When Meagan Lange makes her bid to return to the MHSAA Track & Field Finals on Saturday at her team’s Regional meet, few of her opponents will know her story.
Her teammates likely won’t mention much, if anything, either.
But the Ricketts family no doubt will join hers and several more with ties to the Fife Lake Forest Area community who are aware of the details and cheering her on as she finishes up a successful – if not extraordinary – high school career.
If Lange’s story does not ring familiar, her track success may not seem unusual. But many would say it is unbelievable and offer other superlatives for what she’s accomplished.
Lange, a senior, will compete at Marion — which will host a tough Lower Peninsula Division 4 Regional — in an attempt to get back to the Finals in the 400 and 800 runs and 800 relay. She did all of the above her sophomore and junior years after missing out on her freshman season in 2020, which was canceled due to the pandemic.
Just weeks after finishing her great sophomore year, a car crash June 18, 2021, nearly ended her career and life.
“If anybody knew what she went through, they would be amazed at what she can do,” said Ron Stremlow, Forest Area’s coach. “It is amazing she can compete.
“Lucky to be alive, and she has come back to do what she has done.”
The accident occurred just a mile from her home.
“The superintendent at my school, Josh Rothwell, was called by the police that day to tell him to get grief counselors set up at the school and ready because ‘this girl’ was probably going to die,” Lange recalls being told. “The wrecker driver estimated I flipped about three to five times.
“I went out the passenger side windshield because I didn't have my seatbelt on,” she went on. “They say that my not having my seatbelt on may have actually saved my life.”
Lange, perhaps the most decorated track athlete in Forest Area’s history, knew all along she’d be back competing. Her comeback started with intense physical therapy even as her teammates may not have been aware of her recovery efforts during the school’s summer break.
“I've actually never really had my teammates ask me about (the accident and recovery),” Lange said. “I don't know if it's because they don't know how serious it actually was or if they are just glad I'm still here.
“It was kind of hard for me because people thought I was fine when summer was over, and I started going back to school because on the outside I looked fine other than a scar just above my right eyebrow that had 26 stitches in it at one point,” she continued. “But on the inside was the real damage, but no one could see that so no one really knew my condition except the people who were there with me.”
Lange credits the support of her father Jon, mother Kallie, and sister Lauren for getting through the summer of 2021 and returning to cross country, basketball and track her junior year. She also singles out her strong religious beliefs.
Meagan now holds Forest Area records in the 400, 800 and 1,600 runs, as part of the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 relays, and also for the 5K cross country race. Yet, she does not consider herself a long-distance runner. And, until just recently, she didn’t really understand why others might think her story was special.
But just a few weeks ago, in breaking that 1,600 record, she accomplished something especially memorable.
Weather conditions have severely hampered Lange and the Warriors’ opportunities to compete outdoors this spring; Lange and her teammates have only five meets under their belts. But the weather did permit them to make the short trip April 14 to Buckley, where she broke that school record in the 1,600 that previously belonged to 1987 graduate Dawn Ricketts.
Lange has rarely run the 1,600; in fact, she’s run it only once this spring – that day. Meanwhile, the Ricketts family is quite familiar with Lange’s story – and Dawn Ricketts was at the meet in Buckley with her brother Jim Ricketts. Dawn Ricketts reportedly raised her hands in jubilation after the official time was announced.
Lange’s father, who first coached the record-setter in second grade and “never stopped,” according to Meagan, oversaw her training for the 1,600 as she sought to add a record in that race to her growing list of accomplishments.
“A month before track practice started my dad started training me,” she said. “I put more work in before the season than I ever have.”
Lange credits her father for pushing her in the right direction and giving her tools along the way.
She just as quickly notes her mom played a crucial role in her recovery, from staying at her side in the hospital to driving to doctor and therapy appointments. “And, anything else I needed,” Lange said.
Older sister Lauren was also a key member of the recovery team.
“She would come to the hospital with worksheets she had made, usually fill-in-the-blank type things, and make me do them.,” Lange said of her sister. “We would always make fun of my handwriting after because I could barely write, and it was almost illegible.
“The year prior to my accident she got diagnosed with cancer, and I felt she could relate to my situation more,” Meagan continued. “I would tell her things that I didn't tell anyone else because I thought she was the only one who would understand.”
Stremlow, who has coached track at Forest since 1984 with just a few seasons off, was Ricketts’ coach when she set the 1,600 record. Ricketts’ time was 5:58.5. Lange beat the time by 21 hundredths of a second, running a 5:58.29.
Stremlow is proud of both record setters and is amazed his current top miler is potentially headed back to the Finals again. If she qualifies Saturday, as Stremlow anticipates, Lange would advance to the LPD4 Finals on June 3 at Hudsonville.
