FORTVILLE — Olivia Coleman still remembers the day in infinite detail. One minute, the then-Mt. Vernon sophomore was untouchable. A multisport star in the making, her athleticism seemed unbound and potential limitless.
Already a standout in soccer and an all-state sprinter on the track, she was off to a blazing start on the basketball court to no one’s surprise.
Then it happened in the second quarter of the 2012-13 season’s second game against Lawrence Central on the Marauders’ home court.
That’s when certainty came to a grinding halt.
Story continues below gallery
“I had the ball going for a fastbreak, and it was just me. I stepped wrong and that was it,” Coleman recalled.
“When it happened, I looked down at my knee and it started to get really big. I knew something went wrong right then and there.”
Tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee, Coleman’s career stopped dead in its tracks once she heard the official diagnosis.
Her perseverance, however, did not.
A track athlete, first and foremost, Coleman immediately put a plan in place after undergoing surgery a few weeks following her injury.
The end goal was specific: Get back to state and climb back onto that podium, a dream she realized last week in Bloomington, but not without a few hurdles along the way.
The road to recovery
“She’s the best track athlete I’ve coached — boy or girl,” said Mt. Vernon head coach Tim Leonard, a Marauders’ mainstay for 24 years and seven years prior at Noblesville. “She puts in the work.”
Once she had surgery, 2013 would be just the starting line in Coleman’s journey back to championship form.
“That first year was recovery,” she said. “I basically lived with our trainer, Sarah Manville, rehabbing and lifting weights to build strength in my leg. She helped me so much. … Senior year has always been the standard to get back and try to medal again. I knew that was the goal.”
The years in between were filled with gradual steps for Coleman, who had placed fourth as a freshman at the IHSAA state meet in the 400-meter dash with a time of 58 seconds flat.
A long jumper, sprinter and relay runner since her early days in middle school, field events were an afterthought initially. Focusing on the track alone, her times in the 400 swelled to 60 seconds her sophomore year.
Coleman qualified for regional in the 400 and on both the 400 and 1,600 relays, but state alluded her.
“If that leg is at 90 percent and your other leg is 100 percent, you’re only going to run at 90 percent. You don’t average them out,” Leonard said.
“She had a great freshman year, but then she tore that ACL. It actually took her a year and a half to recover physically.”
The mental game
Her junior year was a psychological hurdle, Coleman said. Fitted with a knee brace after surgery, she said wearing it gave her a sense of security, one she slowly stepped away from with each passing sports season.
“That was really uncomfortable at first. I took it off a couple of games for soccer, but for basketball, I didn’t want to. Then I started to wear just a sleeve, but I didn’t want to drive the ball because I thought it was going to happen again,” Coleman said. “Coach (Julie) Shelton got on me about it and her encouraging me to get over that really helped me out.”
As her confidence grew, so did her production. She netted eight shutouts in goal for the soccer team and contributed big numbers on the basketball court as the Marauders finished 17-5.
But the true test came in the spring of 2014.
“I couldn’t long jump my sophomore year. Too much pressure bouncing off the board, so I didn’t do it, but I could do everything else,” Coleman said. “I long jumped some my junior year, but my jumps weren’t very good.
“Doing that my junior year really scared me. Putting all the force on that leg and taking off was hard to do.”
Breaking the program’s long jump record at the Noblesville Invitational with a flight of 17 feet, 10.75 inches eased her concerns and sparked interest from Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where she eventually signed her official letter of intent.
Coleman regained her stride on the track, too, cruising to victories in the 100, 200, 400 and long jump at the Hancock County Meet.
She finished sectional runner-up in the 200 (26.14) and in the 400 (58.69). Taking third in the long jump at sectional with a 16-3, she hit 17-0.75 at regional for fifth, which further boasted her confidence for her finale in 2015.
Back to form
“She wasn’t at full strength last year,” Leonard said. “This year she was totally recovered.”
In the fall and winter, Coleman excelled both on the soccer field and the basketball court, but in the spring she was truly back on track.
At the Hancock County Meet last May, Coleman was dominant.
She ran a 25.521 in the 200 to set a new record. In the 400, her record-winning time was 58.681 and in the long jump she broke a four-year standing mark by soaring 17-1.
In April, she set a new program record in the long jump at the Noblesville Invitational with an 18-0.5. But the best would come in the state meet.
At the Pendleton Heights Sectional, she won the 400 in 57.61 before setting a new school record at the Ben Davis Regional in 57.01. She qualified for state in the long jump with a 17-7 at regional for third place.
Her long jump record only lasted a week, though, as she shattered it during the IHSAA state finals at Indiana University on her first attempt.
“I went in with full confidence, but I, honestly, didn’t know what I was going to place,” Coleman said.
“That first jump felt really good, but I didn’t know it was going to be 18-6. I was seeded 11th, so I didn’t want to do any worse than that. Coming out with sixth (place) was a real honor.”
Before being disqualified in the 400 for six steps on the inside line, Coleman nearly became all-state in two events with a school-record 56.78-second run.
Regardless of the momentary disappointment, she walked away from the Robert C. Haugh Track and Field Complex prolific as the school’s record holder in the long jump, 200, 400 and in career points with 780.
“No other boy or girl has ever achieved that,” Leonard said.
Season’s not over
Before Coleman packs her bags for IPFW this fall where she plans to study criminology, Coleman has one more prep obligation.
Invited to compete in Saturday’s Midwest Meet of Champions, the Mt. Vernon graduate will spend the weekend at Ohio Wesleyan University in Deleware, Ohio. There the top senior men and women state finishers from Indiana, Ohio and Michigan will participate in the one-day event.
“That’s like the Indiana all-star game for track athletes,” Leonard said.
“It’s very prestigious to get the opportunity.”
Coleman is scheduled to run in the 1,600 relay, represent Indiana in the long jump and get a chance to pick up where she left off in the 400.
“I honestly didn’t know anything about it until Leonard brought it up and said I might actually have a chance to make a spot on the team,” Coleman remarked on the her weekend plans.
“When I got disqualified in the 400, it was a big disappointment. … I can possibly redeem myself (at Midwest). My confidence went up a lot when I heard that.”
Thanks to the support she’s received over the past few years, her potential is back on the rise, once again.
“I can’t thank (Leonard) enough for everything he’s done for me,” Coleman said.
“He always had high expectations for me. In practice, he’d always make sure I was going hard and doing my best. When I tore my ACL, he told me, ‘We’re going to make it through it.’ He promised me senior year was going to be my year.’ He was right.”
Midwest Meet of Champions
Where: Ohio Wesleyan University (Delaware, Ohio)
Facts: The Midwest Meet of Champions has been in existence since 1974 and pits the best senior track and field athletes from Ohio, Indiana and Michigan against each other in the only scored, inter-state all-star meet of its kind in the United States … Final roster selections are made after outdoor state championships … there is no cost to athletes selected to participate … costs for travel, meals and lodging are all underwritten by the Ohio Association of Track and Cross County Coaches.
Last years’s results: Women’s standings, Ohio 214, Michigan 158, Indiana 101; Men’s standings, Ohio 263, Indiana 113, Michigan 99
Team titles (Overall): Michigan has won 15 outright titles and shared another … Michigan won the first four women’s championships starting in 1980 … Ohio has won 14 outright titles and shared one … Indiana has won three team championships, followed by Illinois with one.
Midwest Meet of Champions (Brief History)
1974: The inaugural year for the event was held at Fort Wayne Northrop High School in Indiana. Northrop hosted the meet for the next 12 years.
1977: Illinois formerly participated in the event from 1977-96.
1987: Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis became the host venue of the meet from 1987-95.
1996: Ohio Wesleyan University picked up the torch from 1996-2005.
2006: The meet was moved to Jackson High School in Michigan from 2006-09.
2010: The annual all-star event returned to Northrop and remained there through 2013.
2014: Ohio will host the meet until 2017 and Michigan will become the host state from 2018-21.
2022: Indiana is scheduled to reclaim the meet from 2022-25.