Maddie McClellan making the most of opportunities
FARGO, N.D. - Maddie McClellan graduated Perham high school as one of the most lauded runners in recent history as the two-time defending state track champion in the 3200.
Her success has continued as a member of the cross country and track teams at North Dakota State University, with a little insistence from her coach to try something new.
North Dakota State head track and field coach Ryun Godfrey asked then freshman Maddie McClellan if she would consider trying the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
"The first time I tried it was in North Carolina," McClellan said. "I had hardly practiced."
While McClellan had done the hurdles, she had never done a water barrier and was going to attempt that in her first steeplechase.
"I looked at Ryan, 'How do I do that? He said, oh, watch the first race and see how they do it and try your best.'"
That first attempt was McClellan's best time her entire freshman year and a new star was born in one race.
"It was really hard and takes lot of mental strength, but I kind of felt like this could be something I could get into."
By her sophomore year, this past season, she had gotten more than just into the steeplechase.
McClellan won the steeplechase in record-setting fashion to help the North Dakota State women take the lead after two days of competition at the Summit League Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
McClellan won the steeplechase in 10 minutes 19:39 seconds, setting a new school, league and facility record.
It was NDSU's first title of the competition.
She broke Cortney Christensen's NDSU record of 10:23.28 set in 2003.
McClellan shattered the league record of 10:42.84 set in 2010 by South Dakota State's Nicole Davis and broke her own stadium record of 10:35.75 she set the prior weekend. McClellan dropped 16 seconds from her previous best in her winning performance.
The North Dakota State women's track and field team went on to win its fifth consecutive Summit League Outdoor Championship title, becoming the first league school to win five straight.
McClellan also finished sixth in the 1,500-meter race in a time that was eighth all-time in school history.
"My freshman year I wasn't necessarily really nervous. I didn't trust myself to go out hard enough. This past season I was able to make drops in time and feel a lot more confident. I do the best I can and enjoy what I'm doing."
That enjoyment goes beyond the track and course to the perks of being on a championship team.
"I'm just super, super lucky. Nobody else gets to just travel every weekend. We're in college and I get to go for free."
The Bison cross country team travels to destinations as far off as Palo Alto, Calif. The track and field team spends significant time on the west coast from Idaho to Nevada and Arizona, as well as multiple meets in California.
"I love it."
Arizona was the site of an unusual steeplechase for Maddie in the first race of her sophomore season.
"I fell in Arizona."
In spite of the fall, she finished in a time faster than any race during her freshman season.
"Coach explained it to me, "If you have a bad jump, keep improving in each race. Even if you fall you're still in the race."
McClellan has learned on the fly and quickly moved from nervous freshman to a team leader going into her junior year.
"In college, compared to high school, it can be scary. Everyone is at your level and serious about scholarships and fighting for that. It was intimidating at first but, really fun. It pushes you."
McClellan's ability to excel so quickly in an event she knew little about is a testament to her natural ability and the work she has put in during the offseason.
"I had never seen (steeplechase) until just before I went to college. I'm pumped. A lot more prepared than I was coming into the previous two seasons. This has been the best training summer I've had."
Before steeplechase and track season gets underway, the cross country season is days from beginning.
Her training is similar, aside from hurdles in the way when training for the steeple.
"Steeple is like cross country on the track."
Summer training intensifies with the heat in July and August.
"June was pretty laid back, In July, runs got longer and runs pick up the last half of the run. Race mentality. Picking it up when it's hard. It felt good to get into that mentality so I don't get bored."
It is hard to find time for monotony. McClellan is a girl on the go with pursuing an English degree and starring on two Division I sports teams.
"I'm pretty much busy from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. I like it that way. I love what I do and really like NDSU. I'm excited to get more into my major this year. I'm going to be a teacher and would love to coach."
McClellan also received honors this summer as part of the women's track and field team earning the All-Academic award from the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association for the 2012 season.
North Dakota State finished the academic year with a team cumulative GPA of 3.36 and was one of five Summit League teams on the list along with Fort Wayne, Oakland, South Dakota and South Dakota State.
Things are aligning on the track, the cross country course and the classroom for the Perham native.
With a couple years to go, Maddie has plenty of time to figure out where she may land post-graduation and has an open mind about the coming change.
"I love Minnesota. Fargo has been great. I'm not opposed to moving. I don't really know what's ahead of me.
"Opportunities arise you just kind of go."
The Forum Communications sports staff and NDSU Athletic Media Relations contributed to this story.
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