Keion McNair is a very busy man. A paraprofessional in the special education department at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School, he is also the girls cross country coach and co-head coach of the track and field teams.
A highly decorated track star while a Tiger Shark, McNair works during the summer as a program director with CareerSource Gulf Coast, and volunteers as a Junior Olympics track coach.
McNair and eight of his track and field summer athletes competed last week, from July 26 - August 1 at the USATF Jr. Olympics meet in Jacksonville on the campus of North Florida University.
Although they also qualified to go to the AAU Junior Olympics in Houston, Texas, McNair felt Jacksonville was a better choice, not only because “it’s closer than Houston, but there is tougher competition at the USATF contest.”
Competitors and their events are as follows: Mari Johnson (100m hurdles); Darian Mills (110m hurdles); Leyah O’Kelley (800m and 1500m runs); Lexi Fountain (100m run); Khyla Rhodes (100m and 200m runs); Kaelani McNair (100m and long jump); Alexis Price (discus); and Madelyn Gortemoller (400m run).
While all of these young people have earned accolades, it is Gortemoller who has perhaps overcome the most difficult hurdle in getting her track and field recognition as a sprinter.
Born with scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine, Madelyn began an odyssey while still an infant that involved seeing specialists every six months in first Pensacola and then Tampa until her surgery at the age of 11.
Prior to her surgery, “I had to wear a daytime brace, and then when I was about seven, a nighttime brace as well,” said Gortemoller.
Despite her condition and frequent trips to Tampa, Gortemoller managed to play recreational soccer and softball up until her surgery neared.
“The night before my surgery, it was scary,” she said. “I remember being very emotional” because of the possibility of paralysis, or even worse. “My mom took my hand and just prayed with me that night, and that’s what got me through.”
During her recovery she was prohibited from running, but after six months “the doctor gave me the all clear,” Gortemoller recalls, “I ran out of the doctor’s office.”
“One of the things I love about track is that it’s kind of individual,” she said. “It strengthens me (because) you have to rely on yourself.”
Although she will race in the 400-meter sprint, Madelyn’s favorite event is running the last leg of the 4 x 400 relay, because “it’s like endurance but speed at the same time.”
Another source of strength for the high school senior is her faith. “I rely on God, and say verses in my head to keep me cool” before an event. Verses “calm me down, and I’m able to run my best.”
Her favorite verse? “2 Timothy 4:7: I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.”
Most people are not aware of Madelyn’s medical history, and she likes it that way because “I like to be humble... I believe God has given me this ability (to run), so I want to give Him all the glory. A lot of people who have had this surgery have never been able to fully recover.”
With 27 screws and two metal bars in her back, she can not do a back bend or join a gymnastics team. "I try not to let that be an excuse on the track," she said.
She does, however, carry a medical card with her in case she sets off an alarm going through a metal detector.
Gortemoller credits “a good coach who encourages me and my good family who help me” for her ability to be so successful.
Not content with just track and field, the young Tiger Shark senior also runs on the cross country team and plays soccer. “I try to give 100 percent in everything I do,” she said.
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