It was the best of races. It was the worst of races.
On Feb. 27, 2022 Conor McFadden entered the block at Penn State for the PTFCA Indoor 200-meter championship. Three hundred and sixty-four days later, McFadden did it again.
In 2022, McFadden pulled his hamstring out of the blocks, essentially ending his promising spring track season.
The 2023 version? McFadden busted out a 21.19 time to win a gold medal, clock the fifth fastest indoor time in the U.S. this season and earn Milesplit.com’s National Performer of the Week.
“I felt super grateful,” McFadden shared. “Last year, I pulled up 20 meters into the race. To be able to come through and top all of last year’s times was a great feeling.”
“I’m really happy for him because of what he had to go through last year. That’s tough, physically and mentally,” observed CB West track coach John Mahoney. “You could definitely see the nerves heading into the 200. When he finished that race, a weight had been lifted off of his shoulders.”
As a freshman, McFadden ran the 100 and 200 meters. He had success in both, but as wins piled up in the 200, it became clear where his bread was buttered. “They were small invitationals but it made me realize that compared to everyone else, I was good at this race,” McFadden said. “I started focusing on it and cutting my times down. I also ran the 400M and realized I have some endurance but the 200M is right in the middle.”
“He accelerates faster than anyone else than I have coached in my 14 years at West,” Mahoney offered. “Besides that, he is laser focused. One thing I think he has really learned this year is paying close attention to detail. Those little things add up to help you go from being fast to being the best.”
“The hamstring injury was bittersweet,” McFadden admitted. “It was bad at the time, but it taught me a lesson in how to treat my body. I’ve been stretching every day since track season. Focusing on the stretches just as much as my speed and endurance work is the big difference.”
McFadden said that despite feeling some “weirdness” in his hamstring at last weekend’s New Balance Indoor Nationals, he stuck to his stretch routine. It let him finish the race healthy for spring track season.
In the fall, McFadden was an all-SOL National wide receiver for the district finalist CB West football team. If teams crowded the box against West’s two-FCS bound running backs – Eli Boehm and Vinny Cherubini – McFadden would blow the top off of the defense. Before breaking his collarbone in November, McFadden caught seven passes for over 200 yards in West’s last two playoff wins.
“Good athletes prioritize recovery just as much as the workouts themselves. He did a really good job of going to the chiropractor when he needed to and working on his flexibility when he needed to,” Mahoney pointed out. “If you’re flexible, you’ll recover faster.”
McFadden brought home two golds from Penn State. He teamed with Ben Sterling, Gavin McCusker and Tekalegn Leaf to win the 4x200 by an eyelash. The Bucks clocked a 1:29.03 time to beat second-place Abington by .04 seconds.
As the fifth seed, West did not compete in the fastest heat. “The guys were disappointed by that,” Mahoney admitted, “but being the fastest team in the second fastest heat definitely helped. I kept telling them that you have to be fast but your handoffs have to be clean and you have to stay out of trouble.
“We led Ben Sterling off, because he is our best guy out of the blocks and we put Conor second, rather than anchor him, because he blew the race out,” Mahoney described. “We were running in lane one by ourselves the whole time. We wanted to put up a time that would make guys nervous in that last heat. Sure enough, because the teams in the top heat were battling back and forth, they had to run harder.”
Mahoney described the 4x200 as “nerve-wracking but a cool, very special experience.” With a spring season and a healthy McFadden coming up, there maybe more special experiences ahead for West track ... that aren’t quite as nerve-wracking.