Cross Country/Track: Sandburg’s Pat McMahon wins Foot Locker scholarship
By Jeff Vorva For Sun-Times Media April 17, 2013 4:50PM
Sandburg's Pat McMahon smiles as he realizes he's about to be awarded a $20,000 scholarship from Foot Locker and DoSomething.org. | Jeff Vorva~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 19, 2013 7:45AM
When Sandburg senior Pat McMahon and the rest of his classmates in Spanish class were summoned to the Orland Park school’s Little Theater, they thought they were in for a seminar on scholarships.
Most of the class members filed in the desirable back rows. Sandburg assistant principal Terry Treasure told the rest of the class to start filling in the rows near the front. Treasure motioned to McMahon to sit in the front row.
“I said, ‘I got you Mr. Treasure, I’ll come down, I’ll help you out,’ ’’ McMahon said. “It’s like church. No one wants to sit in the front row. I’m always going to help Mr. Treasure out.”
A few minutes later, after a couple of officials from Foot Locker read some scholarship information to the class, they got down to their real business and surprised McMahon, a cross country/track runner, with a big treasure. They announced he was one of 20 seniors from across the country to win a $20,000 scholarship via Foot Locker and DoSomething.org.
The two organizations received 25,915 applicants. McMahon was the only athlete from Illinois to win.
McMahon said he had no idea this was about him until Foot Locker district manager Iran Pagan started reading his bio and said the words “Notre Dame.” That’s where McMahon is heading in the fall.
“That’s when I knew for sure,” he said. “My legs were shaking getting up and everything. It’s just an amazing experience. I feel like I’m blushing a ton. I can’t stop smiling. My cheeks are stinging.’’
One of the criteria for the award was an essay. In his, McMahon highlighted his battles with cystic fibrosis throughout his life and how he has overcome that to become one of the state’s top runners. He said he still has bouts of constant coughing at night, which occasionally keeps him up at night, but that’s the worst of it.
The ailment didn’t stop him from finishing 32nd in the state cross country meet as a junior and 38th as a senior. It hasn’t stopped him from becoming one of the top track milers in the Southland.
“He’s a difference maker,” Sandburg cross country coach John O’Malley said. “His ability to overcome CF is a perfect representation of who he is. In the celebration of life, he’s not going to make excuses or not find ways to not be good enough. He works through any challenge he approaches and he’s going to do that the rest of his life.”
McMahon’s parents, Tom and Jeanne, learned about the honor on Monday and said it was a tough secret to keep.
“We have another son at the school (Brian) and we couldn’t even tell him,” Jeanne McMahon said.
Sandburg’s cross country program is used to getting attention from national companies. Former Eagles star Lukas Verzbicas won the Gatorade National Runner of the Year award in 2010 and ’11.
Verzbicas and McMahon were teammates for two years.
“Any time you have someone of that caliber around through it all ... it’s an amazing experience,” McMahon said. “He helped push us every day. We saw how much he pushed himself and it made us push to work even harder. You hate to have to see a teammate run by himself. You want to be able to run with him if you can. We were never able to, but we tried.”
McMahon attended two of Verzbicas’ ceremonies, which were held at an assembly in front of the whole school in the Eagle Gym.
McMahon’s celebration was much more low key, but he looked at the giant replica of the $20,000 check and said, “I’d say I got the better prize.’’