Wheeler High School track athlete Emma Hellwege had always been told she had talent. From the time she started running as a 6th grader, her coaches noticed she had a gift, and couldn’t wait to coach her up into the high school level. This year, finally a freshman, she ran her first season at the high school level, a journey that ended with something young runners everywhere dream of: a trip to the State finals.
As if making it to State as a freshman weren’t incredible enough, perhaps what is most impressive is Hellwege’s deep knowledge and understanding of the sport as a whole. She joined the swim team after cross country season to work muscle groups that don’t get used in running, knowing that this would allow her to enter into track season already in shape and ready to take on the speed workouts that cut her time down to a State qualifying caliber.
“Most days after swim practice I would run a few miles, especially towards the end of the season,” Hellwege said. “Then on the weekends I would do a longer run of around 6 miles.”
Throughout track season, Hellwege showed her strength in her specialty event: the 800m run. She continually posted times in the low 2:20s, impressive for any high school runner, let alone a freshman. All season Hellwege had been told she could make the cut for State, but she looked at it as a long shot, until she saw where she was seeded at tournament time.
“Going into the Regional, I realized I was right there with the top runners,” Hellwege said. “It was hard to stay calm in the days leading up to that race, especially during school on the day of, but I had been thinking about the moment ahead for months, and I knew I was prepared.”
At the Regional last Tuesday, all her hard work culminated in one race. Hellwege went into the meet feeling calm and relaxed, dancing away her nerves as she listened to music on her headphones, clearly enjoying the moment and taking it all in. When she finally toed the starting line and the gun was fired, Hellwege executed her 800m run perfectly, establishing a solid position with the leaders and maintaining it throughout the race. She finished third with an impressive PR of 2:20.69, punching her ticket to the State finals just tenths of a second ahead of one of her strongest competitors.
“I ended the race in awe,” Hellwege said. “I couldn’t believe I made it until I had the popsicle stick marked ‘3rd’ in my hand!”
The moment so many young runners dream for was hers, and, even as a freshman, she knew just how much it meant.
“I’m going to state, I’m going to State,” she said in awe as she hugged teammates and coaches after the race. “This feels so surreal, it’s a dream come true!”
Though she’s certainly done her fair share of work to get where she is, Hellwege said she has an amazing support system that keeps her going.
“My mom is definitely a huge inspiration for me,” Hellwege said. “She puts so much effort into my races and how I execute them, and helps with whatever I need to do to get better.”
Coach Kim Orosz and Hellwege’s fellow teammates are also big sources of inspiration for her, and she keeps them in mind whenever she laces up her spikes.
“I always believe in running for others, whether that be your family, friends, teammates, or whoever,” Hellwege said. “They take the time out of their lives to support you, so running for them should be a given.”
With years of racing still ahead of her, Hellwege has some major goals, but not all of them are about the time on the stopwatch.
“My goal for the rest of my years of track is to get better every race,” Hellwege said. “This doesn’t mean my times have to decrease, but I want to learn more every time I cross that finish line.”
Hellwege has grown in so many ways as both a person and an athlete this season, and said she never wants to stop learning.
“This season I learned more about coaches, athletes, other teams, and racing than I ever have before,” Hellwege said. “I felt many highs and lows, but at the end of the day, you learn more about yourself and how to grow from it all.”
Hellwege will compete in the State meet on June 1. Though it will be her first time competing with the best of the best in Indiana, with her level of talent, drive, and will to improve, it will certainly not be her last.