Addie Swanson thought it was a joke initially. 

When Pleasant Valley track and field coach Kenny Wheeler suggested the 400 hurdles as an event for Swanson last summer, she was surprised. 

"We tried it a year prior to that," Swanson said. "I came to one or two (hurdle) practices to see my abilities and it was like, 'No, we're not going to do the hurdles anymore.'"

But the combination of Swanson's athleticism, the direction PV wanted to go with its team this season and the state landscape, Wheeler felt there was an opportunity for his senior to thrive in the event with proper training and technique. 

Wheeler was right. 

Runner-up in the 400 hurdles at the Drake Relays last month, Swanson goes into Friday morning's event at the Class 4A state meet in Des Moines with the top seed in 63.87 seconds.

"Addie has an explosiveness to her that maybe we don't always get to see on display," Wheeler said. "We spent a lot of time last summer introducing her to hurdle technique and it came pretty easy for her. 

"She came at it with a level of fearlessness you don't normally see from beginning hurdlers."

Wheeler has a knack for developing hurdlers.

Susan Rodriguez, Anne Leners and Carly Donahue have flourished in the 400 hurdles under his watch, all among the state's top 20 all-time in the event. PV has won back-to-back shuttle hurdle relay titles, too. 

"Kenny's hurdlers are his babies," Swanson said. "He's super passionate about it, and he makes you believe you can accomplish more in the hurdles than you think you can." 

Wheeler conducts volunteer hurdle workouts twice a week during the summer.

"Not everyone can be a hurdler," he said. "It takes a level of fearlessness, courage and the right type of determination to improve and keep getting up once you fall."

Swanson experimented with the hurdles as a 10-year-old in the Mississippi Valley Track Club. She broke her left arm. 

"I figured that was the end of my hurdling days," she said.

The Iowa recruit spent the first three seasons at PV running primarily 400s, with the 200 and 800 occasionally mixed in. 

The hurdles has brought a new challenge. It also has rekindled her love for the sport.

"It has been my favorite race this year just because you have to really focus on your lane and the hurdles in your lane," she said. "You're not worrying about others, and that's been a positive for me."

Swanson has had a track career with plenty of highs. It also has produced a couple valleys, some out of her control.

She anchored PV to an all-time Iowa best in the sprint medley relay two years ago at the state meet in helping the Spartans claim the team title.

She ran the last leg on two 1,600-meter relay state title teams. She chased down Davenport Assumption ace Joy Ripslinger at the Drake Relays last year on the anchor leg with a 55.6-second split. 

Conversely, she was a pivotal member of PV's 2014 team that was stripped of a state title for having an ineligible athlete. Then last year at state, she was disqualified in the 400 after running out of her lane. 

"To learn how to overcome and defeat failure, set a goal and work with others to tackle that goal is something in some way everyone should learn throughout their life," Swanson said. "Those past circumstances have made me grow as a person and a teammate."

Swanson had lofty expectations attached to her immediately because of her talent, competitiveness and versatility. 

A success in MVTC and at the junior-high level, she burst on the state scene as a freshman. Swanson was a state runner-up in the 400 in 56.71, and ran a couple of 56-second splits on relays at Drake. 

She overcame a 15- to 20-meter deficit in the anchor leg of the 1,600 relay at Drake that year.

"The thing that has always carried her through, she's never afraid to battle," Wheeler said. "Regardless of who she is running against, you know she's going to put forth her best effort."

The biggest obstacle for Swanson on the track is Payton Wensel. The dynamic Linn-Mar junior is seeking a third consecutive 400 title.

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Wensel also happens to be what kept Swanson from a white flag in the 400 hurdles at Drake last month. Wensel just started hurdling this year, too. 

"Nothing easy is worth having," Swanson said. "The chance I get to compete against her throughout the years and again at state hopefully is what will make that special moment, whenever it comes, even more worth it. 

"I wouldn't have gotten to where I am as a competitor and track athlete without great competition like her."

More than the opposition, Swanson admits having the right mentality is the most critical component to success this weekend.

She calls it getting back to "Freshman Addie."

"I was a clueless freshman girl just running her race and competing," she said. "When you get in your head, it really affects everything that you do. It really puts a negative stress on every race that you run."

Swanson said she has a tendency to beat herself up after meets. She came home devastated after her performance at the Muscatine meet at the start of the season.

Soon after, she decided not to play soccer this spring so she could concentrate on track. 

"I miss soccer all the time," she said, "but just knowing I have faith where I want to get this weekend will make it worth it in the end."

The 400 hurdles could be her best chance at individual gold. She'll also run the open 400, anchor PV's sprint medley relay and run a leg on either the 400 or 1,600 relay. 

Rodriguez has PV's school record in the 400 hurdles at 61.12. 

"I'm hoping for a breakthrough this weekend," Swanson said. "I've never had the opportunity in decent weather with great competition like I hope to have this weekend. 

"Hopefully, we can get some things done that I've been working for the past four years."

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