Tornadoes are said to come out of nowhere and vanish in an instant.
Mailin Struck made such an appearance at Riverside-Brookfield High School last fall.
The foreign exchange student from Germany spent only five months in the country and one semester at RBHS, yet her whirlwind existence left behind not a path of destruction but a legacy of achievement as awesome as it was historic.
Struck became the first female state champion in RBHS history when she won the Class 2A cross-country championship on Nov. 9 at Detweiller Park in Peoria. She capped her remarkable season by completing the three-mile course in 16 minutes, 25 seconds. It was the eighth-fastest time in Illinois history and a whopping 29 seconds better than runner-up Maryjeanne Gilbert of Peoria Notre Dame.
For her efforts, Struck is the Riverside-Brookfield Landmark Female Athlete of the Year.
“I’m really proud,” Struck told the Landmark at the time. “I think the school is proud of me even though I’m still new. I feel like a real student.”
Struck, who arrived in the U.S. in August and returned to Germany in January, was an unknown commodity when the season started. RBHS coach Kristi Sterling had no idea of the talent the newcomer possessed, but as Struck began blowing away the competition, a buzz began building around the school.
“The week before [the state meet] all the teachers were talking about it in class, telling everyone I had a chance to win,” Struck said. “I am hearing this all the time, [that] some people expect me to win and it was kind of a goal for me. There was the possibility that I can win so it was kind of stuck in my head. It worked out pretty well.”
Struck’s amazing season propelled the Bulldogs to one of their best seasons as a team. They won a regional championship, took fifth at the sectional meet and finished 19th at state.
“Having her around has really boosted everything in relation to my team,” Sterling said. “Just seeing an athlete of that caliber, seeing what she eats, how she takes care of her body and seeing her work ethic, is new to the girls.
“She’s all-around just a great person. She’s been nothing but wonderful for our team.”
Being part of a team was a unique experience for Struck, who has two more years of high school left in Germany, which doesn’t offer interscholastic sports. So the best part of winning state for Struck was not the medal but the fact that her picture is now on the school’s Wall of Fame.
“The week before I told my coach the only reason I wanted to win this is to have my picture on the wall,” Struck said. “She was like, ‘What, that’s the only reason?’ It was pretty funny.”
Struck is considered to be one of the top young runners in Germany. She was runner-up in the 3,000-meter run at the Under-18 German national championships last summer and could be picked to represent Germany at the 2014 Junior World Championships later this month in Eugene, Oregon.
Regardless of where her career takes her, Struck said she will always have fond memories of her time at RBHS.
“I really love my team and I couldn’t have made it on my own,” Struck said. “It is tough to train on my own. Maybe some people can accomplish stuff like that, but I can’t.
“I’m so glad I have teammates because before the race I’m really anxious and I’m in a bad mood, but they’re supporting me. It’s nice to know they are behind me and the coaches worked hard to get me ready. They did a fantastic job.”