There are some people in this world who understand that life has hurdles, they come in various forms. Some come in the form of physical objects on a rubber track that you must jump over to get to the next one. There are others that come in the form of some of life's greatest struggles.
Mullen junior Madison Tomlinson has done an excellent job of clearing the physical ones this season. She has greater aspirations to help others clear life's hurdles.
While the state tournament in Omaha starting tomorrow is her immediate focus, she also has the greater good of America's war veterans in mind.
"I've always liked helping people," Tomlinson said. "If I have someone that comes home from war and can't walk. I want to help them walk again. Changing someone's life would be the greatest feeling in the world."
She could help people like war veteran Brandon Morocco. At age 23, he shared his war story with CBS news. Morocco was driving an armored vehicle when he ran over a a bomb's tripwire. The shrapnel cut clear through his door taking off both of his arms as well as his left leg. The blast also took most of his right leg as well and killed his "gunner" who also happened to be his best friend.
It is unclear whether Morrocco is seeking treatment for his injuries, but it this case, Tomlinson's dream includes giving this guy use of what limbs he has left or teaching him how to use artificial limbs.
The idea to get into this type of physical therapy-related field came to her during her 8th period health class where they were talking about career paths. While Tomlinson doesn't have any personal connections to military members, something about the slideshow she saw clicked in her mind.
Her wanting to choose a career path that helps others comes as no surprise to those around her.
"That's just the kind of person she is," Mullen womens track coach Jennifer Moore said. "She's always offering words of encouragement and helping teammates out."
While her kind and caring demeanor shines through off the track. She is a fierce competitor on it. She also plays basketball and volleyball for the Broncos.
Now a junior, she has had to overcome some hurdles of her own during her time at Mullen. During the state track meet her freshman season, she was getting ready to run the 4x100 meter relay on a team that included her older sister. One of the judges she noticed she was wearing a womens hair accessory around her wrist.
It was determined that the rubber-band like object violated the Nebraska High School Activities Association's "jewelry" rule. The team was disqualified and was unable to compete.
"She took it pretty hard," Nancy Tomlinson, Madison's mother said. "What was really impressive though was how she handled it. There was no griping or grudge-holding. They were able to get past it and just moved on."
During her sophomore season, Tomlinson went into the district meet with high hopes of placing high for the state meet. Another hurdle was thrown her way when she came down with what some believe was heat stroke and was unable to compete.
She still qualified for the state tournament, but getting her strength back in time to compete well didn't happen as quickly as she would have liked.
"The past couple years didn't go as planned," Tomlinson said. "I think the atmosphere got to me. I was younger and didn't have the right mentality yet. This time around I'm going to be more focused and serious about it."
One thing Tomlinson may never get used to is not having Moore on the infield with her.
The NHSAA doesn't allow coaches to be on the infield, so Tomlinson is going to be more on her own than at any point in the season.
"It's going to be weird because I'm used to having her yell at me while I run," Tomlinson said.
Heading into the state meet, Tomlinson has shown her strength in the hurdle events and she has had strong performances in the dash events as well.
Another thing that will keep Tomlinson focused is her opponents. In the lane right next to hers, she will be facing a familiar opponent for the 300-meter hurdles.
"Sami Schmidt from Cody-Kilgore will be in the lane right next to mine in my heat, so that will be nice," Tomlinson said.
Tomlinson beat out Schmidt in the 300 meter hurdles at the district meet this season.
As the season's have gone on, Tomlinson has had to carry more and more of the load for the Broncos womens track team. It's not for the lack of talent around her (Mullen is sending six people to the state tournament), but due to the lack of the decreasing numbers.
Tomlinson counted nearly 20 women out for track her freshman season. It decreased to 15 her sophomore season and now sits at eight in her junior season.
Despite the numbers sometimes effecting the final points in standings, it's important to not reflect on that too much.
"You want to place well at meets, but also it's an individual sport," Tomlinson said. "As long as your improving your times and your team's times, then you're in good shape."
Her selfness nature also contributes to her keeping the team spirit high even when times may be tough.
"I've always enjoyed helping people and seeing the progression of others," Tomlinson said."
Like he future career path choice, the hurdles are something that sort of grew on Tomlison over time. She never did hurdles while she was in middle school, then Moore suggested she try it once she started her freshman season.
She started out in the 300 meter hurdles as a freshman before adding the 100 meter hurdles her sophomore season. This move wasn't exactly easy for Tomlinson at first, but once again she fought through it.
"I was scared to death," Tomlinson said. "I thought she (Moore) was crazy for wanting me to do the 100 meter hurdles. Then, as I got better at them, I started to like them."
Tomlinson will be doing four events at this year's state tournament- the 100-meter and 300-meter hurdles as well as the 100-meter dash and the 4x100 meter relay. In the hurdle events, she has things she has to keep in mind when she runs them.
In the 100-meter hurdles, she is working on becoming more effective in three-stepping between each hurdle, something Tomlinson, who stands at 5'7, says can be hard due to her height."
"I'm just getting the strength to do three-stepping the whole way," Tomlinson said. "Three-stepping is so hard, especially when you don't have that long of legs. You're striding out so much that you lose so much momentum."
In the 300-meter hurdles, she is trying to get rid of the shutter step, something that she says is going to come with more mental preparation and focus.
Moore said she is perfectly capable and has seen her execute it in practice and before in meets. Tomlinson does have the advantage over some other athletes due to the fact she is a sponge for advice.
"She's very coachable," Moore said. "In practice or during a meet, when we change something up, she will ask why we're making those changes and those adjustments. Other kids will just be like, 'just teach me how to do it'. She digs deeper and wants to learn."
While Tomlinson has both the physical and mental tools that have made her a successful athlete, what helps her the most is a support system that is there for her no matter what.
She maintains a close relationship with her two older sisters and her parents Jim and Nancy, with whom she joins on long-distance joy runs at times.
"They've been my biggest support system," Tomlinson said. "They have gotten me to where I am now."
She gets an even dose of tough love from dad and nurturing care from mom and uses both to frame her mindset for competition. She enjoys spending time out on the family ranch with Jim just working and spending time with him. There is no cell phone service at the ranch house so it provides a generous escape.
Jim has instilled a toughness in Madison that she feels makes her who she is today.
"He's always told me that I will never cry in basketball over an injury" Tomlinson said. "I remember last season when, I sprained my ankle during a game, I was trying to limp off the court without breaking down. He made me tougher."
She also credits them with bringing her farther along from a confidence standpoint than in any other season.
When Tomlinson is on the bus headed to Omaha Burke to finish off her junior season, you will likely find her with headphones in, blasting hip-hop music to get in the zone.
Focus, preparation, leadership and the willingness to learn have all made Tomlinson into a respected, chiseled competitor. Eventually the headphones will come off and she will take her mark and look straight ahead.
What she sees will be the ever familiar sight- hurdles.
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She has proven by now that there are none too high to clear.