Against All Odds: Dennis-Yarmouth, Vineyard Track Stars Honored for Perseverance

SOUTH YARMOUTH – When eighth grader Carly Coughlin came onto the Dennis-Yarmouth girls’ track scene last fall, no one could have predicted the impact she would have on a program already immersed in success.

Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School 8th grade track star Carly Coughlin (far right) returned to what she does best on April 28, following emergency brain surgery on Super Bowl Sunday. Photo courtesy of Jim Hoar

Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School 8th grade track star Carly Coughlin (far right) returned to what she does best on April 28, following emergency brain surgery on Super Bowl Sunday.
Photo courtesy of Jim Hoar

For longtime girls’ cross country, indoor and spring track coach Jim Hoar, Coughlin’s talent and drive were starkly reminiscent of former Dolphin track superstar Jordan O’Dea, now a sophomore record-breaker at Northeastern University. Few track stars on Cape Cod have ever had careers like the diminutive but brilliant O’Dea, nevermind at Dennis-Yarmouth.

But to have another fleet-footed prodigy waiting in the wings whose gifts came even close to O’Dea’s hall of fame-caliber career?

But of all expectations perceived or real, certainly no one immersed in the superlative Dennis-Yarmouth track program could have imagined that Super Bowl Sunday – February 1, 2015 – would be nearly life-altering for this 100-lb. whirlwind and straight A-plus student.

While the vast majority of Cape Codders were busy fishing out their favorite New England Patriots’ jerseys, loading up on Buffalo wings and gathering around the nearest flat screens, Carly Coughlin, quickly crowned one of the Dolphin’s best runners this fall and winter, was being rushed to Cape Cod Hospital and then MED-flighted to Children’s Hospital in Boston.

Coughlin, who had set and re-set numerous personal bests in the 600m, 800m, mile and 4×800 during the Dolphins’ undefeated ACL-Championship indoor track season from December to the end of January, was suddenly prostrate on an operating table and in critical condition.

Suffering from a brain aneurism, Coughlin underwent emergency brain surgery that day to relieve pressure in her skull. While the operation was an immediate success, the worry that a superstar track athlete’s career might be over as precociously as it began was very real indeed.

But that’s the thing about athletes who compete at Coughlin’s level: they are relentless in their pursuit of their dreams, regardless of adversity.

Carly Coughlin, along with fellow D-Y track and field stars Martene Jamiel, Sydney McCann and Sarah McGaffigan -- returned to competition this spring and was honored with the prestigious MSTCA Frank Kelley Award in May. Photo courtesy of Jim Hoar

Carly Coughlin (right), along with fellow D-Y track and field stars Martene Jamiel, Sydney McCann and Sarah McGaffigan — returned to competition this spring and was honored with the prestigious MSTCA Frank Kelley Award in May.
Photo courtesy of Jim Hoar

On April 28, 2015, nearly 12 weeks after the surgery, Coughlin competed against Falmouth High School in the girls’ mile event and turned in a time of 6:06. Yes, it was not quite the 5:32.89 personal best she set at the MSTCA Coaches-Elite Invitational back in January, but it was a vastly meaningful milestone for an athlete whose dreams – and natural gift – almost came to an inexplicable and tragic demise.

“She reminds me a great deal of (former D-Y track star) Jordan O’Dea,” Coach Hoar said this week, comparing Coughlin to the former two-time Boston Globe Track athlete of the Year and now star runner at Northeastern. “She (Coughlin) hates to lose… I mean… she HATES to lose.”

And just as the school year was coming to an end, the 8th grade Atlantic Coast League all-star in cross country and indoor track was recognized for that type of perseverance as one of 12 recipients this spring of the MSTCA Frank Kelley Award, named in honor of the Reading High School assistant track coach whose career – which is still going strong – began in 1957 at Wilmington High School, then to Weston and now at Reading.

Coughlin was honored along with Dennis-Yarmouth teammate and senior Megan Machell and Martha’s Vineyard’s Evan Kristal.

“It took six weeks of recovery…” Coach Hoar said. “But she was our top runner along with Sydney McCann… she (Coughlin) is a great teammate… personable… funny… has a dry sense of humor, but when it’s time to work… she works! The only way she was able to return as fast as she did was because of her mental toughness and tenacity.”

Machell, a four-year cross country and track athlete at Dennis-Yarmouth, as well as a member of the D-Y Marching Band and a drum line captain, suffers from Polyarticular Juvenile Arthritis. She was diagnosed at age six and the disease has had an intense effect on knees, ankles and has spread to her wrists, fingers and toes.

At age 16, as a sophomore, Megan was also diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and suffers from asthma, eczema and seasonal allergies.

But according to Coach Hoar, she “only misses practice when she has to go to Boston for infusion treatments,” her award stated. “These treatments physically wipe her out but she continues to come to practice and run with her teammates.”

For Martha’s Vineyard cross country senior runner Evan Kristal, his road to participating in athletics took an equally long and harrowing path.

At age three, Kristal was diagnosed with Doose Syndrome a rare form of epilepsy and since that time he has suffered from multiple seizures – approximately 50 per day.   At age 6, physicians at Children’s Hospital prescribed a new medication.  The medication helped with the seizures but had major side effects – his motor skills had become intensely hampered.

As time went on, physicians at Massachusetts General Hospital recommended brain surgery or a new diet called Ketogenic diet. Kristal opted for the new diet and his seizures went from 50 per day to being entirely eliminated.

And his motor skills returned.

As he entered high school, Kristal joined the Martha’s Vineyard cross country team and in his first race as a freshman Evan completed the 5K in31:13.

This year, as a senior, he ran a time of 20:43.

— Sean Walsh is the sports editor for www.capecod.com. His email is seanwalsh@ccb-media.com. Follow him on Twitter @coachwalshccbm



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