Ohhhhh Mandi

Mandi Kaltwasser came into view as she approached the finish line at the 2016 Forest Park Cross Country Festival White Division girls' varsity race and it was not her speed nor her stride that turned every spectator's head. It was her mud-caked face, torso, legs and spikes that drew the attention. She was more grit than girl.

No runner on this day escaped Forest Park unscathed of wearing some of the terrain as the course had absorbed a two-inch rain the night before. But no other runner was camouflaged like Mandi, from tip to toe in a glistening sheath of top soil.

Did she fall? Was she pushed? Was this a bizarre attempt at a new beauty routine?

No. Nope. Not sure.

She jumped.

Unprovoked and without warning she just leapt into the wettest, muddiest puddle on a course full of wet, muddy puddles.

What in the name of Warrior Dash was she thinking?

"The course took us past this big mud puddle during the first mile," Mandi explained when asked what came over her. "I thought that might be a good spot later in the race if I was feeling it."

"I had told some of my teammates that my goal was to be the muddiest runner of the day and that puddle looked like a great opportunity to accomplish my goal."

Mandi is a senior at Althoff Catholic and just in her second year on the cross country team. She ran the Forest Park course well enough to medal and help her team to a second-place finish in the White Division - even with her mud dive.

As Mandi made her way through the last half-mile, the course took her past the Althoff team tent. When the other Althoff runners spied Mandi covered in slick, wet ooze, they pretty much lost it.

"Everybody was cheering," chuckled Mandi.

Did she ever consider that diving into a mud puddle with less than a mile to go might slow her down and cost her and her team?

"No," Mandi quickly and confidently replied.

"It actually gave me some momentum and a shot of adrenaline," she said. "I think I ran faster after I dove into the mud."

Mandi may have just had it in her blood to dive into that sloppy wet mud puddle. Even those with a rudimentary grasp of German - or have watched a lot of black and white WWII movies - know her surname, Kaltwasser, means "chilled or cold water" in German. The mud pond she picked to slide through was both chilled and watery.

"It was pretty 'liquidy,'" recalled Kaltwasser.

When asked where the senior plans to attend college, she wasn't able to give a definitive answer. But when asked if this mid-race mudslide was a one-time thing?

"Well, I've never done it before," Kaltwasser mused. "But I would definitely do it again."

Greg Hall