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Tallmadge grad wins national title

By FRANK ACETO Associate Sports Editor Published: June 25, 2017 12:00 AM
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More than eight years ago, Marisa Rinaldi could be found running at full speed every which way she turned.

She was a standout freshman for the Tallmadge girls soccer team and it appeared the sky was the limit for the talented midfielder.

But then Rinaldi's fate changed in the blink of an eye.

"I ran into [Lady Blue Devils' head track and field] coach [Mike Srodawa] and he said, 'Hey Rinaldi, why don't you give track a try?'" Rinaldi said.

Pardon Rinaldi if she was a bit skeptical.

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She was the lone freshman to start on her soccer team and she also had high hopes of a future playing ftbol on the next level.

There was one other thing, too.

"I wasn't interested in running," Rinaldi said.

After some prodding, Rinaldi decided to give track a try during her sophomore year of high school.

It was love at first sight.

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Rinaldi recently concluded a stellar track and field career for the University of Mount Union in Alliance.

To say Rinaldi had a storybook ending to her career would be putting it lightly.

She was a member of the 400-meter relay team that captured a national title at the NCAA Division III 2017 Outdoor Track & Field Championships. The NCAA meet took place May 27 at The SPIRE Institute in Geneva.

The team posted a time of 46.45 seconds. Rinaldi ran a strong third leg to put her team in a very good position to capture gold.

Well, it may have been a strong third leg.

"Honestly, I don't remember the race at all," Rinaldi said. "I remember getting the baton. After that, it was a complete blur."

Once she handed the baton to teammate Rachel Adams, Rinaldi was fully aware of her surroundings.

"I screamed for her to go," Rinaldi said. "I was jumping up and down. I was pretty much racing right after her."

Once Adams reached the finish line and was declared the winner, Rinaldi couldn't contain her emotions.

"I cried for 30 minutes," Rinaldi said. "I cried when I went on the podium and I cried again when I went to see my parents."

Prior to the NCAA Championships, another person convinced her to make a life-changing experience.

Rinaldi, a standout 400 runner for much of a track and field career, was asked to change her tune again.

"My coach said, 'Hey Rinaldi, you have good foot speed. Why don't we try you in the 100?'" she said. "I laughed because I'm not a 100 runner at all. I was like, 'Uh, OK.'"

Rinaldi didn't totally lack experience in the 100. At Tallmadge, Rinaldi, ran the 100 and 200 races and the 400 and 800 relay races.

But the 400 was Rinaldi's bread and butter.

"It was crazy," Rinaldi said. "Our 4x100 had great success."

Rinaldi's prestigious gold medal almost didn't happen. She needed some good fortune to be a part of the national-champion relay team.

"One girl got hurt," Rinaldi said. "One of my teammates, who is my good friend, was my main competition for her spot. I won the race-off."

Rinaldi is not one of those typical overnight success stories.

She was a member of the Division II state-qualifying 800 relay team during her sophomore year at Tallmadge and she advanced to the Indoor National Championships in the 400 earlier this year.

Although Mount Union certainly was aware of her talent, there was some major fine-tuning.

"Marisa wasn't great coming in," Mount Union head women's track and field coach Kevin Lucas said. "She improved tremendously. She worked her butt off since day one.

"She epitomized what a lot of hard work can do. She was an average high school runner. She ended up being an individual national qualifier in the indoor 400."

As a result of her tireless work ethic, Rinaldi dropped a second each year she ran at Mount Union.

"I had amazing role models who shaped me into the athlete I am today," Rinaldi said. "I looked up to them and looked up to them for guidance and how to train."

Since Rinaldi recently graduated from Mount Union, she has taken the next step in her life.

The psychology major is currently working at the Cleveland Clinic School of Autism.

While she has certainly enjoyed her new lifestyle, Rinaldi also is fully aware that something important is no longer a part of her.

"I miss running," she said. "I miss not working out with the team, not working out every day and just the team in general."

It's a safe bet the feeling is mutual when it comes to her teammates and coaches.

"I wish I could keep her around for another four years," Lucas said. "She was tremendous with all of the ladies on the team. She set a positive example.

"If one of them wasn't working hard, she would verbally tell them. She is going to be irreplaceable."

Rinaldi knows she can't go back to the past. But she won't forget about it as long as she lives.

"Mount Union was such an amazing experience and track made it even more amazing," Rinaldi said. "I would go back in a heartbeat."

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