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CHARLESTON — As the scorching 90-degree rays receded into the beginnings of a delightful Saturday evening sunset, Sydni Meunier stood on the canvas on which she’d drawn up the greatest athletic performance in Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley school history. Such a focused, self-driven mature-beyond-her-years individual Meunier is, that it’s sometimes easy to overlook she’s still a high school senior.
Until giddy teenager moments like these.
“To bring home this team trophy, it’s huge and it’s heavy,” Meunier shrieked with glee. “It’s amazing. We get to put it in our trophy case forever.”
Meunier had been asked to reflect on all this – the successful defense over the weekend of her Class 1A state titles in the 800 meters and 1,600, the 1,600 relay championship with three friends, the five golds in two years and just her unprecedented Falcons career as a whole. She spoke of its meaning, how days like Saturday at the girls’ track and field state finals at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston made those countless miles on the country roads outside Gibson City and through town worth it, how — like dad, Mike, says – the satisfaction of winning comes from the work you put in to get there.
“I know every mile I ran has prepared me for this moment, and it just makes it feel really satisfying to see how hard work pays off,” Meunier said. “It definitely translates into other parts of life as well. You get exactly how much out of it that you put into it. It’s just a really good life lesson.”
Can make for quite the show, too. That was most notably the case in the 1,600 preliminaries Thursday. With no need to conserve energy for a 1,600 relay squad that would certainly, and did, roll into the finals later in the day, Meunier let loose in the mile. One of her season goals had been to finish in the 4 minute, 50 second-range in the event, though to that point she had only come within about five seconds of that.
Prior to the start, and then again after the gun went off, the public address announcer at O’Brien Stadium had been sure to point out this was a race between the state’s defending 1,600 champion in Meunier and last fall’s reigning Class 1A cross country champion in Chelsea Blaase of St. Joe-Ogden. Only thing was, it was never a race.
Meunier obliterated her personal record and the competition in a dash that quickly gained the attention of the fans. She went out in 1:13 for the first 400 meters, then repeated that pace over the next two laps. She finished the final 400 meters in about 1:11, clocking a 4:50.75 finish that was the fifth-fastest 1,600 ever recorded by a girl at state in Illinois high school history. Blaase finished second, more than 14 seconds behind, and had barely hit the final straightaway when the Lady Falcon crossed the finish.
Running alone, Meunier’s only foe was history.
“You know what? Sometimes you take it for granted,” GCMS coach Erica Kostoff said of Meunier’s accomplishments. “She’s very smart and dedicated and knows what she needs to do … It’s a privilege to coach someone like that.”
On Saturday, Meunier’s 1,600 strategy was to run to win rather than for a personal-best. The ensuing 5:07.88 clocking resulted in another state championship, Blaase trailing more than five seconds behind in second. Earlier in the day, Meunier had set a school record of 2:11.30 in repeating as the state champion in the 800. Later in the day, she ran the third leg of the winning 1,600 relay.
When her prep career had come to a close, and after she spoke of a desire to celebrate with some ice cream, Meunier was asked what she’d remember most about her four years as a Lady Falcon. Still standing on the track, she responded, “This moment, now.”
It was an understandable answer, made possible only by a long journey.
“I’ll remember how she raced every race like it was a state championship race,” Mike said. “She prepared for every day. She had a purpose every day she did something. She’d ask every day, ‘Dad, did I get better today?’”
Yes, Sydni, you did. And it was a joy watching you reap the rewards.