A Wonderful Tragedy

On Saturday, April 24, at the 2021 UIL Class 4A, Region 3 Track & Field Championships in League City, Texas, a 'Wonderful Tragedy' took place.

My wife and I were in the stands to watch our daughter, Cullen Merrell, attempt to qualify for the UIL State Meet in Austin in the 800-meter run. Cullen, a sophomore at Hudson High School, needed to finish either 1st or 2nd to make the state meet.

With about 60 meters to go she was running in 3rd, but making up ground. With 30 meters to go, she had pulled even with the second-place girl. Then, with 5 meters to go, her body, exhausted and drained, collapsed.

Hadley Phillips via YouTube
Hadley Phillips via YouTube

She tried to get back up, but her legs would not support her. Cullen ended up crawling across the line. Her quest for the 2021 State Meet was over. It would take another 15 minutes for her to be able to even walk. She had consumed every bit of her energy.

What Words of Consolation Could We Say?

Our hearts ached for our little girl. Through the tears, we tried our best to come up with the words that would console Cullen and get her through the emotional and physical pain of getting within a few feet of her goal.

It turns out, we didn't need to find the words of consolation. Cullen already had them figured out. She reflected upon the events of the race and instead of sorrow and disappointment, she came away with a sense of...

Accomplishment, Peace, and Resolve

She accomplished the rare feat of completely living up to the old cliche of 'giving it all you got'. She drained her body to the point where it ceased to function. Very few athletes have pushed their bodies to that extreme level.

She also found peace in this accomplishment. Many athletes fear the unknown level of pain and exhaustion of pushing their bodies to the max. Cullen found contentment in now knowing that experience and realizing it was nothing to fear.

She then turned these newfound levels of peace and accomplishment into a heightened resolve. That resolve played out several times over the next two years. Here are a couple of examples as the anchor leg in the 4x400 relay for her Hudson team.


Making It To State

Cullen punched her ticket to the 2022 State Meet finishing 2nd at the Regionals. In 2023, she was the 800-meter Regional Champ (much to the excitement of my wife)

Cullen was seeded 8th going into the 2023 State Track Meet in the 800 but would earn a bronze medal. At a track meet a week later, she would set a personal best in the 800-meter run with a time of 2:14.14 - good for the 3rd best time in the state among all Class 4A girls.


I am the proud father of Cullen Merrell. Yes, this article reflects that. But, I made a silent promise to my daughter following that tragedy of 2021. If she somehow turned that tragedy into something wonderful and beautiful, that story needed to be told.

In addition to the accomplishments above, Cullen will be enrolling at Rice University to run cross country and track & field, plus she will be in their Naval ROTC program in her quest to become a naval aviator.


There are so many things that this child has taught me, but the biggest lesson of all...


...no matter the venue, no matter the situation, before the race starts she will kneel down, do the sign of the Cross, and say a prayer to glorify God.

I Wasn't Going to Write This Story, But...

Through the years, I've made it a point to not use any of the radio stations' platforms as a means to bang the drum for my family, but, I decided to make an exception in this case.

Not so much as a means to boast about my daughter, but as a teaching moment for others, and definitely for me, as well. She has taught me the following:

  1. When terrible events happen, you can allow them to lead you to despair and negativity, or you can find a way to turn them into something positive or a new challenge.
  2. You can boldly proclaim the Word of God through the simplest of actions. There is never a wrong time to stop for a moment to pray. You will be amazed at the changes it can bring in you and others.

Thank you for allowing me to share this with you.

2023 UIL State Track & Field Medalists from Deep East Texas

Here's a look at the East Texas athletes who took home medals from the State Track & Field Meet in Austin

2023 Senior Salute Photos

Here's a look at the pictures that were sent in for our 2023 Senior Salute Giveaway




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