Joel Smith and Nicholas Sharma are special yet unlikely competitors in the tradition-rich Mounds View track and field program.
Smith, a junior, broke the Mustangs’ record in the 300-meter intermediate hurdles, which had stood since 1999. Sharma, a sophomore, is just four-hundreths of a second off tying the program’s 100-meter dash mark set 2000.
Their paths to success are unusual. Smith spent part of last season in a wheelchair. Sharma only recently saw track and field as something more than a vehicle for staying in shape for soccer.
“I didn’t think this track thing would go particularly well,” said Sharma, who began competing last spring.
Contributions from unlikely places have kept Mounds View as a force in the True Team and individual state meet competitions. The Mustangs qualified for the True Team state meet, held Friday at Stillwater High School.
“There’s a strong track and field culture, a passion here that you just want be part of,” Sharma said.
Sharma, whose mother was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, developed a passion for soccer as a youth and played at a high level.
He tried track and field last spring and while he said he suffered from “horrible form and choppy steps,” his times started dropping.
“My coaches said ‘You’re a lot better than we thought,’ ” said Sharma, who felt the competitive fire burn after missing out on the 2016 state meet by small margins in several events.
“I told myself, ‘I’m not letting this happen again,’ ” said Sharma, who also competes in the 200, long jump and sprint relays.
From there, running track took priority over soccer. Rather than head home to change and drive a half-hour to soccer training, Sharma enjoyed the short walk out of Mounds View High School to the track.
Smith, meanwhile, was just happy to be walking, period.
He fractured a growth plate in his ankle during a B-squad football game. He spent more than a month in a wheelchair and later required a walking boot and crutches.
The injury cost Smith the first quarter of the basketball season, by which time he felt track and field pulling him in a different direction.
“I just felt like I could excel more in track,” said Smith, who was also influenced by his twin brother, Micah, who left basketball for track.
Indoor winter training sessions at nearby Bethel University, which Smith occasionally attended as a sophomore, became his offseason focus.
He learned under Bob Stewart, architect of the Mounds View track and field program. Workouts on Tuesdays and Thursdays, combined with Saturday weightlifting sessions, made him a different athlete stepping on the track this spring.
He began setting his goals higher, looking at the program record in the 300 hurdles and thinking, “How cool would it be to be one of the guys people look at?”
At the Hamline Elite Meet on April 28, Smith captured the 300 hurdles in 38.12 seconds and also set the school record.
“It was like, ‘Wow, I just did that,’ ” Smith said.
Sharma’s mark of 10.93 seconds won the 100 at the recent Class 3A, Section 6 True Team section meet. He trails Demetrius Charles (10.89) in program annals.
But Charles never went sub-11 seconds as a sophomore.
“When [assistant] coach [Jack] O’Brien told me the time after the race I started freaking out,” Sharma said. “Coach said ‘I haven’t had a sub-11 kid in the 100 in years, so don’t take it for granted that you did this as a sophomore.’ ”