Only halfway through her high school track career, sprinter Elsja Mecham is thinking ahead to 2016.
Not just for graduation, but the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
As long as the 16-year-old can remember, she has wanted to compete at the Olympics. It is more than a dream. It’s a goal she intends to fulfill.
“Every little kid has a dream like being a movie star or to be a good athlete,” Mecham said. “I’ve always wanted to be an Olympian.”
Mecham has taken significant steps toward her Olympic dream with success on the local, regional and national levels. Her sophomore season for Rigby High School was no exception. She won or placed second in every sprint event of every meet of the year, won four gold medals at the state championships for the second straight year and finished the season nationally ranked by milesplit.com in the 300 hurdles (36th), 100 hurdles (104th), 400 (285th) and 200 (1,075th).
For smashing records and setting herself apart as one of the top sprinters in the state and the region, Mecham is the 2014 Post Register All-Area Female Track and Field Athlete of the Year.
Mecham is moving to Utah before the start of the next school year, but her two years competing in Idaho won’t be soon forgotten. She leaves as Rigby’s school record holder in both hurdles events, the 400 and the 4x400 with 2013 graduates Shaina Hansen, Kelsie Blanchard and Kayla Adams, and as 4A state record holder in both hurdle events with her winning times of 14.20 (100) and 42.93 (300) from May. She, along with Challis High School’s Hannah Cain, is the first female track athlete from District 6 to win four golds at one state track meet since Firth’s Heidi Hopkins in 2004.
Sugar-Salem head track coach Brett Hill had plenty of superlatives to describe Mecham.
Hill got a glimpse of Mecham’s talent long before he first saw her race. While competing for Utah State, he raced against Mecham’s father, Ted, who competed for BYU and ran at the 1988 Olympic Trials.
“Elsja is a step above what we’ve seen in Idaho in the last 20 to 30 years,” Hill said. “No question she could go on to the next level collegiately and do phenomenal. She could compete at the national level and even the international level.”
Rigby head track coach James Parrish said he has never coached another female sprinter of Mecham’s caliber. She competed in eight events — including three relays — by the time her Rigby career ended, and Parrish anticipates continued success regardless of which events become her focus.
“She just has a special gift, a special motor that allows her to excel at anything she tries in track and field,” Parrish said. “I totally, totally expect her to be on national TV at the NCAAs and if she stays healthy, I think she can go beyond there. I look forward to seeing her name in lights in another decade.”
The fact that Mecham was four-time defending state champion wasn’t the only thing that prompted attention at May’s state track meet. She also missed three weeks of competition in April because of a strained Achilles tendon, but returned from the injury with her best times of the season and two personal bests.
Parrish and Mecham both credited Paul Dye of Rexburg Rehabilitation for returning her to competition form. Her injury started flaring up again at the state meet, but Dye helped her through it.
“I was in his tent between every single event,” Mecham said. “He was my saving grace.”
Mecham’s best 300 hurdles time of 42.56 put her within a second of qualifying for this summer’s World Junior Track Championships, but she is taking the summer off from competition to heal and prepare for the move to Utah. She will attend Summit Academy, a charter school in Bluffdale south of Salt Lake City that will soon be moving up to Utah’s 3A classification. Ted Mecham accepted the principal job at the school and her mother, Lynne, will be the track coach. Mecham said she is looking forward to the next adventure at a school that hasn’t been known for its track program and she hopes another Rigby athlete will come along to break her records.
“I feel like there’s something bigger out there I can get that will blow me away,” Mecham said. “I would love to set records in the 800 and 400. I want to run the 400 hurdles at (junior) worlds next year.”
As for her Rigby career, Mecham will always have a lighthearted photo from state track to remember. While goofing off for the camera with hurdlers Sierra Anderson, Olivia Shippen, Hailey Stone and coach Rachel Anderson, Mecham struck a pose like Olympic gold medalist sprinter Usain Bolt.
“It’s my favorite picture from state,” Mecham said with a laugh. “It describes all of us perfectly.”