Maggie McLaughlin's road to recovery includes championship moment at sectionals - The Buffalo News

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Maggie McLaughlin's road to recovery includes championship moment at sectionals

JAMESTOWN – Maggie McLaughlin hasn't been rebuilt like a bionic woman even though the East Aurora freshman does have some metal in her body.

The steel rod in McLaughlin's back is to help her live a normal life as she battles scoliosis, a curving of the spine.

The ailment required her to wear a brace nearly 24/7 prior to undergoing surgery two years ago to have 2-feet of metal inserted into her body to combat the condition that was hindering normal activity and causing some discomfort.

The road to recovery has been long and filled with hard work, but the distance runner performed like a machine this weekend and earned quite the reward for her efforts Saturday: a Section VI championship.

McLaughlin teamed with her younger and older sisters, seventh-grader Megan and junior Molly, and Maisy Webster to extend the Blue Devils' run of success in distance relay events at Section VI girls track and field championship meets. The crew captured the Division II 4x800 relay in 9 minutes, 50.13 seconds Saturday before an estimated 2,500 at Strider Field.

The quartet beat runner-up Westfield by almost 8 seconds to earn a spot in the two-day New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association championship meet which begins Friday at Union Endicott High School in suburban Binghamton. Division I and II champions and the next highest finisher in each event who met qualifying criteria advanced to the state meet.

"It feels really good to (win at sectionals), especially running with my two other sisters and Maisy." Maggie McLaughlin said. "I definitely had my doubts (I'd be able to do this), especially last year. It was my first year back. Now that I've been working on my training a lot more I've become more hopeful."

Scoliosis is a genetic condition that can cause pain and interrupt one's daily routine, especially youths since the ailment worsens as the patient continues to grow in height.

In McLaughlin's case, her father Walt -- who also is the longtime coach of the Blue Devils -- said her spine curved sideways and forward at nearly 70 degree angles. Doctors recommended the surgical procedure since wearning a brace became ineffective.

"For her to even be here running is kind of a small miracle," Walt McLaughlin said. "I think life is full of adversity and Maggie's a great example to never give up, keep working hard, stay positive and be grateful for the opportunities that you have and at the end of the day just stick with a plan, have faith in the training plan."

Maggie earned her way into the relay based on her performance during Friday's 800-meter race. She didn't win but placed ahead of teammate Bridget Zagrobelny, who had been the fourth member of that relay team. Since the coach uses big meets as race-offs among his own runners to determine lineups for relayys, she forced her way into the spot for the first time this season.

"She's pretty tough," Walt McLaughlin said. "To be able to come out and execute her plan is really a credit to her tenacity."

While McLaughlin experienced victory for the first time, several familiar faces proved that winning feeling never gets old en route to returning to states as champions.

In Division II, Tapestry's Nia Stevens was part of four championship efforts for the second year in a row. She defended her titles in the 100- and 200-meter dashes and aided the 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams return to victory lane. The relays included familiar faces Kim Bostic and Taylor Hunter along with new addition Mirielle Ngoopos. Stevens won the 100 in 12.27 seconds and 200 in 24.73.

"A lot of people think being in Division II means that you're slow so that's my motivation to do well," said Stevens, the reigning state champion in the 200 who also has won state titles as member of Tapestry's 4x100 relay.

Orchard Park's Jenna Crean went 3 for 3 in her Division I races for the second year in a row. She won the 100 (12.08), the 200 (24.98) and the 400 (57.61).

"It was a lot of fun," said Crean, a sophomore who last spring took second at states in the 200 and 400 and third in the 100. "I love pushing myself to see how much I can do and how far I can go."

Also in Division I, Kenmore West's Christina Wende captured the triple jump (37-8) and the 100 hurdles (14.96) – her first sectional titles.

"It feels like all the hard work really paid off," Wende said. "All the coaches really helped me out and pushed me to do better and they believed in me."

Lancaster's Olivia Gervan won the high jump and aided the winning efforts of the Legends' 4x400 relay, which featured Isabella Licata, Morgan Foster and Sydney Burgard. West Seneca West's Anna Rybczynski added the 1,500 to the 800 she won on Friday.

Other Division I champions included Sweet Home's MaKayla Kasperek (steeplechase) and Amaya Turnage (pentathlon), Amherst's Morgan Halt (400 hurdles), Iroquois' Rachel Donnor (Iroquois), Williamsville North's Gabrielle Gaygen (pole vault), Jamestown's 4x100 relay of Zakya Slaughter, Orianne Simon, Allison Stockwell and Taylor Brightman and Williamsville South's 4x800 relay team of Molly Moore, Sam Vahue, Amberlee Robertson, Sarah Cook.

Division II champions included the Gostomski twins Abby and Bailey of Cattaraugus-Little Valley. Abby won the steeplechase, while Bailey captured the 1,500. Fredonia's Lydia Lanski won the 100 hurdles, Pioneer's Marissa Klimczak won the 400 hurdles and Silver Creek's Emma Seiders won the 400. Other D-II winners were Falconer/Cassadaga Valley's Rachael Ward (pole vault), Cheektowaga's Ally Alvira (triple jump), Dunkirk's Emilee Hanlon (high jump), Falconer/CV's Amber Morrison (shot put) and Holland's Jayna Galley (pentathlon).

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