High school sports isn't only about winning state championships. It's often about hurdling difficult obstacles or gaining new ground.
So before we say goodbye to the winter season, consider the record-breaking accomplishments of two athletes whose feats rank right up there with the state champs.
John Carroll swimmer Stewart Harris overcame some formidable oddsto set a county record in the 500-meter freestyle. And Fallston runner Jenny Howard set a metro area indoor record for the 2-mile run.
Harris, a distance freestyler, shaved more than two seconds off the previous record to post a 4:48.31 time in the longest race held in county school swim meets.
A swimmer with the Edgewood Aquanauts since he was 8 years old, Harris went on to win two gold medals, a silverand a bronze atthe Harford County Swimming Championships.
That's not bad for someone who suffered a broken collarbone and a knee ligament injury and then reinjured the collarbone -- all between late September and December.
Despite all of those problems, the Patriot senior -- also a National Honor Society member -- only missed four weeksof practice.
"My doctor knows me, and he knew I wasn't going to push it, so with help from him and my coach (Fred Lee, of the Aquanauts), I got back in the water pretty early," said Harris.
His trouble started in September when he broke the collarbone in a pick-up football game. Once he recovered from that, Harris injured a knee in a freak accident at the Patriots' homecoming game in October. Walking down the bleachers, he caught a foot in a gap and twisted the anterior cruciate ligament away from the bone.
Harris missed another coupleof weeks but was ready when the high school season began in December. Although he couldn't compete in the breast stroke, Harris made it safely to Christmas break.
Then, he went skiing. Dropping off a skilift, the 17-year old got a ski stuck on a friend's pole and fell. He severely bruised the same collarbone on a piece of wood jutting up from the ground through the light snow cover.
Despite all of thoseproblems, Harris only missed four weeks of practice. The time off hurt his performances at the longer
distances of 1,000 and 1,650 meters that he swims for the Aquanauts. But it didn't really hurt much at shorter distances.
"Actually, I think it helped my sprinting a little bit," said Harris. "I was able to pull out some of those relays, because I wasn't in the water as much so I ended up getting a sprint type of workout rather than an endurance type of workout."
Harris showed off some of that sprint speed in the final event of the county championships in February. Swimming the anchor leg of the 4x100-meter freestyle relay, he made up half a lap to give the Patriots the silver medal.
Howard, the Harford County Sun's Female Athlete of the Year in 1989 and 1990, may have turned in the best performance of her prep career last weekend. She set a metro-area high school record of 10:51.03 for the 2-mile run.
Winter used to bring a break from running for Howard, who played for the Cougars' basketball team because Harford County didnot offer indoor track. But this year, Howard ran competitively indoors for the first time in a few elite prep races.
"I just decided to do a little running on the side to maintain what I had from cross country. I worked hard to get where I was, and Ididn't want to lose it," said Howard, a three-time state Class 2A cross country champion.
Howard also wanted the experience of runningindoors, because she plans to run all three seasons, cross country, indoor track and outdoor track, in college. While most runners prefer one season over the other two, Howard likes the change that comes with each season.
Obviously, the change doesn't hurt her running. Instead of maintaining her times, Howard got steadily better. She ran in five races and set personal records in four.
Last weekend, Howard set her record at the National Scholastic Indoor Championship at Syracuse University's Carrier Dome. Although she finished fourth, Howard couldn't have been happier with her time.
"Qualifying for the meet wasn't a goal when I started the season. I didn't put pressure on myself to qualify. It just happened. I was excited to make it, and it was a good opportunity, a big chance for me. I was racing against the best girls from all over the country."
One of those girls was the hottest prospect in this year's college recruiting class, Melody Fairchild, of Boulder, Colo., two-time Kinney national high school cross country champion. At Syracuse, Fairchild lapped the field as she became the first high school girl ever to run 2 miles in under 10 minutes.
Although Howard hasn't chosen a college yet, she, too, has been widely recruited. Her outstanding performance at Syracuse can only send her stock even higher.
"This was definitely the biggest meet I've ever been in, except the Kinney (qualifier)," said Howard. "It's the first big meet I performed what I was capable of doing."