CHARLESTON — The worst thing that could have happened to Cody Klein was suddenly happening.
About a half hour before the Class 1A 200-meter dash was scheduled to begin on Saturday at the IHSA boys state track and field meet at O'Brien Stadium in Charleston, Klein's legs started cramping up.
“At first I was a little worried," he said. "I was like, ‘This isn’t good. Not right now. I’ve got one more run. I’ve got to get through this.’"
The cramps made plenty of sense. The Pana senior already had already won the 100-meter dash with a time of 10.85 seconds, becoming the first person to ever win a boys state track and field championship in Pana history. He had already run the anchor leg of the 4x100- and 4x200-meter dashes, finishing second in each event.
Klein isn't much for Gatordade, but he started guzzling it inside of the Lance Fieldhouse next to the track. He started mixing water in to be extra cautious that he was ready to go in the 200. Then he started feeling better and his confidence hit an all-time high.
"I said, ‘I’m not getting beat. This is my last high school run. I’m not losing this. I’m going out with a win right here,'" Klein recalled.
Sure enough, adrenaline took over when he lined up in the blocks and he cruised to his second gold of the day with a time of 21.57, a crucial race in helping lead the Panthers to a tie for a second-place team trophy.
As soon as he crossed the finish line, he stretched both arms in front of him with only his pointer finger out.
"That's two, baby," he shouted.
It's no wonder his teammates call him "The freak of nature."
It capped off a day that Klein couldn't have imagined if he tried. There's no reference point for him to draw to, this is all new. He didn't run track his first three years of high school, instead opting to focus all of his attention into football. He can now readily admit that he regrets that decision.
"I don’t know who else does this, their first time running track is their senior year and to get two first-place medals and two second-place medals, that doesn’t happen," Klein said. "It’s a blessing for sure."
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He went out for the team largely at the urging of his mother, Holly Stark, and the competitive drive he wasn't ready to relinquish. As Stark recalls it, about a week before the season started.
When Klein left the state meet, he left as a two-time state champion and drew interest from the Eastern Illinois University coaching staff. As Klein sat under the tent awaiting his gold medal in the 200, he began to ponder his future.
Maybe his plan to go to electrical lineman school would be put on hold. This track thing seems to have found legs.
All the while, Stark stood in the stands, videotaping every move of Klein's and occasionally being shooed off by her son when she tried to talk to him between his races.
“I’m bursting with pride," Stark said. "Cody is an exceptional athlete. He always has been. Since he was four or five years old we’ve always seen it in him."
Behind Klein's win in the 200, Pana secured its first team trophy in boys track history, finishing in a tie for second with Du Quoin. That meant that seniors Mason Mizeur and Jared Beyers were leaving with not only trophies for their work on the relay teams, but also with a medal for the team finish.
Mizeur had never even been to the state meet prior to this season. But he was on the second-place 4x200 team.
“It was pure excitement," Mizeur said. "I realized I was getting a medal at state, so it was pretty cool."
Beyers was on the sixth-place 4x400-meter relay team in 2017, but had never tasted a finish quite like Saturday.
“It’s a great feeling, coming out here and not knowing that we were going to get a great trophy like this, tied for second. I couldn’t be happier," Beyers said.
One way or another, Klein will leave Pana by August. Maybe he'll be a college-bound athlete. Maybe he'll continue his plan to go to electrical lineman school — Stark is awaiting a response, herself. One thing, though, is for certain: When he returns he'll be greeted by a green sign at the entrance of town, commemorating his two state championships.
“You definitely want to leave your mark where you come from and I feel like I’ve done that this year," he said. "My four years in high school, there are so many ups and downs but this sealed it for sure."
Said Pana coach Will Shalter: “The only way to put it into words is historic, for the school and as an athlete he really showed what he could do. It’s one thing to go first in one event. It’s another thing to go first in another event. But to medal in four events at the top level like that, he’s a great athlete."