Polowchena soars through adversity

G. Sean Kelly

Many athletes make their performances look easy – like it’s simply a gift of fast-twitch muscles or superior size and strength.

At times, Glenwood Springs High School senior Jeri Polowchena is one of those athletes, gracefully launching into the triple jump pit or gliding over the hurdles. At other times, the grimace on her face shows just how hard she has had to work.

“I’m very injury prone,” said Polowchena, this week’s McDonald’s Glenwood Springs High School Athlete of the Week. “I’ve torn my quads every year since I was a freshman.”

While plenty of people are injury prone, Polowchena’s case is different. She suffers from an as yet unknown muscular disorder that contributes to the injuries.

“It’s something that’s always on my mind,” Polowchena said of her penchant for injuries. “I’m always thinking `take it easy,’ then I never do.”

Polowchena’s numerous trips to the doctor’s office and physical therapist has been beneficial in one respect, however. She knows what she wants to do next year at the University of Northern Colorado.

“I’m going to UNC for sports and exercise science,” Polowchena said. “It’s just from being in the doctor’s office and seeing what they can do and how much they help people.”

The injuries have slowed her down, but certainly not stopped her. Polowchena is currently ranked second in the Class 4A in the triple jump and fourth in the 100-meter hurdles, according to the Rocky Mountain News.

Last weekend at the Palisade Invitational she recorded a personal best mark of 35 feet, 11⁄2 inches to prequalify for the state meet and also finished third in the 100 hurdles in 16.29 seconds.

“She’s one of our senior captains and has been a treat to work with the last four years, particularly considering the fact that she hasn’t had an easy go of it,” Glenwood head track and field coach Blake Risner said.

“She’s been a bright spot with both her performance and attitude,” Risner added. “She’s a good leader for the young kids and good leader for the veterans with her determination.”

Her determination has led to a state qualification every year in the triple jump, but she has yet to compete at the state meet at full strength due to her injuries.

A big step toward making another run – and hopefully a healthy one – at state honors comes this weekend at the 24-team Demon Invitational, where Polowchena will defend her triple jump title.

The invite is the only home meet for Glenwood, started 23 years ago by former Demon coach Don Miller. The meet was then, and still is, designed to showcase small Western Slope schools.

This year 24 teams will compete at the event, and the Demons typically fare well at their home venue at Stubler Memorial Field.

The Demon girls won last season and the boys placed second behind Rifle after winning the previous four years.

“Every year I highlight two events for our team,” Risner said. “Not to take away from the other events, but the Demon Invite and Regionals are the two meets I want to prepare them for mentally and physically.

“I like to have a mini-peak before the Demon,” he added.

Along with Polowchena in the 100 hurdles and triple jump, Megan McKinnie should score points for the Demons in the 300 hurdles.

The favorite in both girls’ hurdles events is defending 3A state champion Rachel Schmucker of Hotchkiss.

Glenwood’s Amber Sutherland has been on a tear this season in the field events. She currently sits second and fourth in the Discus and shot put, respectively, in the Rocky Mountain News Class 4A ranking.

The Rifle girls have a pair of top-5 ranked competitors in Terena Leueallen (fourth in the 100 meters at 12.01 seconds) and Kristina Dahlin (first in high jump at 5-3)

On the boys side, the races of the day may be in the distance events. Glenwood’s Marco Salmen, ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the 1,600 and 3,200, respectively, will face an exceptionally strong field. Salmen takes on Hotchkiss’ Rob Thayer, who edged the Demon senior in the 1,600 at Palisade last week, and Thayer is also expected to join the 3,200 field this week. Glenn Randall of Plateau Valley, who lost to Salmen by less than a second in Palisade, is also expected to compete in the 3,200.

Rifle boasts big numbers and some exceptional individual athletes in its bid to repeat as Demon Invite champs.

David Suminski is ranked No. 1 in the 100, while Mike Birdsley holds the top spot in the 200. Justin Steffen, ranked third in the 110 hurdles, will also likely pick up some points.

Other area teams competing are Class 3A Roaring Fork and Basalt, and Class 2A Grand Valley.

The Demon Invite begins at 8:30 a.m. and is scheduled to end at approximately 5:30 p.m. For the complete event schedule, see scoreboard on page A22.

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