Rocket Hurdled Much Adversity
Aaron M. Smith
News Herald Sports Editor
OAK HARBOR – Tom Osborne could feel her pain.
His only daughter – and youngest of three children – desperately tried to clear a hurdle.
Down she went.
"She just kept at it," he said. "She would fall, and she would hurt herself. But she never let falling deter her from getting back up and doing it. She had tremendous determination, even when she was a little girl."
Jeanne Osborne eventually shed her struggles as a 6-year-old and became a premier hurdler at the high school level. She was the best in the region as a freshman but couldn't make it to the Division II state finals. Her sophomore year, Jeanne again took her speed to the state level. On the first hurdle of the 100-meter semifinal, Osborne clipped the hurdle with her front foot.
Down she went.
After yet another year of qualifying to the state meet and failing to reach the state finals, Jeanne was down to one final year to advance to the finals and stand on the podium.
In the 300 hurdles, Jeanne was cruising. She was far ahead of the pack heading into the back stretch. Finally, she would make it to the finals.
But on the second-to-last hurdle, Jeanne did the unthinkable, yet all too familiar.
The senior slammed into the weighted hurdle and stumbled.
"That was like running into a brick wall," Jeanne said. "I put my hands down, stumbled and I started to fall. I could just see my face going into the track. By this time, they are catching me."
Tom could feel her fear.
"I was just yelling at her to stay up," Tom said. "It was so hard to see her hit the hurdle. I could just see that little 6-year-old girl falling down and getting up over and over again. But she just didn't fall this time. My heart was in my throat, and then all of a sudden she's back on her feet. The look in her eyes was fear. It was determination. It was everything at once. She just wasn't going to let it happen this time."
And she didn't.
Jeanne bounced off of her hands, gathered her balance and finished third, eventually advancing to the finals in both hurdles events. She finally got her chance to stand on the podium, finishing fifth in the 300 and sixth in the 100.
Jeanne, who will run track at Baldwin Wallace next year, has been named the News Herald Athlete of the Year after excelling in volleyball, having a pivotal role on a record-breaking basketball team and reaching her four-year goal of standing on the podium at the state track meet ... twice.
Growing up Osborne
It didn't take long for Jeanne to realize she wanted to be an athlete. However, it took a while for people to believe she could be a good athlete.
"I was bow-legged and I had fat legs," Jeanne said, smiling. "I was the fattest kid ever. Even through elementary school, I had broad shoulders. I wasn't growing; I was just getting bigger by the day. You look at pictures of me when I was a kid, and you would never think I would turn out to be an athlete."
Jeanne was born into athletics, though, so becoming an athlete was bound to happen.
Her father is a long-time assistant football coach and track coach and her two older brothers -- Josh and Jason -- both were successful multi-sport athletes at Oak Harbor. Actually, both brothers once stood on the podium at the state track meet.
Jeanne idolized her oldest brother Josh. He ran hurdles, finished fifth in the state and he started Jeanne's addiction to the event.
"When she saw Josh hurdle, she had to do it, too," Tom said. "When she was a little kid, she would climb all over the hurdles. She wanted to do it just because Josh did. She would try and I thought she was going to kill herself."
Jeanne said Josh's trip to state was the true beginning of her career.
"I remember a little bit about that, but I just remember being in awe," Jeanne said. "When he went down, it was at the Horseshoe in Columbus. The place was packed, and then I saw Josh get his medal and how happy he was. I knew that I was going to do the same thing. If he could do it, I could do it."
For Jeanne, training started in a most unorthodox way -- thanks in part to two older brothers who decided to make her a target of sorts.
"They made me dress up in sweats and sprint around the back yard," Jeanne recalled, laughing. "They would get their paintball guns and shoot at me through the windows as I was running. I really had no choice in the matter. It was either learn to run fast or stand there and let them peg me."
Jeanne had more traditional training because of her father.
She would show up at the football field, throw the ball around, do some running and play on the track.
"She would have played football if they would have let her," Tom said. "And she would have been a pretty good layer."
