Note: This is the fourth in a series of stories about some of Wyoming’s biggest high school sports underdogs.
In the fall of 1981, Kelly Walsh senior Diana Jones was on the verge of something unprecedented — a fourth consecutive state cross country championship.
Cross country was still relatively new to girls in Wyoming, having been added as a sport only in 1975. However, Jones took to it quickly and won the individual championship as a freshman, sophomore and junior. No other Wyoming cross country runner, boy or girl, had ever won four, and she had it in sight.
As a senior, though, Jones’ two eventual biggest challengers at the state meet were relative unknowns.
One was a sophomore from Sheridan who finished 40 seconds behind Jones at the finish of the 1980 championship race.
The other was a freshman from Worland who was taking her first steps in one of the greatest high school careers ever seen by an athlete in Wyoming history.
They didn’t know it yet, but the trio of runners were on the verge of turning in what might well be the most exciting finish ever seen at a state cross country meet.
The problem is that 41 years later, the details of that race in the minds of the three runners are all fuzzy.
For all three, however, even though the specific bits and pieces of one race didn’t stay, the lessons of competition remained.
The race, the finish, the records — eventually, they all became secondary to the actual people running the race, the character they built and showed and the lives they led not because they won or lost, but in what they learned from giving their best in the moments when their best was required.
So who were these runners set to try to dethrone Jones?
The freshman: Worland’s Francie Faure would become one of Wyoming’s most decorated high school athletes by the time her high-school days ended. She won the Milward Simpson Award, which goes to the state’s top all-around male and female athletes, in 1985. She earned it, having won three consecutive cross country championships and 13 individual track titles — including a four-year sweep of titles in both the 800 and 1600. She was the first girl in state history to win four 1600 titles. And she still has the 3A state meet record in the 400 and the all-time state record in the 800, the oldest mark still standing. After Worland, she earned her place on the track team at track-crazy Oregon.
The sophomore: Sheridan’s Marcy Haynes finished sixth at state cross country as a freshman. She went on to win both the 400 and 800 races at the Class AA state track meet as a freshman, and she’d later win the 400 as a sophomore and a senior. She set high school meet records in middle-distance running throughout the region, some of which stood for decades. She later ran collegiately for a trio of track programs in the Midwest.
The trio — Jones, Faure, Haynes — raced at the 1981 girls track and field meet without fully realizing what was at stake.
Everyone knew Jones was going for state history and her fourth consecutive title.
No one knew Faure would win the next three.
And then there was Haynes, the one standing between two runners and their chances to do what no other Wyoming cross country runner had accomplished.
Jones knew how delicate her grasp was on the titles. After winning titles as a freshman and sophomore, she faced a stiff challenge as a junior from Gillette’s Linda Goddard. Goddard beat Jones handily at the regional meet before state and was on pace to do so again during the state championships. Goddard actually beat Jones by 13 seconds but was disqualified for “missing a flag,” the equivalent of taking a shortcut on the course, early in the race. Jones, who had finished second, was named champion, her third straight.
But that was nothing compared to the challenge that was about to come her way in the 1981 championship race in Lander.
The results on the Wyoming High School Activities Association’s website tell the story better than anyone involved can do today.
- First place: Haynes, Sheridan, 12:39.
- Second place: Jones, Kelly Walsh, 12:40.
- Third place: Faure, Worland, 12:40.
Three runners, one second between them. Two four-peat attempts quashed in less time than it takes to read their times out loud.
But how that came to be? How three runners all ended up at the finish line within a second of each other?
When reached this summer, all three had only faded memories of that race, if any.
Jones said she had no memory of her final high school race.
“It was probably so traumatic that I blocked it out,” she said.
Haynes, too, has no memory of her only state cross country championship.
“Cross country really wasn’t my thing,” she said. “It was something I had to do. She (Jones) was a distance runner, so it probably was more upsetting to her than it was exciting for me. … Maybe that’s why I ran well, because I didn’t think about it.”
Faure has the clearest memory of the trio, but even her details aren’t complete; she needed to touch base with her high school coach, Doug Reachard, for some of the details.
Faure said she was a distant third when Reachard called out to her over the last 100 or 150 yards to go catch the leaders. She tried, but came up short of a miraculous comeback. For Faure, she said “it wasn’t one of those nip-and-tuck battles. It just was for the last second. … At the finish line, I was there when they were there.”
Even though the details of the championship didn’t stick with any of the three runners, the lessons they picked up from competing helped guide them throughout their lives.
Haynes — now Marcy Zadina — fought knee injuries in high school and, despite surgery, never fully returned to her form, finishing third at state as both a junior and a senior. She still ran collegiately, first at Nebraska before a stress fracture in her foot forced surgery and the end of that path. She later joined the track and field team at South Dakota State, then bounced around a bit before finishing her degree and her track career at Minnesota-Duluth.
After having the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom to her two sons — one who is now a collegiate hockey player and the other who is an actor — she settled in Cocoa Beach, Florida, where she lives with her sister.
Meanwhile, Jones — now Diana Schwahn — had an accomplished cross country career at Weber State. She then went to the University of New Mexico, receiving her degree in physical therapy in 1989. She now practices physical therapy and runs a physical therapy business in Omaha, Nebraska.
“I still run, not as fast, obviously, and not as far, but at least three or four times a week,” she said. ” … Through cross country I learned how to be a leader, and now in business I’m a leader.
” … Cross country is extremely hard work, so I think I’ve been able to take those skills and apply them to my work life.”
Faure, the youngest of the group, ran for the University of Oregon and lived in Eugene for 22 years before moving to Seattle in 2007. She works for Brooks, which makes running shoes and apparel.
Faure said track and field showed her the importance of “giving your best and showing up for your team. There’s just lifelong lessons that are kind of ingrained that I don’t even think about them anymore. … At this point I probably take (the lessons) for granted.”
With both Jones and Faure thwarted in their four-peat attempts, Wyoming went another two decades before its first four-time state cross country champion.
Natrona’s Sarah Balfour became Wyoming’s first such athlete in 2004, winning four consecutive Class 4A championships. The next year, Rocky Mountain’s Emily Higgins completed a four-year sweep of the Class 2A championships. And, of course, eventual Gatorade national cross country runner of the year Sydney Thorvaldson of Rawlins won four straight at Class 3A from 2017-20.
On the boys’ side, Saratoga’s Grant Bartlett could become the first four-time champ this year as he goes for his fourth Class 2A championship this weekend.
As the runners from 1981 showed, winning a fourth championship doesn’t dictate success or failure beyond that one race.
The memory will eventually fade.
The lessons will stay.