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Dunn tough enough to handle state

There aren't many track and field athletes who would dare take on the workload that Nick Dunn will tackle at this weekend's Class 4A state meet at Hayward Field in Eugene.


When: Today (10:30 a.m.) and — Saturday (10 a.m.) at Eugene's Hayward Field.

Today's finals: Boys pole vault, long jump, discus, high jump and — 3,000 meters; girls long jump, shot put, javelin and 3,000 meters.

Defending champions: Class 4A: West Linn boys, South Medford girls; — Class 3A: Cascade boys, Gladstone girls. — —

But then, there aren't many runners who have gone one-on-one with a big sedan and lived to tell about it, either.

Dunn was broadsided by the oversized auto in August of 1997 while riding his bicycle across Crater Lake Avenue, leaving him with a broken jaw, a broken collarbone and 17 stitches on his left arm.

With his jaw wired shut for four weeks, Dunn lost 20 pounds. But he was at North Medford High for the first day of school two weeks later and never even missed a day of practice with the cross country team.

I was on a liquid diet and couldn't get air in my lungs like I wanted to, Dunn says. I was the happiest guy in town when the doctor unwired my jaw.

No one should be surprised, then, that the Black Tornado junior will be on the starting line for the 400-meter run, the 300-meter hurdles and the 4x400-meter relay when the state meet kicks off today with preliminaries in the running events and selected finals in the field.

The meet resumes Saturday at 11 a.m.

That kid is tougher than a boot, North Medford coach Ron Toombs says of Dunn. He takes on everything you throw at him in practice and comes back for more.

He just loves the sport and he's willing to do what it takes to be the best. I'm not sure I've ever coached a more dedicated runner.

Dunn remembers virtually nothing about the car-bike wreck and says it was never determined who was at fault. He was riding on Grand Avenue and crossed Crater Lake Avenue when he was struck from the side.

I just remember waking up in the hospital in pain, he says.

Dunn spent only one day in the hospital -- no surprise there -- but it took him several months to fully recover.

He went from being the last guy on the JV cross country team to the seventh man on varsity by the end of that season.

However, he failed to make the state track meet in the spring of 1998 after qualifying in the 300 hurdles as a freshman.

I don't think Nick was ever quite himself last year, Toombs says.

Dunn, who had an earlier stroke of bad luck when he tripped over a volleyball cord and lost his two front teeth in the fourth grade, has been at full strength this spring.

He won the Southern Oregon Conference district championship in the 400 last Saturday in a lifetime best of 50.23 seconds, finished second to Ashland's Taylor Cropper in the 300 hurdles in a personal best of 39.83 and then anchored North Medford's 1,600-meter relay team to victory.

Dunn might have had three victories to his credit at district had he not tripped over the final barrier in the 300 hurdles and nearly crashed to the track. The near brush with yet another calamity helped Cropper to burst past the Tornado runner and probably cost Dunn at least a half-second in time.

I was pretty upset because I really wanted to win that race, Dunn says. I thought I had it and then out of the corner of my eye I saw (Cropper) and I panicked.

But in looking back, I'm just happy I made it to state (in the hurdles) and didn't fall. I know I've got a better race in me.

Dunn first began experimenting with the demanding 400 and 300 hurdles double last year. The two races might be the toughest in track, and when you throw in the relay, requiring another 400, it's enough to kill off a masochist.

Last year, I basically used the 400 as a warm-up to the hurdles, Dunn says. I didn't take the 400 very seriously. But this year I'm in better shape, and I feel like I can run them both hard and still come back and run the relay.

I'm pretty resilient, I guess.

Dunn has trained with both the distance runners and the sprinters at North, usually choosing the most difficult workout for that particular day.

The most arduous workout is what the runners call a ladder, a series of sprints: first 100 meters, then 200, 300, 400 and 600. That's only half the workout. The second half is the opposite: 600, 400, 300, 200 and 100.

Certain times must be accomplished, with little rest in between.

Those are killers, Dunn says, but they get me in shape.

Without a lot of raw speed, Dunn must depend on endurance and toughness to see him through. He wouldn't win many 100-meter dashes, or 200s, for that matter.

But give him a full lap, or a race with boards to jump over, and by the time he's done, he's Nick Dunn, the first to finish.

Nick Dunn of North Medford, center, faces a challenge at the state meet, running the 300-meter hurdles, the 400 and a relay. - By DON HUNT