At track meets when she was younger, Jeanne was a sheet runner. Her mother, Cindy, was a scorekeeper for meets and Jeanne would spend the day running results from the track to the press box.
"I think her being at the track meets helped her to be successful," Tom said. "She would sprint up those bleachers, come down and jump over a couple hurdles, get some more results and go back up. She did that for as long as I can remember. She saw the successful athletes and was around them a lot. She saw what it took to be successful. Being a successful hurdling was something that naturally fell into place for Jeanne."
Off and running
Jeanne has rarely met a Sandusky Bay Conference meet that she didn't like. In fact, since the seventh grade, she only lost one hurdle event at the annual conference meet.
"Seventh grade was the only SBC championship that I lost," Jeanne said. "Some girl from Margaretta beat me. I remember just sitting there and thinking no one will ever do that to me again."
She was right.
Jeanne won the eight-grade meet and then became the first athlete to sweep the 100 and 300 hurdles all four years of high school in the conference meet.
But it wasn't always roses for the young phenom.
The regular season was a showcase for Jeanne. Meet after meet, the hurdler would break her own record, break meet records and add fuel to the question, "How far can she go?"
She was the conference, district and regional champion in the100 hurdles as a freshman before watching eight other runners receive medals on the state podium.
"Before the state meet, I was saying that I was just happy to be there," Jeanne said. "I was saying, 'I'm a freshman, and I don't have anything to lose.' But, then I saw the girls on the podium, and these were the same girls I beat at regionals. It was horrible. I wanted to be there. I was thinking that next year, this wasn't going to happen again."
Unfortunately for Jeanne, the podium again proved elusive. After qualifying to state in the 100 hurdles for a second straight year, Jeanne's dreams were shattered after just nine steps.
"I should have taken eight steps," Jeanne said. "Good hurdlers take eight steps. I remember feeling great and ready to go before the race. I was feeling awesome. I was thinking, 'I got this.'
"But then the race started and I was looking at this hurdle and it seemed like it was way too close," she added. "All of a sudden the hurdle is there and on my ninth step, my lead leg clips the first hurdle and I couldn't get over it and I fell. From that point on, it was eight steps."
Jeanne was in familiar territory her junior season, but this time she qualified to the state meet in the 300 hurdles in addition to the 100 event.
At the state semifinals, Jeanne was a mere .002 from qualifying in the 100 and she failed to advance in the 300.
"That was disappointing," she said of the 100. "The 300 was just a bad race. I don't even remember that. I think I was too upset about the 100."
Guiding her through the trials and tribulations of her career was Tom -- always present, always her coach, always her father.
Tom said it was a unique experience to be there for her both as coach and dad. The line between the two was a fuzzy one.
"It's hard to be a coach and a dad at the same time," Tom said. "It's tough when you're coaching your own children. She'd sometimes get bull-headed. I'd be dad when she didn't want to listen, and I'd be coach when she was ready for help. I'd bring it home sometimes, and she didn't want me to bring it home."
Jeanne said that having her father as her coach was nice at times but could also be frustrating because of Tom's intense desire to see his daughter succeed.
"He would stress out and get really nervous," Jeanne said. "He would have to leave me alone when it got too stressful. He treated me as a daughter first and then his athlete.
"But it was great to have him around," she added. "All coaches say at banquets and stuff that they are proud of their runners and then they move on to the next class. I knew that, because he was my dad, everything I did mattered to him. He raised me and saw me compete, and it's a lot better feeling for me to know it actually meant something to him."
Nothing but net
For Jeanne, volleyball served as a method to prepare for basketball, and basketball was a means to prepare for track.
"In volleyball, all I would do was jump," said Jeanne, a three-year letter winner in the sport and honorable-mention all-district as a senior. "But we wouldn't do much running. All the jumping got me ready for basketball, where all we did was run."
Jeanne was a standout for the Rocket volleyball squad, but her true lessons and accomplishments were learned and gained while involved in basketball.
