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MU Relays give brothers first and last chance to compete in same event

Saturday, April 2, 2011 | 11:48 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — After Mark Pickerel finished the third leg of the 4 x 400-meter relay, he looked to his brother standing just a few feet away. 

Words were not exchanged, but Matt Pickerel nodded and flashed a simple grin at his little brother before turning to stride down the grass field. Matt Pickerel was preparing to run the same event for MU that Mark Pickerel had just ran for Rock Bridge High School.

Event winners

Missouri

  • Chris Davis - men's 400-meter hurdles (52.90)
  • Heather Green - women's pole vault (3.65 meters)
  • Brian Hancock - men's pole vault (4.9 meters)
  • Jeremy Lampley - men's triple jump (13.87 meters)
  • Layne Moore - women's 1500-meter run (4:37.19)
  • Brooks Mosier - men's shot put (17.67 meters)
  • Erika Miller - women's long jump (5.47 meters)
  • Kearsten Peoples - women's hammer throw (52.83 meters) and women's shot put (16.3 meters)
  • 4 x 100 meter relay - Mark Hughes, Tre' Chambers, Josh Scott, Matt Pickerel (41.29)

Hickman

  • Sarah Hall - girls shot put (12.25 meters) and girls discus (38.43 meters)
  • Victoria Jackson - girls long jump (5.45 meters) and girls 100-meter hurdles (15.42 meters)
  • Boys distance medley relay - Ethan Zars, Luke Ragsdell, Devin Sanders, Keith Kimbrough (11:21.83)

Rock Bridge

  • Taylor McDannold - girls 400 meters (1:01.33)
  • Nick Sublett - boys discus throw (41.86 meters) and boys shot put (15.59 meters)
  • Boys 1600-meter relay - Bennett Arey, Paris Logan, Mark Pickerel, Collin Sees (3:30.46)


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"Not being in high school together, this is the next best thing," Matt Pickerel said. 

The Missouri Relays on Saturday marked the first event Matt Pickerel, an MU junior, and Mark Pickerel, a senior at Rock Bridge, competed in the same sport, in the same place, at the same time.

"This is the only meet in our lives that me and my brother are going to run together," Mark Pickerel said.

Mark Pickerel began running for Rock Bridge with only three weeks left in the season last year. He was recruited by Matt Pickerel's former relay teammates. 

“If my brother wouldn’t have ran track, I don’t know what I would have thought about it,” Mark Pickerel said. “I didn’t know a thing about track, but my brother convinced me that I could do it.”

Their mother, Jacci Kelly, also wanted Mark Pickerel to be a part of the track and field team, but she thought he would be a thrower. She missed Mark Pickerel’s first track meet because she was at Matt Pickerel’s meet in Fayetteville that day.

“I asked my husband Mike, ‘Is he really fast?’ He said ‘He really is.’”

Mark Pickerel wears a stubble beard and has buzzed blond hair. His stocky build found him success on the football field as the Bruins' quarterback, and he will be playing next year at Southern Dakota State on scholarship. 

"I never really did track to begin with because all throughout my life I was a chubby kid," Mark Pickerel said.

"We have pictures to prove that," Matt Pickerel said. 

"I was always a bigger kid, still athletic, but just not entirely fast," Mark Pickerel said. "In high school I slimmed down and got faster. Genetics kicked in, I figured why not do track."

Matt Pickerel has soft brown hair, a skinny frame, and at 3 p.m. shows no sign of a five o'clock shadow.

"No one believes that we are brothers," Mark Pickerel said.

"Everyone thinks I'm the younger one," Matt Pickerel said. "It just comes with the territory of being pretty I guess." 

Matt Pickerel was on the track team all four years in high school, but only long jumped the first two. Those last two years he was focused on his relay teams. The Bruins were state ranked in the 4 x 200 and 4 x 100 relays, and Matt Pickerel was on both that broke the school record his senior year.

Pickerel thought they were state bound, but their season was cut short when when a member of the 4 X 200 team used inappropriate language on the track at the district meet. The runner, who was a member of both teams, was disqualified.

"We could have contended for a state title, and I didn't get the opportunity to do that," Matt Pickerel said. "I really wanted Mark to have that experience."

Matt Pickerel began playing football his junior year. He had never played before and said he weighed only 140 pounds, but by his senior year he was starting at wide receiver and cornerback for the Bruins. His times on the track were not highly competitive either, but his high school coaches told him his work ethic would take him to the next level. 

"Both were pretty big leaps for me, and I definitely wouldn't have been able to do it without the coaches and all the support I had," Matt Pickerel said. "And that's why I want to be really supportive of Mark doing his thing."

Kelly said she can see differences in how her sons compete.

“They have a different approach to training,” she said. “I’d give my hand to Matthew, he’s probably the more dedicated one. They both work hard, but sometimes Mark makes it look easy.”

Matt Pickerel didn't have plans to run track at Missouri, but Tigers coach Derrick Peterson approached him about being a walk-on, and he jumped at the opportunity. Still, his football footwork showed on the track, and Peterson worked with him to correct his form and mechanics.

"I used to tease him a lot working one-on-one, 'You look like your ready to cut a lateral. In track and field we run in ovals and straight lines so we don't need you to be cutting in the middle of a race,'" Peterson said he told Matt Pickerel. "He took that to heart. He's one of those kids that always wants to get better," Peterson said. 

Mark Pickerel said his transition from the football field to the track was even rougher. He was used to running 40-yard dashes on the football field and remembers his first track practice.

"It was one of the toughest things I've ever done," Mark Pickerel said. 

He remembers his first 100-meter dash, being quick out of the block, pulling to a strong lead, but hitting a wall at 70 meters.

"It was awful," Mark Pickerel said. "At 70 meters my legs were feeling it, and I was slowing down. The last 10 (meters) I just died."

"People don't usually die in the 100 meter," Matt Pickerel said. "It's not typical."

As different as they were growing up, they are now both runners.

"As the years have gone on, I've grown into my body. I'm not as small, and Mark has really become a lean, speed kind of guy," Matt Pickerel said. "We both got here, but we just got here in different ways."

Matt Pickerel attended every one of Mark Pickerel’s football games, traveling on Friday nights to cheer on his favorite quarterback. Their conversation was always short, with a knock on the helmet as Mark Pickerel walked to the locker room.

“We give each other space. We don’t want to crowd each other,” Mark Pickerel said. “It’s never been a big exchange, but it’s nice that he’s always close.”

“They’re unbelievably close,” Kelly said. “It’s a beautiful thing to see. They are each other’s best friends and biggest supporters.”

Saturday Matt Pickerel and Mark Pickerel got to watch each other from the finish line, on the grass field with other runners and coaches.

“Usually he’s as close to the action as possible,” Mark Pickerel said.

The Bruins started the 4 x 400 relay behind Jefferson City. They took the lead on the second lap, and Mark Pickerel stretched that lead on the third. They won with a time of 3:30.46. 

"Its nice having someone who really loves and cares for me being here," Mark Pickerel said. "And the same goes for him."


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