On Saturday, Gibsonburg senior cross country runner Jacob Merryfield was not only trying to qualify for state, he was running for his mother, who is battling cancer.
Susan Merryfield’s fight began with colon cancer and it then moved into her liver and lungs. Jacob said she just finished chemotherapy treatments for her second bout with the disease about a month ago and Susan says she’s doing fine now.
“I’ve been running since I was pretty little, about fifth grade, and I run to try and make her happy and I’m doing my best for her,” Jacob, a first team All-Toledo Area Athletic Conference selection, said.
Susan, a 50-year-old dental assistant, had every attention to attend the Division III regional cross country race in Tiffin Saturday after he qualified with a personal record 17:28.85 at the district meet a week earlier.
“She comes to pretty much every one of them. It means pretty much everything to me because I just pray that she can still come,” Jacob said.
Susan explained, “The whole family tries to go and cheers him and tells him where he is at and how is doing. We try to keep him in the race and motivated. He’s got a pretty good support system, and a lot of the Gibsonburg boys are good buds and we love them all and wish them all well. The saddest part is having him graduate. It’s his last season.”
Susan says whether or not Jacob qualifies for state is not the most important issue for her.
“That would be wonderful, but I’m proud of him for what he’s done already. It’s not going to be any different for me anyways,” Susan said.
“He had an awesome race (at districts) and hopefully he can do that this weekend and can keep going. The ultimate goal is Columbus, but you know, that’s OK. One stop shy is OK with me. It’s tough. It was his goal to get regionals and he’s done that. What happens from here is just a bonus.”
Gibsonburg coach Beth Kohler has been witnessing the Merryfield family support since Jacob first got involved with the Gibsonburg Youth Cross Country program, but says he rarely mentions the day-to-day fight Susan has dealt with.
“He doesn’t talk a lot about it, but he is very close to his mother and they are a very supportive family,” Kohler said. “He is definitely running for her, and since he has been in the elementary program she has loved to watch him run. So I know he’d like to do well and to honor her.”
Kohler says Jacob has to improve his time to qualify for regionals, and he was working all last week to improve it even more. He finished 10th overall at the district meet.
“He knows he has to shake some time off his last time. His goal is just to enjoy the moment and see if he can make it happen, but it’s always a tough thing once you get into the regionals. You’re always with the best of the best.
“Actually, at districts he ran his PR and he was happy with that. He took at least 15 seconds off his junior season PR and each year he just keeps getting better — he’s one of those kids.”
Jacob said, “I’m thinking I’m going to have to run about 17-flat, so I’m going to have to take another 20 or 30 seconds off my PR, but if I did it at districts I’m hoping I can do it this week.”
Coach Kohler, who ran at Galion High School, said her husband Andy, a former Gibsonburg football and baseball player, started the youth running program.
“We try to foster participation. If they end up in cross country that’s wonderful, but we just want kids out for sports at Gibsonburg. It’s just not good for the school or the kids to be not doing that,” Beth said.
Susan Merryfield said her son Jacob bit on the first opportunity he got to run.
“He’s always told me, ‘I’m a runner, Mom. I told you, ‘I can run, I can run,’” Susan said. “From the time he was a little boy, he would come home and say, ‘I want to go to this cross country meet’ when he was still in grade school, and I would say, ‘Jake, do you really want to run cross country?’ and he would say, ‘Yeah, I really want to run cross country.’”
“Well, he finally talked me into going out to Terra Tech (now Terra State Community College) to a run out there, and the little booger won the race. Then he said, ‘I told you I could run, Mom.’ That’s when he was in about fourth or fifth grade.”
Now, members of the Gibsonburg varsity often hang out at the Merryfield home where Susan cooks chicken wings for them. After Jacob’s season is over, he will be looking towards winter and spring track.
“He did a lot more (offseason running) in this summer than he has in the past, and he is always talking about what he is going to do this winter for track,” Coach Kohler said.
Kohler was named Toledo Area Athletic Coach of the Year this year as the girls’ varsity team finished second with 44 points behind champion Toledo Christian (28). Danbury (130) was third and Cardinal Stritch Catholic fourth (136).
“I told the girls it’s their award because they’ve come a really long way since the beginning of the season. There are a lot of young runners, and I think that’s why. At the beginning, we were finishing in invitationals near the bottom, in the last half of the field, and by the end of the season we were in the top quarter of the field,” Beth said.
Perhaps helping Kohler receive her award is that the Golden Bear middle school boys team won the TAAC championship, even though assistant coach Brad Biddle heads up that team.
Local first team All-TAAC varsity selections include Northwood runner Olivia Carbe (21:24.02) and Gibsonburg freshman Samantha deAnda (21:25.93).
Second team is Gibsonburg senior Courtney Ksenich (22:05.38), Stritch senior Rosa Mondragon (22:13.14), Gibsonburg juniors Molly Burkett (22:42.17) and Alyssa Escobedo (23:02.04).
TC also won the boys race with 37 points, followed by runner-up Stritch (55), Gibsonburg (73), and Ottawa Hills (87).
First team selections are Stritch sophomore Tim Lynn (17:41.6), Jake Merryfield (17:53.09), and Stritch senior Jake Lynn (18:11.47). Second team is Gibsonburg sophomore Ian Reinick (19:01.62) and Stritch sophomore Bobby Romstadt (19:07.67).