“Jessica is pretty determined,” Stremlow said. “After the accident, she said she would make it back to the Finals, and she did!”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Forest Area’s Meagan Lange shows some of the many medals she’s received for her running achievements. (Middle) Lange rounds a curve during a relay race. (Below) Lange, far right, stands with Dawn Ricketts and coach Ron Stremlow. (Photos by Lauren Lange/Perfectly Imperfect.)
BLISSFIELD – Last fall, June Miller raced for an MHSAA cross country title at Michigan International Speedway. During the winter she played in the Division 3 Basketball Final at the Breslin Center. In the spring, she competed at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 track & field championships in Kent City.
As she embarks on her senior year at Blissfield Community Schools in southeast Michigan, Miller isn’t concerned about an encore.
“I don’t worry about topping my junior season,” she said. “I don’t feel the need to. I’ll fight for it to the best of my ability, but if I don’t make it that’s okay. There were a lot of factors that went into last year, and I can’t control all of them this year.
“I’ll leave my best out there and know that I gave it my all, and in the end that’s the true accomplishment. If it takes me that far or further, then great. If not, that’s okay.”
Miller’s remarkable run to MHSAA Finals in three sports remains even more impressive when considering she had eight goals and five assists playing defense for the Royals soccer team.
“Shows up to work, busts her tail every practice, every game,” said Blissfield girls basketball coach Ryan Gilbert. “Never have to worry about June Miller.”
Miller is as steady an athlete as they come, never getting too high or too low in pressure situations. In basketball, Gilbert said Miller never met a shot she didn’t like. Miller started all 29 games last season, leading the team in 3-pointers.
Gilbert said Miller is even-keeled.
“It takes a while to get into the ‘June Miller circle,’ but I’m almost in,” he said. “This is her senior year; this is my year. She’s very funny when you get to know her and has a brilliant mind.
“She wants to win over everything,” Gilbert said.
Miller wasn’t the fastest runner on the cross country team last fall – that spot would belong to her younger sister, Hope. June has no problem with that.
“I love running with my sister,” she said. “She’s an amazing and incredibly kind person. Her dedication to running inspires me and keeps me fighting for it. We train together sometimes and she’s the one that pushes me, and I love that.
“I always knew she’d be faster than me someday, and I couldn’t be prouder of how fast she’s become and how much she’s achieved. (People might) think I’d hold some resentment for her beating me while I’m older, but she’s lived in my shadow for years and I’m so glad she’s been able to find her place that she can dominate.”
Blissfield is eyeing a big season in cross country after winning a Regional and just missing the top 10 at the Final a year ago. The Miller sisters are a big reason for the giddiness.
“I’m ready to leave it all out there,” Miller said. “It’s my senior season, and I want to go out strong. I think the end goal for all of us is to really push it this season and improve with each race so by the time we hit Regionals we’re in the best shape physically and mentally so we can leave it all on the course to get to states again.”
Because of her work schedule this summer, Miller missed some of the team workouts but was able to get the details from her sister and went out on her own time and trained to build up her mileage in preparation for the season.
“I think the experience from last year will give us something to fight for,” she said. “It allows us to look at the season with our end goal being the state meet. It gives us a passion and something to fight for.”
Blissfield cross country coach Ryan Bills called Miller a strong competitor.
“She is fun kid,” he said. “You never know which June you’re going to get – funny, chatty June or serious, no-nonsense June. Either way she always gives it her all during competition, which is why she has seen so much success the past year.”
The four-sport athlete spent the first couple of weeks of summer refreshing her body before kicking it into high gear.
She did take some time to reflect on all the places she got to play and compete last year and is grateful to be part of a team that helped her reach those places.
“It was a unique experience,” she said. “When I’m playing basketball or running track and cross country, I’m not focused on where I am physically – instead I’m in my head focused on what I need to do.
“Once you get to someplace, you stop thinking about getting there and you move on to the next step of being there and doing what you need to there.”
Miller is one of the top students in her class. She’s currently trying to decide whether she wants to pursue playing soccer in college. She wants to major in business and minor in sustainability, eventually getting a master’s degree in architecture.
“I want to be a sustainable design architect,” she said, “who can better the world through the art of architecture.”
Miller’s future looks bright, as does the outlook for this athletic year. In all three sports for which she reached the Finals last year, the Royals have enough returning talent to make lengthy runs again.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Miller said, about four days before the first cross country event of the season. “I want to make it to all those state tournaments again, but I want to do it with my teammates because they’re the ones that make it memorable and something to remember forever.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Blissfield’s June Miller (750) races during a cross country meet last fall. (Middle) Miller pulls up for a jumper during last season’s basketball postseason run. (Cross country photo by Deloris Clark-Osborne; basketball photo by Gary Sullivan.)