It’s funny how one innocent, seemingly insignificant moment can change the course of your life.
For Suzy Setterholm (Madison – 1985) and a 2004 PIL Hall of Fame inductee, that moment came in the spring of her freshman year.
With no real experience in sports, she was trying out for the JV softball team – and likely to sit on the bench all season, if she made the cut.
“I had no skill set,” she says.
Friends on the Madison track and field team, noting her lack of softball prowess, suggested she go out for that sport.
Her first day at practice was the day before Madison’s first meet of the 1982 season. She watched and basically did nothing until, as practice was ending, assistant coach Kris Franzke realized the newcomer was just standing around and coaxed her into trying SOMETHING.
“Why don’t you run one lap before you go home,” Franzke said. “I’ll time you for fun.”
Setterholm had never run a 400 meters. But the stopwatch indicated she wasn’t bad.
“Tomorrow at Lincoln you’ll run the JV 400,” Franzke said.
She ran it. And won it. With a time faster than Madison’s top varsity mark of the day.
“You’re in the varsity 400 next meet,” she was told.
Setterholm wound up qualifying for state all four years in the 400 and won the state title as a senior.
She also placed second in the state 200 as a senior and helped the Senators’ relay teams to two second-place showings, as Madison’s girls placed second to Beaverton by two points.
Her career also included a second at state in the 400 as a junior. She was right behind Wilson star Sharon Otterstedt, another future Duck. Setterholm ran 55.55 seconds that day, which broke the state record and still stood as her Madison personal best when she graduated.
Setterholm also was fourth in the 400 as a sophomore, a race also won by Otterstedt.
Suzy’s 55.56 finals time at state as a senior came after she had received a bunch of her recruiting letters from various colleges and signed with the illustrious University of Oregon track and field program.
She competed four years for the Ducks, winning a NorPac 400 championship.
The opportunity and scholarship at Oregon enabled her to earn a degree in health education, which led to a job at Madison (now McDaniel), which led to a 30-year teaching career – all at her alma mater.
She retired at the end of the 2020-21 school year and is “starting to figure out” what she’d like to do with her spare time.
It all stems from that one lap. Everything seemed to fall in place for her after Kris Franzke’s almost afterthought suggestion that she do one lap, just for fun.
“A strangely pivotal moment in my life,” Setterholm says. “To think that transpired into the opportunity to get a scholarship and run in college, at Oregon no less, and make friends there who are still my best friends today.
“It feels like lightning struck that day at practice, in a good way.”
Setterholm, of course, made it all happen with her own sweat and tears over the years.
“Looking back, the things I think about most aren’t my times but my work ethic,” she says of putting in the effort day after day to work out, train hard and meet all the responsibilities that face a student-athlete, including the ability to handle the pressure of competition and expectations.
She was really good at the 400 in particular, enough so that she remembers some Madison teammates saying things like, “We don’t even need to watch your race, because we know you’re going to win.”
That only added to the pressure she felt.
“I didn’t want to let anyone down,” she says.
Setterholm never played softball at Madison. She tried out for basketball as a freshman, but that sport didn’t suit her, either. “I was pretty good on defense, but don’t ask me to shoot,” she says.
She ran three years of cross country and had some success there, too, going to state every year and placing 30th, 36th and 59th.
But track, and the 400 in particular, proved to be her niche.
Who knows what would have happened if Franzke had suggested she fling the javelin or go over to the high jump pit instead of trying that one lap?
Setterholm, who moved to Oregon from her birthplace of St. Paul, Minnesota at age 4, remembers Madison in those days as “already diverse, and I’ve always appreciated that.
“School spirit was different. There’s so many things for kids to do now. We didn’t have robotics club and tons of extracurricular activities like today. Sports was the thing you did for something extracurricular.”
Going to the U of O was a no-brainer.
“It was the only college I visited,” she says. “I started to learn I was sitting in the backyard of track and field mecca.”
Setterholm’s track coaches at Madison included Leon Lincoln, who coached sprints and relays.
“A great coach, a good human being,” she says.
She liked track in part because “you’re not isolated from the other half of the team. Softball players generally don’t hang out with baseball players. The boys and girls basketball teams don’t scrimmage against each other. But in track, even in college, you travel and go to meets together and cheer each other on.”
At Oregon, the head coach was Tom Heinonen, and assistant Mark Stream worked closely with her and on her events (mostly the 400 and 200).
She enjoyed counseling summer camps for kids at UO, where she studied telecommunications and film along with journalism and health.
She was hired by Madison as the newspaper and yearbook advisor. A little later, she started teaching health, a class she had really liked as a student of then-Madison teacher Jeff Erdman.
She was an assistant track coach for 18 years and served as an assistant and head coach for Madison cross country. She also had stints as activities director and leadership advisor.
As a sidelight, she has spent 26 years as a volunteer with Krayon Kids Musical Theater Company, a grassroots production troupe based in Oregon City. That gig has provided various satisfactions and rewards, including travel to several foreign countries to put on shows.
Setterholm says she plans to do some substitute teaching in Portland and volunteer work.
It seemed like a good time to retire from full-time teaching, though, with McDaniel reopening after a two-year remodel.
She’s delighted about the name change, as Leodis V. McDaniel was the principal when she attended school there.
“Such a good man,” she says.
As excited as she is for the new and improved facilities, “I didn’t need my own classroom,” she says, adding that it felt like time to pass the space and that torch on to someone else.
But maybe some day, possibly after subbing, she can walk over to the McDaniel track and, for old times’ sake, and run one lap for fun. A victory lap of sorts.