Columbia High School Senior Breaks School Record in 1600 Set By MMS Principal


Mae Dowling posts time of 5 minutes 2.92 seconds in the Meet of Champions

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The following is a press release from SOMSD:

MAPLEWOOD, N.J. – Call it a meeting of two Women’s History makers.

Just days after Columbia High School Girls Track Runner Mae Dowling broke the school record for running the 1600-meter race, she met the woman who set the previous record 26 years ago.

Dowling didn’t have to travel very far – just a quick trip back to Maplewood Middle School (MMS), where her former principal, Dara Crocker Gronau, warmly congratulated her on Thursday. Gronau was a Columbia High School senior when she posted a time of 5 minutes, 4.4  seconds in the same event.

“I was surprised the record was still around,” said Gronau. “I was very proud and emotional that a student I know broke it. I just kept hugging her and telling her how proud I was of her.”

The significance of Dowling’s achievement is bigger than her connection with the previous record holder, said Gronau. The Columbia Girls Track Program has launched many runners into greatness including four-time Olympian Joetta Clark Diggs and her sister three-time Olympian Hazel Clark, to name just a couple.

“When you think of how many people have come through the program, it’s a big deal to get a record,” Gronau said.

Dowling, a senior who started running track last year, said she wasn’t out to break any records on March 3rd when she competed in the NJSIAA’s Meet of Champions in Staten Island. Maybe she could beat her own personal best for the event, she thought. That was 5 minutes, 11.6 seconds set in 2023.

“It was the end of the season. I didn’t know if I was going to do well or if I was tired,” Dowling said.

Still, the 1600-meter, a race that is about nine meters short of a mile, is Dowling’s best event and has been the focus of her training.

The race was indoors at the Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex, a bright, high-ceilinged facility with a 200-meter oval track ­– half the size of the track at the Underhill Sports Complex. It would take twice as many laps to cover the distance. Dowling started in the back of the 12-runner heat in tenth place.

“We get on the line. The gun goes off,” Dowling said, remembering the race. “I’m running. And then, all of a sudden, I think I black out.”

Dowling went into a surreal state. She wasn’t unconscious – more like she was so hyper-focused on running she lost awareness of some of the race’s details.

“I’m halfway through. I’m at the 800-meter mark,” she said. “And I’m running way faster than I normally do. Way faster than I should be. I’m really confused. I think I skipped a lap.”

She had an internal conversation with herself.

MMS Principal Dara Crocker Gronau and Mae Dowling

“Maybe I should slow down. Conserve your energy. You have half of a mile left.”

“And then I was like, ‘…or you could not slow down. Just run faster and see what happens.’ So, I just decided to keep going,” she said.

As she entered the race’s last lap, Dowling ­– still thinking she may have skipped a lap or two – accelerated and moved up in the field. “I was passing as many girls as I could.” Dowling finished second in a race that she was expected to finish eighth.

She could barely walk coming off the line. Still in the surreal state of mind from the race, a jubilant Head Track Coach Alex Simon came up to Dowling and gave her a high five as he told her she had broken the school record.

“When Mae started her first season of track, the talent was always there, but the inexperience mixed with new pressure held her back from her optimal time goals,” Simon said. “But through proper training and maturity, she keeps getting faster and finding what works for her.  All of that culminated in her greatest race to date, and she will only get better from here.”

The next morning, a sixth-grader mentioned Dowling’s record-breaking run to Gronau as students came to school on Monday. An email from Coach Simon confirmed the news later.

When Dowling was an MMS Cougar, she was a focused, mature student, Gronau recalled. She was pleasant, often smiling, had her friends, but also quietly handled her business.

“It makes sense to me that she’s a distance runner,” Gronau said.


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