Megan Gehrke enjoyed the ultimate farewell tour at Faribault High School. Hard work and preparation laid the groundwork for her senior year, where she become a state champion -- in two different sports.
She's drawing rave reviews in her transition as a Tommie Women's Track and Field thrower, too. She's already aced her first test of the 2019 indoor seasons.
A strong, athletic 6-footer who excelled in three sports growing up, Gehrke broke a 10-year-old Tommie record in her initial college track and field competition.
She won Minnesota state championships in 2017-18 in both swimming (anchoring the 200 medley relay) and track and field (shot put). Her track and field state-meet gold was a first for a Faribault Falcon female, and she's also the first from her gender at FHS to win two state titles in one school year. She also was a basketball captain.
In the shot put, Gehrke was invited to compete at the Hamline Elite meet three years in a row; won multiple conference and section championships; was a 4X team field-event MVP athlete; and set school records for shot put, and for most points scored in a single season. She closed out her career at state in a tight battle for the gold, but launched a 44-4 3-4 toss and held on to edge the top-seeded athlete.
A Neuroscience major, Gehrke plans to be in Rome next month for four weeks of J-term classes. Thus St. Thomas coach Joe Sweeney wanted her to get an indoor track and field competition under her belt in December.
The freshman joined a few Tommie teammates at the Dec. 8 indoor meet hosted by Minnesota State Mankato. She promptly threw 45-10 1-2 in the shot put to break Shara Guidry's 2008 school record of 44-2 3-4. Shara Guidry later won an NCAA championship in the discus.
Gehrke topped the field of 40 shot putters in her debut, including more than a dozen from Division II programs. Gehrke's near 46-foot heave also would have ranked seventh best indoors in Division III last winter, and today would sit in the top 20 on this season's Big Ten rankings.
She also recorded a 49-1 3-4 best for eighth place in the weight throw, a new event on her plate. Gehrke improved that mark at a recent intrasquad meet, too, and has already surpassed the freshman best posted by Tommie star Carol Comp, an eventual NCAA champion in the weight throw.
Not bad for someone who not long ago was on a path to a different college sport altogether.
Making a Splash
"I started swimming at age eight, and my mom was also a swimmer growing up, so it was always my favorite sport," Gehrke said. "I went to state for swimming five years in a row, and was a Big 9 Conference and section champ in my sprint events. In my senior year I also was a state champion and earned All-American status. I actually always thought that I would (compete in) college as a swimmer, but that changed as I started to become better at track.
"My Uncle Chris (Bauer) actually competed in track and was an incredible athlete. He was a runner and not a thrower, but I like to still think that track runs in the family. One of my best friends, Elliebeth (Bauer), was the one that actually introduced me to track. Friends Samantha Markman and Kali Mahoney were also good influences, and my Faribault coaches were always in my corner. I fell in love with track and field after I finally got the hang of it and realized my potential. As I got closer to the record at my high school and made it my goal to break it, I knew that I had a chance to go somewhere with track. It was my favorite sport in the last couple years of high school, and the more I compete the more I fall in love with it. I love competition and to better myself by being pushed internally and by others. Track really fulfills that and also helps me to goal set and realize how hard work leads to greatness."
Gehrke credits her family as her source of strength.
"I'm extremely close with my family, living with my mom (Betsy Bauer) and my sister, McKenzie," she explained. "We do almost everything together, including going on trips, watching movies, church, volunteer activities, and shopping. My mom is my biggest supporter and always has been. She is actually the one to tell me that I was a state shot put champion. I was seeded third going into finals and I out threw both girls that had been seeded above me, so all I could do was wait and see if they would top my best throw. I told my mom I couldn't watch their last throws. After the first girl scratched on her throw, I felt my heart pounding, knowing how close I was to victory. The last girl threw, and I will never forget my mom saying, 'Oh my gosh, you did it, you're a state champion.' I burst into tears, so happy that I was able to share that moment with my mom.
