Dane Nelson could have been bitter how his sophomore season in track and field ended.
Nelson, now a junior at Milton High School, finished .38 seconds short of a state-meet berth in the 110-meter hurdles. Instead of feeling sorry for himself, he found a silver lining.
“I thought about it for a little bit on the way home, just how close I was to making it,” Nelson said. “I knew that two of the three people ahead of me were seniors.
“I felt bad in a way for myself, but I also felt good that those other guys made it because it was their last chance.”
“He was disappointed, but he recognized that he was a sophomore and he still had plenty of time,” said David Nelson, who is Dane’s dad as well as hurdles coach. “It was actually kind of cool because the kid that ended up in third from Monona Grove, who Dane had beat at the conference meet a week before, was a senior. The first thing Dane said afterward was he was just happy that kid got to go to state because he was a senior and Dane recognized he still had a couple of years.”
Nelson wouldn’t have to wait long for his time.
In his junior season this year, he qualified for the state meet in both the 110-meter hurdles and 300-meter hurdles.
The difference for Nelson was another year stronger and wiser.
“More maturity, he got faster, stronger, he worked hard on his form,” David Nelson said. “He went to a couple different camps in the offseason. He spent time watching world champions on YouTube.”
All of Nelson’s hard work came to fruition at the sectional meet this season.
Nelson redeemed himself in the 110-meter hurdles with a 14.76. Not only was the time good enough to take first place, it also set a new school record.
“When my coach told me I got 14.76, the first thing that went through my mind was, I got sub 15, and I was happy with that,” Nelson said. “The second thing that crossed my mind was that the school record was 14.8. I just couldn’t believe it. I was in shock.”
The time also topped his dad’s best finish ever in the high hurdles. Which is saying a lot considering David Nelson was a state champion at Beloit Turner in the hurdles in 1984.
“He broke the school record, but it was the first time he legitimately beaten any time I had ever ran. That was extra cool. I was kind of giving him grief because I had faster times, now in both events he’s officially faster than I ever was,” David Nelson said with a chuckle.
Nelson wasn’t done though. He also placed first in the 300-meter hurdles with a time of 39.32 to qualify for state in both of his individual events.
“It was a big relief, because I knew there was a lot of pressure,” Nelson said. “Once you get to the state meet, it’s like, I made it to state. I was just happy with that.”
“It just made me very proud,” David Nelson said. “Proud of him for having success and getting to that level. Just as proud of Chrissy [Hughes] after she made it after everything she went through this year with the injuries.”
Nelson was joined by Hughes and senior Katie Chesebro at the WIAA Division 1 State Meet on May 31 and June 1 at Veterans Memorial Stadium in La Crosse.
In the 110-meter hurdle prelims at the state meet, Nelson finished with the fastest time in his heat with a 14.78, ever so close to his freshly minted school record.
The time was the second fastest out of the 24 preliminary times.
In the finals, Nelson finished with a time of 14.93, which placed him seventh and one-spot short of a podium finish.
“Once I got done with the 110 I knew it wasn’t a good race, I could just feel it with all the turning I had going over the hurdles,” Nelson said. “I was just happy I made finals. I kind of just reflected through my whole year with the 110. Happy I made finals, happy I made state.”
Nelson’s optimistic approach paid off in the 300-meter hurdles.
He clocked in at 39.53 in the event, good for a spot on the podium, which includes top-six finishers.
“I got past the finish line and I looked up and I was waiting to see if I got second, third or fourth, because it felt like it, and I saw my name by third. I was just so happy I made podium,” Nelson said.
Standing in front a stadium full of fans on the podium is something Nelson probably won’t soon forget.
“That was special. That was different,” Nelson said. “Just looking up and seeing everyone. That was really fun. Just sitting down there on the middle of the field after the race and realizing what I had done was fun.”
Despite a successful junior campaign, Nelson wouldn’t mind checking off a few more boxes in his senior season in 2020.
“I want to try and get top three in the 110 at state and try and reset the school record in that race,” he said. “Try to get any other records I can.”
And who knows, maybe Nelson can do what his dad did and win a state championship.
“I expect him to come back and cut both times in the hurdles significantly again and if he does, there’s no reason why he can’t be right there in the mix next year in both events.”