1 set by C.J. Vogel (no relation) in 1993. He broke it in the third meet of the season at Goessel with a time of 50.0.
?I wasn?t even going to run the 400 at that meet,? he said. ?I was just going to do the open 800 and see how that was going to go.?
But coach Dennis Boldt put Vogel back into the 400 at the request of Herington?s coach, who had his own 400 speedster in Tyler Barber. Vogel caught Barber with about 75 meters to go and nipped him at the tape by 0.4 seconds.
When Vogel saw his time, he was elated.
?I walked around the stadium probably 10 times, just smiling,? he said.
Meanwhile, combining the two races proved to be frustrating. His 800 times suffered in the early going.
?I?d run the 400 and win it, then turn around and try to run the 800 and feel terrible,? he said. ?I?d run about a 2:12 or so?I?d place, but that (time) wasn?t going to get me to state.?
Then, at the Hesston Invita?tional on May 6, the combination suddenly began to click.
In the 400, he was paired with two of the fastest runners in the state, Kurt Pauly of Garden Plain and Morgan Burns of Wichita Trinity. He knew he had a chance to break the 50-second barrier.
?I thought if I just keep my eye on one of them, they?re going to pull me under,? he said. ?And that?s exactly what they did.?
Vogel finished third. Burns won with a meet record time of 48.7 and Pauly ran 48.88. But Vogel?s time of 49.89 was more than satisfying.
?I was really happy, but it was one of those deals where I was kind of expecting it to happen,? he said.
The real surprise came two events later when he posted a 2:06 while winning the 800.
?Now we?re getting somewhere,? Vogel remembered thinking when it was over. ?I think it was just me getting used to running those races back to back.?
At the league meet the following week, Vogel won Hillsboro?s only gold medals for the day, sweeping the 400 in 51.56 and the the 800 in 2:02.
He now was poised not only to qualify for state in both events the following week at the Garden Plain regional, but to challenge for gold. He finished second to Pauly in the 400 in 49.87?which was rounded up to 49.9 because the meet was hand-timed?and won the 800 in 2:02.9.
A statement at state
Vogel arrived at state confident he would do well in the 400. It was the 800 that made him nervous.
?In the 400 I was ranked second, and there wasn?t anybody else incredibly close?even though it turned out to be a close race,? he said. ?I just wanted to get it over with so I could focus on the 800. We all had broken 2:00 at some point, so it was just a matter of who was going to do it fastest.?
The two races turned out as well as they reasonably could have. Vogel placed second to Pauly in the 400 with a 50.11 and won the 800 in a personal-best time of 1:58.76?a mere half-second off Daniel Yoder?s 2004 school record of 1:58.2.
?I was really happy,? Vogel recalled about his moment on the medal stand afterward. ?It was one of those deals where I didn?t want to talk about it all the time, but I was just so excited that it was me (receiving the gold) this time.?
Vogel plans to run cross country and track this coming year at Tabor College?at least for a couple of years.
?I plan on being a biology major and maybe minor in psychology, so that will mean some hefty classes (in his final two years),? Vogel said. ?Then I plan to go to KU Medical School and become a doctor of osteopathy.?
It?s one more lofty but attainable goal for Vogel, who won a gold medal in the classroom by being the valedictorian of his high school class.
?A lot of it was how I raised,? Vogel said about the work ethic that has led to success on and off the track. ?It?s just do your best, don?t give up on it right away, and it will develop.
?In school you can be bright and smart, but if you don?t have a willingness to learn you?re not going to do very well.?