"My grandparents are also very close to me, always happy to be there and support my activities. My sister McKenzie has followed in my footsteps at Faribault in swimming, and is a pole vaulter and thrower in track. It was always fun to be able to participate in sports with her -- she's like a little mini me. We're so close, and she's always been so supportive and my biggest cheerleader."
Good Fit in Purple
You could call Gehrke a throwback athlete, given her traditional approach as a three-sport competitor. She also took a more old-school approach in her college search, focusing on campus academics and atmosphere. The athletics part came third, and it simply reinforced her choice.
"I wasn't going to visit St. Thomas until one of my friends said that she thought I would love it, so I decided to tour the spring of my junior year," Gehrke said. "As soon as I walked onto campus, I fell in love. I actually told my mom immediately when we left the tour that I was going here. There wasn't a thing I didn't like about St. Thomas, and knew that it was going to by my home outside of home.
"After that day, I contacted the coaches here, explaining my interest in the school with hopes that they would be interested in my throwing abilities. I got in contact with (throws) coach Pat (Ahern), and he's been so amazing. He has so much insight and experience with track and field, so I knew that I would be in the right hands. I know that coach Pat has really high goals for me, and it's been awesome to have a coach with so much confidence and to be as excited as I am to start my college track and field journey. I also love being able to work with coach Becky (Culp), who has helped me with my hammer/weight skills, and coach Ty (Kytta), who has helped improve my shot put technique."
Ahern was a four-time individual NCAA champ and nine-time All-America with the Tommies. Culp was an NCAA discus champ and five-time All-America at Hamline. Kytta is a longtime Blaine High coach who has mentored several top prep and college-bound athletes.
Gehrke also likes the vibe she gets as she works out and hangs out with teammates.
"I absolutely love the track and field team here at St. Thomas," she said. "They're all so much fun and honestly they make practices enjoyable. I've never worked so hard and as intensely as I have here. I had limited weight training in high school, so I've had to get used to heavy lifting every day. I like it a lot, though, and my throws teammates make it fun. It's like a little family, and I already feel close to many of them. The older throwers, like Eric (Holst), Gage (O'Brien), and David (Danhauer), give me tips on how to do different drills or little technique things that I can work on. It's also been fun to finally bring another girl to the throws team to join Berit (Borstad). I've already accomplished one of my goals, which was to break the school record. But now I just want to keep improving my personal best."
Ahern said Gehrke has sky-high potential, even as a freshman. He calls her an exceptional athlete with a hunger to improve and a mental toughness honed in all the laps she logged in the pool and throwing workouts.
"She was a legitimate Division I scholarship recruit, and once she won state, even though she had long before committed to St. Thomas, everyone was barking at her door," Ahern said. "She has all the physical tools. She sets her goals high, and she hasn't even remotely scratched the surface of what she can do. Coach (Joe) Sweeney encourages his athletes to walk with a 'quiet confidence.' It's not arrogance, but a confidence you develop because you have prepared and you're ready to do your best. She has that.
"Only time will tell where she ends up, but she's off to a great start. We asked her to adopt our training program after her high school season ended last June, and in my 13 years coaching here I've never had anyone display such dramatic gains in a six-month span from high school to the start of her college career."
The freshman has showed off her own coaching skills. Ahern started a 6:30 a.m. pool workout each Wednesday for his throwers, and Gehrke jumped in and helped her teammates refine their strokes to get the most out of their efforts.
"I've worked with several top athletes here at St. Thomas, but I don't think I've ever had a group that works as hard and is as focused as this current group of throwers," Ahern said.
Setting a High Bar
Gehrke isn't afraid to set and discuss lofty goals, in athletics, in the classroom. or career wise.
"I love science and the study of the brain and body, so that is ultimately why I chose Neuroscience as a major," she said. "My goal is to go to medical school with hopes of becoming a pediatric oncologist. I love working with children, and I want to help in any way I can to combat cancer. I realize there are many years and much more research before that can happen. I think we'll (beat cancer), with everyone so committed and working together."
With her resume and her resolve, is there any doubt that Megan Gehrke is going places in her academic journey and her shot-put career?
The high achiever's next stop: January studies in Rome, Italy.
-- Gene McGivern, Tommie Sports Information