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Tough break can't cripple North Medford runner's spirit

Simon Driskell shows a great deal of spunk for a young man just waylaid by a cruel twist of athletic fate.

The North Medford High senior sprinter broke the tibia and fibula in his left leg when his spikes caught an instant after running the race of his life in the 400 meters in Saturday's Yreka Lions Track & Field Invitational.

But two hours after his release from Providence-Medford Medical Center, Driskell spoke confidently that he's not through as runner.

I will run again, he says in an almost-defiant tone. This isn't the last time you'll see my name in print.

Driskell was clocked in a lifetime-best 49.56 seconds when he crumpled to the ground just past the finish line.

It felt like somebody kicked me at the bottom of the foot, but I knew nobody did, Driskell says. I knew it was broken pretty much when I looked at it and it was bent the wrong way.

Driskell says the accident might have been waiting to happen.

I think I had been working on a stress fracture, he says. I've been all taped up when I've been running. I'm glad it waited until the end, because I would've had to crawl across the finish line.

Driskell underwent surgery to place a pin in his leg and was fitted with a boot-like splint that goes halfway up his shin.

The surgery took three hours and I kind of had a bad reaction to the anesthesia, he says. But the doctors have been good to me and given me a lot of encouragement.

Driskell ran four years of cross country without encountering anything more than the usual aches and pains. But tendinitis truncated his sophomore track season.

As a junior, his 50.83 400 was the 23rd-best time among the state's Class 4A runners last spring. Driskell had two goals for his final season at North: 1) run a sub-50 400 and 2) place in the state meet.

Going to state was secondary to breaking 50, Driskell says, but (breaking my leg) wasn't supposed to happen.

Driskell mapped out his strategy and laid the groundwork for achieving his goals well in advance. Last summer, he attended the Steens Mountain Running Camp, which quickly separates the surf and sand bunch from those with the will to win.

You see things differently after you go there, Driskell says. Certain people can go there and get something out of it and have a good time. It really sets you apart.

First-year North Medford coach Mark Hodges is an advocate of the Steens camp, in part because it toughens up youngsters.

Driskell's Steens' experience may or may not have come into play Saturday as he lay on the track.

You never know how you're going to react to pain until it hits you, Driskell says. The measure of a person is how you react to stress like that. I wasn't going to let it win, I wasn't going to cry about it. I guess that's how I am.

Driskell admittedly slacked off his training during the winter as another athletic pursuit -- kickboxing -- took priority.

Driskell taught some friends how to kickbox for his senior project.

Luckily, he says, I'm through with my senior project.

Driskell hadn't been a dominating runner, but was the kind of kid capable of scoring in duals and at district. He placed second in last year's Southern Oregon Conference 400 finals to teammate Nick Dunn and eighth in the 800.

But it was during a junior varsity 4x400 relay last year that he demonstrated his real potential.

I didn't start running the 400 until the second meet last year, Driskell recalls. I ran the long relay for one of our JV teams and cranked out a 53 or 54 leg. The long relay was needing a good time and coach (Ron) Toombs put me in there.

I was used to running the 800 and 1,500. I found out after running those races I was so much faster in the 400. I really enjoy starting from behind and then taking the lead.

When the splint comes off in a couple of months, Driskell will again start running.

His college plans aren't set, but he hopes to run somewhere.

But as Driskell says, we haven't seen the last of him.

HEADED FOR WARMER CLIMES-- Leslie Lang admits it wasn't easy to walk away earlier this month from the South Medford girls soccer program after guiding the Panthers to an 18-11-1 record and a pair of SOC co-championships in two years.

It certainly was a struggle, says the 27-year-old Lang. I've been joking that I feel like I'm adopting out my first child.

But Lang says it was time to move on.

She grew up in Arizona before going to college in Portland and nursing school studies at Southern Oregon.

I'm a fair-weather person, she admits. I can't handle nine months of winter.

Lang, school nurse for six Medford schools, is moving to San Diego to establish residency before studying to become a nurse practitioner.

I'm not married and don't have kids, she says. If I was going to make the move, the time is now.

Lang served one year as an assistant to Dave Potter before taking over as head coach in 1998. With 10 varsity returners back, the Panthers figure to be in the conference title hunt again.

I think the girls were disappointed, Lang says. What I told them was that they're the ones that are going to make or break the team; it's not always the coach. The coach can be helpful, but their willingness to succeed is going to be what make's them best.