Ellen Arnaud carries the Dallas High School soccer team on her shoulders as effortlessly as she carries a javelin.
But when that javelin fell off during the PIAA Track and Field championships this weekend, her whole sports world seemed to crumble.
Well, it didn’t actually just fall off.
Arnaud threw the javelin like she always does. It just didn’t travel as far as usual.
Arnaud’s best qualifying throw of 120 feet, 8 inches didn’t get her anywhere near the state finals Friday, and fell far short of the 133 feet, 2 inches mark she achieved while winning a gold medal and setting a record in the District 2 championships.
“I just got a bad feeling. And it put me in a bad mood,” Arnaud said. “Everything just didn’t go my way.”
For the first time in a long time, the youngest of Brad and Karen Arnaud’s five children was forced to deal with failure as she curled into a ball of dejection under a tent at Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium.
“I never saw her as upset as that,” Brad Arnaud said. “She’s a tough kid, though.”
You don’t get to Ellen Arnaud’s level by being soft.
This is a 17-year-old girl who spent her elementary school years dreaming of playing football for gruff and grizzled coach Ted Jackson at Dallas.
“She won a punt, pass and kick competition as a little girl. It was against all boys,” her father said. “I think he (Jackson) considered letting her kick for him.”
That never happened.
Instead, Arnaud got her kicks on the soccer field.
She scored the first two goals in Dallas’ state soccer title game in 2007, after Arnaud spent most of her freshman season that year trying to earn the respect of the senior-laden Mountaineers team. Her unstoppable scoring ability as a striker took Dallas to a fourth consecutive District 2 soccer title last season, then a fifth straight district championship this year.
And when her team needed its junior scoring machine the most Tuesday, with time winding down in a first-round state playoff game that was tied, Arnaud picked up the pieces of aspiration shattered by another sport.
“But that’s her,” Brad Arnaud said. “That’s the kind of thing she does, she bounces back.”
She took one more shot at greatness. It went in, lifting Dallas past Wyomissing 2-1 and into the PIAA Class 2A girls’ soccer quarterfinals.
“It just comes to me all the time,” Arnaud said. “If I don’t score, I feel like I’ll let the team down.”
The disappointment of a sub-par performance at the state track and field meet didn’t matter to Arnaud anymore. Neither did the steady rain that drenched her, the opposing players who pushed and grabbed her, or the divot-like brush burn on her shin that slowed her.
“I’m not going to lie, it feels like a dried burn down my leg,” Arnaud said of an injury she got while sliding on that same Lehman turf during the District 2 championship. “I’m not going to use that as an excuse, but it affects me.”
Not when it mattered most to Dallas. Not when it came time for the best player on the field to make the winning play.
“I step up, I guess,” Arnaud said with typical modesty. “In those last 10 minutes, something just comes out.”
It’s called the will to win. And from one state championship sport to the next, Arnaud has enough of it to turn disaster to delight.