Jun. 12—GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The moment felt like poetic symmetry.
Five years ago, Morgan Luedy sat underneath the tent awaiting the awards podium on the infield awaiting a seventh-place medal at the Division III state track and field championships at Jesse Owens Stadium in Columbus.
One of the greatest athletes in New London history fought back tears as she sat next to the state champion in the 100-meter dash — three-time state champion and future University of Pittsburgh standout Taylor Middleton, of Miami Valley School.
Luedy was overwhelmed — not because she wasn't as fast, but because she was humbled to be in that kind of company.
On May 27, Luedy collapsed and broke into tears after crossing the finish line in the 800-meter run while competing at the NAIA national championships for Cornerstone University (Grand Rapids, Mich.).
Her collegiate career at that point was finished, and the 2017 NL graduate had competed for the final time. But the tears were for much different reasons.
Luedy wasn't just among the best athletes in her heptathlon competition.
She was the best.
Luedy totaled 5,041 points to win the NAIA individual national championship going away in the grueling seven-event competition over the two days on May 26-27 at Mickey Miller Blackwell Stadium in Gulf Shores, Ala.
Knowing she needed to finish in the top three, Luedy came down the final stretch of the 800 in a side-by-side tie for first place. She then made the final effort to cross the line in a personal-best time of 2:19.53 to win the event by just .04 seconds.
"It dawned on me after I finished," Luedy said. "That was the moment where everything that I had done since the seventh grade came together in that exact instant. We were looking around and comparing my times and figured as long as I finished within six seconds of the top four, then I would win the title.
"So it just kind of set in my mind going into the race, 'Wow, I'm actually going to pull this off.' I had never been more excited to be in pain then I was for those two-plus minutes."
Why the heptathlon?
The heptathlon consisted of the 200-meter dash, high jump, javelin throw, shot put, 100-meter hurdles, long jump and the 800-meter run.
Luedy won the 200 (24.76 seconds), placed third in the high jump (5-feet-2.8-inches), was 10th in the javelin (97-feet-7) and seventh in the shot put (31-feet-3). She then closed out her career with PRs in the 100 hurdles (14.73, third place), long jump (18-feet-1.5, fourth) and the 800 (2:19.53, first).
The beginning stages of the heptathlon for Luedy began at a young age. Her mother, Dawn, was a coach in the New London track and cross country programs, which meant Morgan was attending meets from the time she was able to walk.
When Luedy was in middle school, current NL cross country coach and assistant track and field coach Keith Landis approached her about the potential of the heptathlon.
"He told me that I pretty much did everything already but the throwing events, and encouraged me to give it some thought," she said. "I got the resources and worked on the shot put in the summer and learned the basics. I was able to meet up with some people at Ashland University and learned the javelin basics, and it just continued from there."
Luedy began competing as an unattached athlete at various meets held in the summer, only furthering her passion for the multiple-event competition.
"I fell in love with it because I'm pretty OK at most things — but not super great at one event," she said. "My favorite thing is every day is different. It's not this tedious "do the same thing every day" routine. You get to experience all of track and field."
She also noted being able to practice with different sets of teammates from the various event groups of athletes.
"You don't get bored," Luedy said. "And, if you have a bad day in the long jump, it could be a great day in the high jump. That's why I like it. I try to see the good in every situation. If you do poorly, you still have six more events to go. Forget it and move on. It allows you to go into each event with a fresh mindset to perform well."
At the 2016 OHSAA Div. III state track and field championships, Luedy pulled off one of the toughest feats possible when she qualified for state in four of the five individual sprint events.
As a senior in 2017, she again qualified for four events at state for the Wildcats, but it was minus the hurdles and with the long jump and as the anchor runner for the 4x400 relay.
Luedy is the only athlete in boys or girls track to appear in four state events without the help of a relay team at New London — long known for its dominance in cross country and track. She competed in nine state events in three years and scored over 1,000 career points in high school.
When she graduated high school, Luedy held four school records, was second in two others and in the top five of eight events total.
At Cornerstone, Luedy was a two-time champion both at the Indoor and Outdoor Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference meets. She was also a three-time NAIA Indoor All-American and was fourth place in the heptathlon at the 2019 NAIA outdoor championships to also earn All-American honors.
Luedy and her teammates lost last the 2020 outdoor season because of the coronavirus pandemic canceling spring sports.
"That was hard for everyone obviously, but I was fortunate I wasn't a graduating senior," Luedy said. "But it may have benefitted me having that time off, because I didn't struggle with injury much this year at all. It also made this year all that more special.
"There was a big emphasis on working hard that specific day at practice, because we didn't know if we'd get to come back the next day," she added. "But we got everything in and everyone persevered through it. We were fortunate to have both seasons."
In high school, Luedy was a two-time All-Ohioan in the 100 (seventh, 2016) and the 200 (fourth, 2017), and narrowly missed out on the podium in several other events.
But just four years later, instead of being surprised she was among Ohio's best, Luedy was the favorite and won an NAIA national championship.
"Being ranked first entering the NAIAs gave me a big target on my back," she said. "I didn't get to play the underdog. But it was a good pressure to just perform as I was expected to. I feel like in the past, my coaches and teammates have this expectation of me — but that expectation was for everyone now.
"I wasn't really nervous. It was excitement because it was the last time I ever got to do it. It was a very emotional weekend, because I kept telling myself it was the last time I would get to do the event I was competing in at the time."
As far as her significant progression from New London to Cornerstone, Luedy said it was a combination of several factors.
"In high school it felt like track season is so short," she said. "I was a three-sport athlete, and you focus on that one sport for three months at a time then move on. So I think specializing and focusing on these events was really helpful. I credit my coaching and family having faith in me that I could be the athlete that I became.
"I would like to think I'm a pretty hard worker, and honestly, it was just about showing up. Show up and do what you're supposed to do, then trust the process and training that you put in will get you to where you want to go. If you get a PR one day, be happy with it — then ask what you can do to get better and improve. If you have a bad day, learn from it. It's that repetition and drive to be better."
After graduating with a bachelor's degree in exercise science, Luedy started working full-time as an exercise specialist coordinator through Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids.
Her short-term plans are to remain in the city just east of Lake Michigan. But like her mother, Luedy would like to get involved with coaching down the line.
"This is the first time I haven't been an athlete in 15-plus years," she said. "So I'm going to take my time and relax, but track and field can't get rid of me just yet."
Until that time comes, Luedy will have the memory of her parents, Anthony and Dawn, and her aunt, Kelley Ellebruch, who were in attendance last month as she reached the pinnacle in her final competition on the biggest stage.
"Standing at the top of that podium was super cool," Luedy said. "It was a special moment. I'm sad that it's over, but I couldn't have pictured a better way for it to end. It was almost surreal. I'll always remember all of these memories, but to go out as a national champion was icing on the cake."
Luedy college accomplishments
Below are some of the accolades for 2017 New London graduate Morgan Luedy at NAIA Cornerstone University:
2021: NAIA Outdoor national champion (Heptathlon)
2021: NAIA Indoor All-American (Pentathlon)
2021: WHAC Outdoor champion (400 hurdles)
2020: NAIA Indoor All-American (Pentathlon)
2020: NAIA Indoor All-American (DMR)
2020: WHAC Indoor champion (400)
2019: NAIA Outdoor All-American (Heptathlon)
2019: NAIA Indoor All-American (DMR)
2019: WHAC Outdoor champion (4x800)