HEPPNER — Madelyn Nichols has made a name for herself as one of the top small-school runners in Oregon, and even though she lost her junior year of track and field, she did not not fall off the radar of college coaches.
The Heppner senior signed a letter of intent to run cross-country and track at Eastern Oregon University on Wednesday, Jan. 6.
“At first, I was set on Eastern,” Nichols said. “My brother (Hunter) is there. Then I started talking to coaches at Mount Hood (Community College), Lane (Community College), Western Oregon and College of Idaho. Eastern won out because I know a lot of people there and I’m familiar with the campus.”
EOU also moved to the top of the list because the COVID-19 pandemic limited campus tours, and meeting with coaches and prospective teammates.
Nichols had a standout sophomore year, starting with basketball. She was a starting guard on the 2A state championship team. She then followed up with a pair of state medals at the 2A/1A state track meet.
“Getting to state is almost impossible,” Nichols said. “Only two in each event at district get to go.”
Nichols placed second and ran a personal best 2 minutes, 25.90 seconds in the 800 meters. She then ran to a fourth-place finish in the 1,500 in a personal best time of 5:06.34.
She also runs the 400, the 4x400 relay and the 3,000 meters.
“The 3,000 is not my favorite,” she said. “I enjoy the 800 and 1,500 better. I like the 400, especially since I was on the 4x4-relay team.”
Nichols has a personal best of 11:45.86 in the 3,000, and a 1:05.54 in the 400.
In the fall of her junior year, Nichols finished fifth at the 3A/2A/1A Special District 3 Cross-Country Championships at Pendleton Community Park. She ran a personal best 19:41.60 to earn the last spot to state.
She finished 18th at the state meet in a time of 20:33.10.
“It’s tough getting to state when our district is so awesome,” she said. “Thank goodness I went my junior year, I might not get to go this year. It’s kind of sad. I try to have hope, but I also try to be realistic.”
From high to low
After cross-country was over, Nichols jumped into basketball, where the Mustangs finished 14-10 overall and 6-6 in Blue Mountain Conference play.
Heppner lost in the first round of the state playoffs to eventual state champion Kennedy.
As the basketball season came to a close, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools and sports. It was supposed to be for two weeks.
“In March, we were still training like we were going to have a season,” Nichols said. “Then it was gone. I kept running. I took a little time off, then started preparing for cross-country.”
In October, Nichols competed in a race in Tillamook for her club team. Each heat consisted only of runners from each club, boys and girls combined.
“It was kind of odd,” Nichols said.
Nichols took another break until December, but instead of hitting the road, it was the treadmill because of the weather.
Hunter will be her teammate at EOU, but at home, Nichols said running with her brother is not much of an option.
“I’m not in shape like him,” she said. “He will run 20 miles.”
Her parents, Russ and Toni Nichols, coach the Heppner cross-country and track teams. They both ran at Centennial High School in Gresham, but not in college. Nichols said running with her dad is worse than with her older brother.
“My dad runs those crazy ultra-marathon 100-mile races,” she said.
Finding the good
Nichols has a 4.0 GPA and will graduate in the spring with about 50 college credits. She would like to major in molecular biology.
“I’ve thought about being a doctor or a (physician assistant),” she said. “There is less schooling being a PA.”
When school and running aren’t consuming her time, Nichols has been putting her energy into DIY projects.
“I have school from 8 a.m. to noon and I really can’t hang out with friends,” she said. “I’ve redone my room five times, but I like to refurbish furniture. I’m teaching myself.”
Hunter has been the recipient of one of her creations.
“When my brother moved into his house in La Grande, he needed a table,” Nichols said. “A lady in Heppner had a free one and I redid it. It’s getting plenty of use from dinner, card tournaments and pingpong.”