Right on track: Ryken thrives running fast for Tigers’ track team
There was a time when track wasn’t Stephanie Ryken’s preferred sport.
She competed in the Hershey’s Track & Field Games as a young child, but gymnastics was what she fancied.
“I wasn’t going to do track, but I ended up enjoying it,” Ryken said. “I realized I had talent in it. I wanted to try a new sport and I ended up liking it. I’m glad I stuck with it.”
After years of gymnastics, she wanted to try something different and started participating in track in middle school.
Now, the Grand Junction High School junior is the Tigers’ top sprinter competing Saturday in the Mickey Dunn Invitational at Stocker Stadium.
This year, T-shirts with a photo of Dunn will be sold at the meet, with proceeds going to the Grand Junction track & field program.
Dunn was instrumental in bringing schools to Grand Junction for track meets.
Dunn, who was a coach and athletic director during his 29-year career at Grand Junction, passed on an opportunity to possibly compete in the 1952 Olympics to start a family. He coached the Tigers to a state title, was the Colorado Director of State Qualifying for 10 years and is in the Colorado High School Activities Association Hall of Fame and the University of Wyoming Athletics Hall of Fame.
One thing about Dunn stands out to Ned Pollert, who was hired by Dunn to coach cross country and track.
“His integrity,” Pollert said. “You know what you’re doing and do it right. You do the best for the kids and expect your kids to do the same. That was long before the eligibility stuff. He was emphasizing those things then. If you take care of things in school, it will carry over into athletics.”
Dunn died in 2002 from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and complications from emphysema.
The Mickey Dunn Invitational started in 2001. This year, there are 18 teams competing.
“I’m excited (for the Mickey Dunn Invitational),” Ryken said. “It’s the first in-town meet for us. I hope I do well and we do well as a team.”
Ryken helped the Tigers’ 400- and 800-meter relay teams place in the top six the past two years to earn all-state honors.
“Coming on as a freshman, I ran on the relay teams,” she said. “That was a real eye-opener. It was a good experience to run with the seniors and juniors.”
Ryken dedicated herself to improving her time and skills since last spring, participating in the Grand Junction summer weightlifting program.
“She is a hard worker,” Grand Junction coach Darrell Simonton said. “Last year, she lifted a little bit. Now, she is in my weight training class.
“Pound for pound, she is the strongest kid in school, boy or girl. She has several weight-class records.”
Ryken tuned up for the 2010 season by competing in the Simplot Indoor Games last month in Pocatello, Idaho.
“Just to experience the Simplot Games is something,” Simonton said. “They say it’s the biggest indoor high school meet in the country.”
Ryken ran in the 60-meter dash and placed 25th in 8.21 seconds.
“That helped me improve my starts,” she said.
Ryken and Ali Grasso are back in hopes of leading the 400 and 800 relay teams to a top-six finish in state again. They will be joined by Jamie Derrieux and Sarah Versluis on the relays.
Ryken, though, hopes to qualify for state in the 100 and 200 dash for the first time this season.
“I hope my times drop before the end of the season,” she said.