The longest mile: UNH athlete attracts national attention with courageous effort

Foster's Daily Democrat

DURHAM - Craig Lange's efforts will go down in the books as a second-place finish in the decathlon during the America East Championship last weekend, but they'll be remembered as much more.

The senior athlete on the University of New Hampshire track team gave a memorable performance during the meet in Dedham, Mass., that has caught the attention of the national media.

Lange led the event after one day of competition and midway through the second day he tore the hamstring in his left leg while competing in the 4x100-meter relay, an event that's not part of the decathlon.

He still had two events left, the javelin and 1,500-meter run. The initial advice he got from both his coach and trainer was to give up, but Lange didn't want to end his career like that.

In a scene fit for Hollywood, Lange completed the decathlon. He still managed to beat two athletes from Northeastern University in the javelin, even on the hobbled leg, and gutted it out during the 1,500 with a performance that brought the entire crowd to its feet during his last lap.

The scene was so inspiring that it has drawn the attention of national media outlets like Sports Illustrated and ESPN.

"Every time I went around it was a real fight," Lange said. "When you're in the heat of the moment, you've got the adrenaline going. it's your last college race and you want to finish it."

Lange started the day with 3,600 points in the event and his sights fixed on breaking both the school and conference record of 6,895 points set by Mike Wellington.

The demise of those dreams began right about the time Lange was getting ready for the pole vault, the eighth event of the decathlon.

It was during that competition that Lange was asked to run the anchor for the 4x100 relay team, something he had typically done throughout the season. The Wildcats were in contention for the team title so Lange went to the pole vault pit and cleared 9 feet, 2 inches, with the intentions of continuing the competition after running the 4x100.

It didn't take much convincing to get Lange to add another event to his already busy schedule.

"He said "Hey, I've anchored all year and I want to anchor. It's only an 11th event,'" UNH coach Jim Boulanger said. "That 11th event over two days he thought he could handle. It wasn't meant to be. I guess I'll always wonder, should I use a kid that much?"

Lange went back up to the track after clearing 9-2 in the pole vault, took part in the relay, and no more than 20 meters into his leg of the race everything fell apart.

Lange went down, and he immediately knew that there was something seriously wrong with his leg.

"I knew right away it was the worst pull I'd ever had," Lange said. "This was out of nowhere, just complete lock-up."

The team trainer treated the injury and advised Lange to throw in the towel for the day. At the same time Lange was telling somebody to go down to the pole vault pit and tell them not to scratch his next attempt.

Even in the severe pain he was in, Lange didn't want to give up on his college career. He wanted to end it on his terms, so he had the trainer wrap his leg up and he headed to the javelin throwing area.

Lange had to alter his form throwing the javelin. He hopped up to the line on one foot and let the stick go for 103 feet on his first toss. The pain got worse after that, and on his second he just stood at the line and used only his upper body to propel the javelin 103 feet again.

He was still in the lead after the javelin with only the 1,500 left. His closest competitor was teammate Ethan Gato, a freshman who was put into a very uncomfortable situation.

Gato's first question to Boulanger after finding out the decathlon was his to lose was how slow he had to go to in the 1,500 to allow Lange to win. Gato didn't want to steal any thunder from Lange, and told Boulanger so before the race.

"I told him I don't think I can do that," Gato said. "This was his meet. It was difficult. It was one of the hardest things I've had to do."

Gato finished in a time of 4:56. Just seven seconds slower and Lange would have won, but he wouldn't have been happy unless he knew he earned the honor.

Lange assured Gato before the race that he didn't want any charity, and Boulanger echoed the sentiment. Gato knew he had to try his best.

"That's competition," Boulanger said. "You're supposed to beat people."

Lange had no idea how long he'd last in the race. The pain in his leg was as bad as any he had gone through in his life and he had no shot of winning the event.

Still, he toed the line with an open mind and a good way to approach it.

"My intention was to go as far as I could," Lange said. I honestly didn't know how far I could make it. I took it each lap at a time."

The initial strategy was to hop around the track for a while, but that quickly got tiring and Lange had to think of something else. He then started to throw his injured leg out in front of his body to use as leverage to rest his right leg a little on every stride.

That started to work and his split time of the first lap was 1:45.

"It was still pretty hard on my right leg," Lange said. "Especially with my hamstring locking up every 40 seconds."

One lap became two laps, and before he knew it Lange was crossing the finish line in less than eight minutes. He was met there by members of the other teams, who caught him as he crossed the line and helped him off the track.

Everyone watching was on their feet applauding the effort, and even though he hadn't set any records, Lange had gone out on his own terms. That still brings a smile to his face.

"People came up to me and said the kids got a lot of guts," Boulanger said. "It was a never-quit situation. In 30 years of coaching I don't think I've had anybody take it to that level."

View: Mobile | Desktop