At 14, Mervo's April Mullen is already one of the state's top high school runners. Yet she insists she isn't a natural.
The freshman was a triple winner at the Baltimore City indoor championships Feb. 2, then won a first and second at regionals, and added a third at the states. Tomorrow at Poly, she'll look to add to her growing resume at the city outdoor championships.
Mullen runs the 500 and 800 meters, mile and 3,200 relay for the Mustangs. She is aware of her talent but remains modest and level-headed when praised for her skill level at such a young age.
"I wasn't always this fast; I had to work up to it," she said.
Mullen, an All-Metro performer for the winter season, also is the only freshman out of 11 girls in Maryland ranked nationally by DyeStat, an Internet service that details high school track nationwide. She is the only one ranked in both the 500 and 800. Mullen placed sixth in the mile at the Colonial Relays in April with a time of 5 minutes, 24 seconds and won in the Capital Beltway Classic at Long Reach High with 5: 28.
During the indoor season, Mullen placed third in the state, second in the region, and first in the city in the 800. She also placed first in the region and city in the 500 and mile.
"She's really progressing well, and her work tactics and work ethics are really good," Mervo boys coach Freddie Hendricks said.
On a recent dreary day at nearby City College, where Mervo's team practices, Mullen completed warm-ups, laughing with teammates, and put on her game face as she began sprints around the track before rain began. Mullen is the only Mervo girl who practices with the boys, by suggestion of girls coach Ron Neal.
Keeping up with and often leading the group, she shows her endurance level is high.
"She runs with the guys -- I guess that's part of her toughness," Hendricks said.
With her father's help, Mullen began running with the Ed Waters Track and Field Alliance about six years ago. The family had moved to East Baltimore, and April decided to switch to track from karate.
"I just told my dad I wanted to run," Mullen said.
David Mullen, a carpenter for CECO Inc., coached his daughter for her first two years in track. Now, he makes a point of trying to get to her meets to cheer her on and said he is pleased to see how her effort has paid off.
"She's worked hard for how far she's come," he said. "She's been running very well this year."
Despite her demanding track schedule, Mullen has a 3.8 grade-point average, putting her in the top 10 percent of her class at Mervo. But that's not where it ends.
"I have a 3.8, but I want a 4.0," Mullen said. "And I want to do well on the SAT."
Getting into a good academic college is first on her list of goals, and closely behind is continuing her track career. Although she is ranked nationally in two events, she wants to expand her horizons in the world of track and field.
"She wants to try the 300- and 400-[meter] hurdles," Neal said.
She also has her sights set on running a 2: 14 in the 800 before the season is over.
"I'm going to have to get stronger after the first 600, and I'm going to have to work on my last leg," Mullen said.
Neal said Mullen has no fear and never gives up, which clearly shows in the way she runs.
"She's the type of athlete that no one has anything bad to say about," he said.
Added Hendricks: "If you want to beat her, you're going to have to catch her, because she doesn't tag along behind people. She goes [all] out."