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April 14, 2013

Methuen track's Hall of Fame duo

METHUEN — What were the odds that Roger Fuller and Mike O’Donnell would have Hall of Fame careers in track and field?

Fuller was always a baseball guy, then later in life a tennis guy. O’Donnell was a skier and a soccer player.

Neither ever thought they’d be involved with track, never mind carve out spectacular careers in the sport.

Fuller, the Methuen boys coach, will be inducted into the Mass. State Track Coaches Hall of Fame on May 19 in Randolph.

O’Donnell, the All-State mile champion this winter, should be in the school’s Hall of Fame the first year he’s eligible.

The accidental tracksters form a mutual admiration society.

“He’s an amazing coach and an amazing guy,” said O’Donnell, who was the All-State runner-up in cross country in the fall. “After 42 years (actually 43) he knows what he’s talking about.”

When asked Fuller’s impact on his career, O’Donnell called it “tremendous.” He added, “He always knew. At the end of my freshman year he explained how much potential I have.”

So much potential that he made a special promise. He’d stick around his whole career.

“It definitely means a lot that a coach would put off retirement to stay with you,” said O’Donnell. “It’s encouraging to know your coach will be there, no matter what.”

In the winter of his freshman year, O’Donnell fancied himself as a skier first, a soccer player second and was an indifferent runner. And a middle distance runner at that.

At least until his first practice. That was three weeks into the season, when he reluctantly joined the team.

Roger Fuller’s been doing this for a long time — he started as a Methuen assistant in 1971 — and he knew that day Mike O’Donnell was one of those talents who don’t come along very often.

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