HEBRON — Vincent Van Gogh died destitute and virtually unknown.
Of the hundreds of paintings he created, only one sold during his lifetime — for the equivalent of about $109.
It wasn’t until many years after he was gone that his talents truly were recognized and appreciated. He was never around to see his name become one of the most recognizable in art history and his paintings routinely sell for tens of millions of dollars at auction. He has given us some of the most iconic artwork of our time, including The Starry Night, Sunflowers, Irisis and Portrait of Dr. Gachet.
Greatness is often overlooked in its own time.
We don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone.
That, of course, is only human nature. Our minds often refuse to let us believe what we see with our own eyes. What we take in ocularly is so magnificent and so beyond our wildest imaginations that we simply cannot process it cerebrally. It’s just too good to be true.
Morgan Gigandet is the most-decorated Troy High School athlete to come along in nearly a generation — and probably one of the best we’ll ever see in our lifetimes — and I certainly hope we aren’t too blinded by her brilliance to realize what we have right in front of us before she packs her belongings next summer and moves off to whichever college will be lucky enough to have her services for the next four years.
Gigandet’s place in Trojan athletic lore was secured well before she competed in Saturday’s Division I state cross country meet at National Trail Raceway. She already was a four-time state qualifier and two-time state placer in cross country and a three-time state qualifier and three-time state placer in track (she’ll almost certainly add another tally mark in each of those columns this spring). She had earned her place in history, regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s race.
Then she went out and ran her masterpiece.
Gigandet won a state championship Saturday, the first cross country title in school history and one of less than 10 in any sport in more than a century of Troy High School athletic competition.
As impressive as what she did, however, was how she did it. The previous two seasons, when Gigandet had truly established herself as a state title contender, her strategy was to taper off her training the weeks before the state meet in order to leave more in the tank for the big day. On the day of the race, Gigandet — never known for her strong finishing kick — would go out quickly and put the hammer down on the field, then hope to hold on at the end for the victory.
For two years, Gigandet fell short of her goal of winning a state title, placing third as a sophomore and sixth last season. So the senior did something that frightens most athletes out of their spikes — she decided to change everything.
Athletes are creatures of habit. They are comforted by the familiar. They are downright superstitious. They long to find their comfort zones. It’s why they will eat the same meals on game day and not wash their uniforms when they are playing well.
In the weeks leading up to the state meet, however, Gigandet didn’t taper her training runs. Under the watchful eye of coach Kevin Alexander, she was running at full strength. On the day of the race, she didn’t come out and take the early lead, then hope to hang on. She waited until later in the race to make her move.
When Gigandet did start opening up a lead on the pack, Solon’s Olivia Howell — a state champion in the 1,600-meter run last spring — started reeling her in. Howell, unlike Gigandet, was known for her strong finishing kick. Even Alexander thought the race was over when Howell started gaining on his runner. He stopped watching Gignadet to focus on her teammates and missed one of the most thrilling finishes in the history of the meet.
Howell would catch up to Gigandet and momentarily pass her in the final 400 meters. Rather than panic, Gigandet continued to run her race. When Howell’s fuel tank ran low with about 20 meters in the race, Gigandet kept on chugging right past her, crossing the finish line first. She outkicked the kicker.
Anyone lucky enough to be there was witnessing greatness.
I just hope we all can appreciate it while we’ve still got it.
By its very nature, distance running is a solitary endeavor. Every day, Gigandet puts in type of miles on both city streets and country back roads that would make most of us sore if we drove those distances. On competition days, it’s her against the field — on practice days, it’s just Morgan against Morgan. How far can she run and how fast can she do it?
Because she doesn’t compete in a particularly high-profile sport, I’m not sure we can fully appreciate what is happening right in front of us. So, to put it in the clearest terms possible for those of you who may have been missing out on what Gigandet is quietly doing, we are seeing one of the greatest athletes that will ever come through this city.
We need to believe in what we are seeing. We need to appreciate it. We need to embrace it.
Because in a few years, Gigandet’s speedy feet most likely are going to carry her far away from here and on to an incredible running career.
We shouldn’t wait until that happens to appreciate what is running right past us now.
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong