By Jeremy Stafford - email@example.com
WINCHESTER -- Lauren Wilkins turned to look at the deep wells her feet left in the pale sand.
The wells were initially disappointing -- Wilkins later recalled twisting slightly in the air before she landed for the final time in the girls long jump.
She trudged out of the pit toward Sherando basketball coach Garland Williams, who had been whispering counsel to Wilkins all the while.
Then the announcement came: Wilkins had just leapt 16-1.50 at the Northwestern District Meet at James Wood on Wednesday, a personal best.
She beamed in a delicate release of fervor, collected herself, then returned to the field.
There were four other events to be had.
And though the long jump was the pinnacle of Wilkins' night, at least on an individual level, the Sherando junior plodded through a few nagging leg injuries to toss 33 team points Sherando's way.
Sherando's girls won the meet with 172 points.
Handley came in second with 104 points, and Millbrook placed third with 90 points, just ahead of James Wood (89 points) and Skyline (21).
"Lauren's been beat up a little bit," Sherando coach Tom Grim said. "And she's had a little bit of an iron deficiency."
But for Wilkins, injuries or not, a district meet is no place for sympathy or compassion or rest.
Before the meet Grim asked Wilkins which of her six events she wanted to compete in, and Wilkins' response was simple and insistent: Everything.
Aside from setting a personal best in the long jump, Wilkins took third in the high jump (4-08), second in the triple jump (34-06), ran the 100-meter dash and led Sherando's second-place 400-meter relay team (53.17).
Wilkins admitted, though, that her second-place finish in the triple jump, an event she's qualified for states in, is a bit more obtrusive than her swiping of the long jump.
"You know, you always want to do best in your best event," said Wilkins, who'd been jumping upwards of 35-00 in recent meets. "You want to show that you don't just jump 34s.
"I want to show you what I can do; I want to do my best every time."
But it was perhaps a teammate of Wilkins who performed the best she could, especially considering the circumstances surrounding her physical condition.
Sherando senior Chasity Milhon, with a broken bone and damaged soft tissue in her lower back, won the 100-meter hurdles in 17.51. She was soon followed by teammates Candice Banks (17.63) and Selina English (17.73).
After placing second in the 100-meter hurdle preliminaries, the pinching pain in Milhon's back had her in tears.
Milhon took in a bit of encouragement from Wilkins, then mustered a force of will capable of dulling the pain for at least a few moments.
"We've had a rough season," Milhon said of Sherando's injured athletes. "Lauren's been in and out of injuries, I have too, but I think as a team it means a lot to us because Lauren backs me up, I back her up -- we're always there for each other.
"Lauren means a lot to me."
But Sherando is hardly the only team sloshing about with injuries.
James Wood sophomore John Simms, also slightly frustrated by leg injuries, won the boys 200-meter dash (22.34), the 400-meter dash (51.64) and placed second in the 100-meter dash (11.11), leading James Wood to its second consecutive district championship (145 points).
Sherando's boys placed second with 110 points, Millbrook took third (85 points) and Skyline and Handley rounded out the rest of the meet.
"Our team, from day one, we work hard," Simms explained. "We work hard until the last day. Here and there we get breaks, but [James Wood coach Matt] Stegmaier wants us to work hard.
"I can say people are tired, their body is physically tired, but mentally you gotta be strong -- that's the key thing for us."
And that's how it's done. That's how championships are won, despite nagging injuries and sweeping illnesses and broken spines -- a mental fortitude capable of turning damaged goods into non-issues.
"We're all tired and hurting," Wilkins said. "And that's just because, toward the end of the season, you're all working hard, and you just start to fall sometimes.
"There's girls with really bad shin splints all through here, and they're just giving 100 percent and doing their best, and that's all you can do."