Forest Area's Lange Goes Extra Record Mile in Extraordinary Recovery

By Tom Spencer
Special for

May 19, 2023

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.

Northern Lower PeninsulaHer 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. 

Lange rounds a curve during a relay race. “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, far right, stands with Dawn Ricketts and coach Ron Stremlow.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 SpencerTom 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.)