April 2022 ~
The 1980-81 winter sports season was over, and Wilson High freshman Sharon Otterstedt (Wilson, 1984) wasn’t planning to run anywhere in the spring, except maybe to the store.
She’d just finished swimming, her best sport.
In the fall, she’d been on the Trojans’ gymnastics team.
And, since she was very young, she’d been a Scottish Highland dancer, a family tradition.
Those were her main activities.
“I wasn’t going to do a spring sport,” she says.
But then …
After a couple weeks, “I got bored.”
By then, it was too late to go out for softball. Golf and tennis team tryouts were over. Track and field was the only team that would take her, a new adventure.
The first week, she attempted the long jump.
“I landed on the runway. Didn’t even make it to the sand,” she says. “I decided I was not a good jumper.”
The next meet, the coaches tried her in the 400 meters. The junior varsity and varsity girls ran together. She was JV. She beat everyone.
“No one expected that,” she says. “So I started doing the 400.”
She did the 400, all right. Over and over and over again.
And the results were pretty much always the same. She beat just about everyone.
She qualified for state all four years and won state as a junior and senior, setting a state-meet record record in her final high school individual race.
She also anchored the Wilson 4×400 relay that won the state title and set a state-meet record, too, as the Trojans finished second in the team standings.
You could say she ran all the way to the University of Oregon—the equivalent of 465 400’s from Wilson (now Ida B. Wells)—and went on to earn four letters as a Duck.
Really something, especially considering “I didn’t run until I got to high school, and it was kind of a fluke I found out I could do it.”
Today, she’s Sharon Otterstedt McGhehey and lives in the Eugene area with her husband. She works at Hamlin Middle School in Springfield.
Sharon and her only sibling, brother Ron, did a lot of the same things growing up, including swim lessons and summer sports camps. He was one year behind her at Wilson.
“I was really competitive. We were really competitive,” she says. “If it was making your bed or mowing the lawn, we would see who could do it the fastest. Everything we did, we turned into a competition.”
Ron lettered in swimming and track at Wilson, and he wound up on the U of O track team as well, after walking on as a hurdler. He’s a science teacher at Springfield High, where he’s coached track as well.
At Wilson, Sharon swam the 50 freestyle, 100 butterfly and relays, and made it to state all four years.
She thought gymnastics “was a lot of fun, though I wasn’t great at it.” She made it to the PIL district meet as a freshman. The sport was then discontinued, and she switched to cross country.
And she did lots of Scottish Highland dancing—which provides quite a workout—into her 30’s. She also taught it when her two children, now 29 and 28, were young.
But it’s that one-lap run around the track—and her ability to grow as a big-big-race competitor—that got her into the PIL Hall of Fame in 2008.
“I had never been to a college stadium, and my freshman year when we got to Hayward Field for the state meet, I completely freaked out,” she recalls.
She was hoping to place in the top eight but failed to make the finals.
“I ran my worst time all year, did terrible.”
Sophomore year, she figured she would wind up in the middle of the pack, meaning somewhere around fourth or fifth.
“I was fine in the prelims, then freaked out in the finals. Finished last (eighth) with a crappy time. Went home pretty disappointed.”
Junior year, things were different.
“I said to myself, ‘I’m not screwing this up. I’m going to win this time,'” she says.
She did, posting a time of 56.34 seconds that more than four seconds under her sophomore finals mark.
Senior year, she was an even bigger star.
“I was fairly comfortable that I’d be able to win it again,” she says.
So comfortable that she took it a bit easy in the prelims, trying not to get the fastest time so she wouldn’t have to run the next day in Lane 4 against top challengers such as Madison’s Suzy Setterholm and Jefferson’s Denise Lucas.
“Lane 3 was my favorite, and I pulled it off and got it,” she says. “That was the first time I didn’t run my hardest.”
Setterholm and Lucas finished second and third in the state 400 finals, respectively. Setterholm went on to win state the following year, run for Oregon and join the PIL Hall of Fame. Lucas led Jeff to the state title and is in the PIL Hall as well.
Sharon knew when she hit the 400 finish line and saw her time (54.71) on the scoreboard that she had the meet record.
Her first reaction?
“Trying not to throw up on the track and in front of the crowd. I was hurting pretty bad,” she says.
She erased a record that had been set by Crescent Valley’s Leann Warren, who already had moved on to what was a stellar career at Oregon.
“Funny thing was, when I got to Eugene, I go to track practice and right there is Leann Warren,” Sharon says.
Sharon chose UO in part because “I didn’t know what I wanted to do” for a career.
“I was looking for a liberal arts school where I could have lots of classes to explore,” she says.
She didn’t declare a major initially, “and I’m not sure I ever figured out it,” she says with a chuckle.
She got a degree in rhetoric communications in 1988, with a minor in business.
Since college, she has sold insurance, taught Highland Scottish dance and coached middle school track.
Although they sport different shades of it, Wilson and Oregon both have green prominent in their team colors, and Otterstedt McGhehey says green isn’t a good match for her olive skin.
“When I wear green, people think I’m sick,” she says.
Track at Oregon “wasn’t as much fun” as it had been at Wilson. She ran the 400 for two years, then switched to a new event for her, the 400 hurdles, where the Ducks needed help.
“I was happier, because I wasn’t competing against my teammates every day and there were no expectations,” she says.
Today, she does Crossfit with her husband and walks with a friend. She might get back into coaching at Hamlin.
She goes to track meets at Hayward on occasion and marvels at the new-look Hayward Field, a high-tech beauty that will play host to the World Championships in 2022, and is serving again as the site of the state high school meet.
She’s glad she’s not a first-year 400 runner having to deal with the grandeur of the renovated Hayward.
“If I walked into that place now as a high school freshman, I’d have a heart attack,” she says.
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~ Profile written by Steve Brandon (Cleveland, 1972)