As a freshman on the junior-varsity squad under coach Brad Hemminger, Jeanne learned a lesson about authority.
Hemminger, who Jeanne calls a "mentor and one of the greatest men ever," conducted a three-on-two drill where Jeanne was asked to take on the point-guard duties.
"Hustle!" Hemminger yelled at Jeanne. "Hustle, or I'll make everyone run."
Jeanne heard Hemminger and continued playing as she had been.
"I thought I was hustling, but I guess I wasn't," she said.
Hemminger blew his whistle and instructed everyone to get on the baseline. Jeanne, however, was told to sit by her coach.
"Everyone had to run but me," Jeanne said. "It was the worst feeling ever. I had to sit there and watch them run. I wanted to get up and run with them, but coach wouldn't let me. It was horrible. But, I learned that when they say hustle, they mean hustle."
And, after that moment, Jeanne rarely didn't give everything she had.
"Jeanne then began a storied career with the Rockets and a hot-and-cold relationship with new varsity coach Dick Heller.
"The first time I met him, he came to my house to talk to my dad," Jeanne said of Heller, who went to college with Tom at Toledo. "He shook my hand and right then, I knew this man meant business."
Heller's first impression of Jeanne was slightly different.
"She was a high-spirited young lady and a little head-strong," Heller said. "She was someone who didn't believe in herself as a basketball player. I needed to convince her that she could play basketball."
After her first team camp, when Heller coached the Rockets in Michigan, Jeanne was unsure what she was getting herself into.
The Rockets played poorly and Heller, not shy about what he wants, delivered the team a seething speech.
"He was beet red, and we were all about the cry," Jeanne said. "I was thinking, 'This is the scariest man alive. How am I going to play for him for three years?'"
After the speech, Heller ordered the team to the two team busses -- one driven by Hemminger and the other by him.
"All 15 girls just sprinted to coach Hemminger's van," Jeanne said, laughing. "I mean we all piled in that thing with all of our bags. We were looking back, but trying not to make eye-contact with coach Heller."
The girls argued about who should go in Heller's van, but no one moved.
"We drove back to the hotel that way because nobody was going to ride with coach Heller," Jeanne said. "At that time, we didn't want anything to do with him."
That incident was a microcosm of Jeanne's early relationship with Heller. The two rarely saw eye-to-eye.
They reached a pivotal point later in Jeanne's sophomore season.
"Jeanne has a story she likes to tell about this time where I was chewing on her pretty good," Heller said. "She had tears and she was ready to quit at the point because there was no way she was going to let me get the better of her.
"The two of us had to learn about each other," Heller continued. "I had to bend with her, and she learned to bend with me. I had to realize that I had to give her a little freedom. She was a feisty kid and that kind of spirit, you don't want to break it or lose it. I had to find a way to keep it under control without losing it. We found a middle ground. She knew she needed to respond when we got on her, and we knew that we needed to give her some slack."
Once the two figured each other out, they formed the foundation for a special bond and a special team.
The Rockets had back-to-back 20-0 regular seasons in Jeanne's junior and senior campaigns. Jeanne may not have been the team's go-to player, but she was the defensive spark.
With constant hustle and spirited play in the post, Osborne more than secured herself as one of the primary pieces in the SBC championship puzzle. But Heller said he will remember Jeanne more for her personality then for her numbers and actions on the court.
"She knew when I needed some teasing to loosen up the moment," Heller said. "She had the guts to speak up. I'd say that ability is my favorite impression of Jeanne."
Heller said he knew Jeanne was special during a camp in that turbulent sophomore year.
At the camp, Heller put Jeanne in charge of a shy, quiet player who didn't quite fit in with the rest of the team.
"That was an experiment," Heller said. "I wanted to see how Jeanne would react. She took this person under her wing and made her feel comfortable. With Jeanne, that could have gone the other way and she easily could have ignored the girl.
"I realized then," Heller continued, "that there was this tender-hearted part of Jeanne that wasn't always seen. I sensed then just how special of a person she would become."