Chances are that sometime in the next few days, Peabody-Burns sprinter Lauren Pickens will hand over more of her gold medals from the state track and field meet to the mother of her deceased friend, Kylie Terronez.
It’s been going on for a few years now. Pickens wins gold — lots and lots of gold — and gives it to Roxanne Dallke, Kylie’s mom. It’s her way of expressing how much she misses Kylie, and of expressing to Dallke how she wouldn’t have those medals if she hadn’t encouraged her to keep on running days after Terronez was killed in a car accident near Peabody in 2008.
“It was three days before the state track meet,’’ said Pickens, then a freshman. “I wasn’t going to run in the state meet but Kylie’s mother told me that’s what she wanted me to do.’’
Pickens won the 100, 200 and 400 meters. She won them again in 2009, and again in 2010. And today at Cessna Stadium, where she will run as a Wichita State athlete next season, she will attempt to win all three events for a fourth straight year.
There is, she’s convinced, an angel on her shoulder.
“After I won that first event my freshman year, I just took a deep breath and said, ‘Kylie’s really here with me,’æ” Pickens said. “Every time I run, she’s my motivation.’’
Dallke, who grew up with Pickens’ parents, Aaron and Tammy, still lives four doors down from the Pickens family. Because of job responsibilities, Dallke won’t see Pickens run today. But that’s OK, she said, because she knows Kylie will.
“There’s a very close bond there,’’ Dallke said. “This would have been my daughter’s graduation year and it’s the last high school meet for Lauren, so this is a special one for us.’’
The first day of the state track and field meet in 2008 was the day of Kylie’s funeral. She and Lauren were always best pals and shared a love for the sport, though Kylie was more interested in the field than the track.
“She was more of a discus, shot put thrower,’’ Dallke said. “She wasn’t a fast runner. But they always ran back when they were in grade school and Lauren is the one who never gave up on my daughter. She always told her to keep going and to keep pushing forward.’’
Pickens never gave up on herself, either. She didn’t really know she was fast until she ran in field days.
“I was pretty surprised when I beat all the boys,’’ she said. “I don’t think they were very happy about that.’’
Even with three events looming — plus qualifying races in the 200 and 400 on Friday morning — Pickens ran on Peabody-Burns’ 400 relay team that failed to qualify for today’s final.
That’s not something she had to do, Peabody-Burns coach Brian Lightner said. But he said it helped three other of the school’s athletes get a taste of the state meet when they otherwise wouldn’t have.
“It’s the first time she’s run the relay and it says a lot about her character,’’ Lightner said. “I talked to her before the season about the 4-by-1 and she said as long as the other girls were working hard and focused, she was willing to run. And even though the others weren’t as naturally talented as her, they came to practice every day and worked hard.’’
Lightner positioned Pickens in the second leg of Friday’s race, stretching her out so that she would run about 120 meters instead of 100. When she handed off the baton to a teammate, Peabody-Burns led the heat. It finished with the 12th-best time.
That’s not the worst thing for Pickens, who will have plenty to do today anyway. It wills start bright and early with 100 prelims, then a lengthy rest before beginning her pursuit of history. No athlete in the 101-year history of the meet has won these three events four years in a row.
Also, Pickens has never lost an individual race at Cessna Stadium, one of the reasons she can’t wait to be a Shocker and study to become a coach and teacher.
Dallke keeps Pickens’ gold medals in a safe place and has a plan for them that she doesn’t want divulged. They remind her of all the good times Kylie and Lauren had growing up.
Kylie was so looking forward to watching Pickens run in the 2008 meet. The two of them, a couple of giddy freshmen, had talked about it for weeks. When one was excited, the other felt it, too.
It ended so abruptly. So tragically. And a kid did the only thing she knew how to do; she gave up her gold medals.
They have come to represent something more important than running.
“Lauren just always felt like no one deserved the medals more than Kylie’s family,’’ said Tammy Pickens, Lauren’s mother. “So she doesn’t have any of her gold medals, but I’ve always said she has a golden heart.’’