You’ve got to ‘Hand’ it to him
It’s been a long road back for Magdalena High School’s Daniel Hand. But as the state track and field meet approaches, that final mile is in sight.
Hand, a senior, is already a two-time state champion in historically track and field’s premier events – the mile run, or these days its metric near equivalent, the 1600-meter run. But a torn ACL in his right knee suffered during the 2010 football season sidelined him all of last year. Now, he’s trying to get back up to speed.
“My lungs are getting there,” Hand said about 30 minutes after collapsing crossing the finish line when he won the 1600 at one of Magdalena’s home meets, the Stockyard Relays, earlier this month. “Now I’m trying to get my legs back, and I feel that they are. I’m running faster.”
Hand still isn’t as fast as he was in the past, but he’s narrowing the gap. He’s close to matching the time he recorded when won state in 4:49.94 as a sophomore. He was even quicker as a freshman, winning in 4:42.23, a time he thinks he can beat.
“Hopefully, I can get to the 4:30s,” he said.
When Hand suffered his knee injury, he initially thought it would be something that would sideline him temporarily and he’d be back on the grid iron to finish out the season. That wasn’t the case, though.
“At first they told me it was a strain and I’d be out for a couple weeks and be able to come back and play, but it never got better,” he said.
When it was diagnosed as a torn ACL, he knew his season was over. And so was his basketball season and his chance to win three consecutive state championships in the 1600.
Hand had his surgery in December 2010, doctors taking an 8-inch slice of his hamstring to make the repair. Then began the long road to recovery.
“I kept telling myself I had to keep exercising after the surgery,” he said. “I knew that I had to work really hard if I was going to get back on the court and on the track.”
Hand got off the crutches as fast as he could and continued with a vigorous rehabilitation program.
“They told me to stay on it and it would get nice and loose,” said Hand, who did everything physical therapists asked. “As a matter of fact, I went to the doctor (in late March) and he said my knee is very strong.”
Hand’s hard work paid off. He was good to go within a year, but decided to forgo playing football his senior season.
“I decided to skip football,” said Hand, who still hopes to land a college athletic scholarship. “I love football, but I probably have a better chance of going somewhere with track.”
An all-round athlete, Hand was the best player on the football team, partly due to his blazing speed. He also played guard for Magdalena’s state-playoff basketball team, and track isn’t his only sport in the spring. He also plays for the Steers’ state-bound baseball team.
“I have a team sports class at 3 (o’clock), so I get in my distance running then and work on my handoffs,” said Hand, who also runs on Magdalena’s relay teams. “When I’m done with that, I go get changed and go to baseball practice.”
MHS track and field coach Jory Mirabal and baseball coach Manuel Martinez don’t mind sharing Hand. Both say they’re happy to have him.
“He’s a good kid to have on your team,” Martinez said. “He’s a natural leader, a hard worker and sets a good example for the other kids.
“His main sport is track and he could slack off when he gets to practice. But he gives 100 percent day-in and day-out.”
Martinez said Hand didn’t play a lot of baseball when he was younger, but he took to the game quickly.
“Daniel’s one of those rare athletes. Two years ago he came out and played baseball for the first time as a sophomore, and he looked like he had been playing baseball all his life,” Martinez said.
Hand is versatile on the diamond. He could play anywhere in the outfield, but Martinez uses him at either shortstop or third base, depending on who’s pitching.
Mirabal, who is also MHS’s boys basketball coach, said Hand is versatile in track and field, too.
“He’s one of those kids who you can put in any event. He’s definitely our workhorse,” Mirabal said, adding that Hand was going to compete in the long jump for the first time at the district meet, which was held yesterday after El Defensor Chieftain press time. “He’s also a key member of our 4 by 1 and 4 by 4 relay teams. I don’t know of any other kid in the state that runs a state qualifying mile and can run sprint relays. That just speaks to the kind of athlete he is.”
Though Hand is still trying to catch up to his personal best times in the 1600, Mirabal said he wouldn’t be surprised to see him win state in the event for a third time.
“I think he has it in him. He’s been getting faster and faster,” the coach said. “He’s been playing baseball, so he might be having a harder time, but I suspect at district he’s going to run his best time of the year.”
Hand has just a week left in his high school career. The Class 1-2A meet will be held May 4-5 at the University of New Mexico Track and Field Complex.
“I’m going to be sad to see him go,” said Mirabal, who has a close relationship with Hand. “He’s a great kid. I’ve been able to watch him grow up. He’s come out to our ranch and done some work out there. You get close to these kids sometimes, and it’s almost like they’re your own.”
The long road back has almost come to an end. So far, so good. The knee isn’t just holding up, it’s getting stronger.
“With all the sports, it gets tired sometimes, but I go to sleep and wake up and get ready for the next day. It always gets better; it never gets worse,” he said.
Hand has gone through a lot since tearing his ACL. But he’s almost to the finish line and holds out hope that he’ll be the one who breaks the tape and wins an individual state title in the mile for a third time.
“It kind of got me down, having to work my way back,” he said. “But I think I can get there. I believe.”
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