COLUMBUS — "This is kind of my year."
That’s how Aurora senior Graham Aldredge put it.
Finally getting his chance at track and field glory, Aldredge took full advantage, finishing his career on the podium at the Division I state track and field meet. The state competition took place Friday and Saturday at The Ohio State University’s Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in Columbus.
After he spent his sophomore season sitting behind a number of talented hurdlers and most of his junior year recovering from a sprained knee, Aldredge took seventh Saturday in the 300-meter hurdles.
"I would just say how much pride I felt in being able to place that seventh-place medal around his neck," Greenmen head coach Chris Radtke said. "It was a special moment for me since I’d been watching and working with Graham since he was in eighth grade. He worked hard and waited for some pretty talented hurdlers to graduate for his chance to shine. And shine he did."
While Aldredge said he wasn’t thrilled with his two races in Columbus — he tied for the sixth-fastest qualifying time with a 38.39, then crossed the line in 38.71 seconds to secure his spot on the podium — he was happy with the journey. After critiquing some of his final race, how he clipped the second hurdle and took 14 steps, not the 13 he wanted, into the third, he sat back and smiled.
"I can’t say I’m too happy with how my races went (Friday and Saturday), but it turned out the way it was supposed to and I’m very proud of the season that I had and that my teammates had," Aldredge said. "Just to be able to get on that podium, it feels great."
Especially given that he barely made it to the state meet in the first place, qualifying by 0.08 at the Division I Austintown regional.
"I’m very happy with how it turned out," Aldredge said. "There’s no such thing as a perfect race. That’s my philosophy. There never is at any level and as harsh as I may be on myself, I’m very proud with how it went. I’m happy."
Aldredge was no stranger to adversity on his long journey to Columbus.
As a sophomore, opportunities to compete were few and far between, as he was stuck behind school record-holder Zach Gerber in the 110 hurdles and two more talented hurdlers in the 300. Aldredge recalled finishing third at an invitational once, but for the most part, he was watching as much as he was hurdling.
As a junior, he sprained his knee, at his home invitational no less. He was out until the district meet, and even then, couldn’t hurdle, simply running the 1,600 relay.
"It was unfortunate," Aldredge said. "It was fine. We battled back."
Starting and healthy as a senior, Aldredge cruised through day one at Austintown, putting up the fastest qualifying time in the regional preliminaries, crossing the line in 38.29 seconds. But he wasn’t thrilled with himself.
"I kind of finished that race, looked back on it and I’m like there’s so much more I can do with it," Aldredge said. "I (was) a little disappointed with how it finished. I knew I could take more time off."
Those thoughts carried into the regional finals, when Aldredge, in first place between the sixth and seventh hurdles, suddenly lost his lead.
"I don’t really know what happened, but I started thinking too much," Aldredge said. "I choked, almost hit the hurdle and almost fell."
He recovered just in time to advance, snagging the fourth and final automatic qualifying spot by over Lyndhurst Brush junior Taron Austin.
"They caught up immediately," Aldredge said. "I had no breathing room. I was actually in fifth place over the last hurdle and it was the last 10 meters that I squeaked out fourth place."
In the darkest of moments, when his junior season was largely wiped out by his sprained knee, Aldredge said his community lifted him up.
"It wasn’t easy, but I had a great community, great family and friends and coaches that kind of me talked through it," Aldredge said. "I came back stronger and I’m happy with how it turned out."
That community was there in force once more in Columbus.
The moment he left the track following his preliminary run, he was mobbed.
"As soon as I was done (Friday), I couldn’t really breathe without everyone (being) around me," Aldredge said Saturday on the infield at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. "(Saturday) too, I’m sure as I go and get on with my stuff and we get ready to go home, they’re all waiting for me out there."
On Saturday, he got to give something back to the community that helped him through — bringing back Aurora’s lone medal of the 2019 state meet.
His seventh-place finish accounted for the Greenmen’s two points at the state meet. Aurora finished in a six-way tie for 63rd place. Pickerington Central easily won the 78-team competition with 87 points.
"It feels great," Aldredge said. "They’ve been nothing but supportive all four years, through football, basketball, baseball, track, girls soccer, girls basketball. Our community travels as well as anyone in the state. It just feels great to be able to represent (Saturday) and hopefully in the future in other things."