Elma’s Diminutive Natalie Grant Stands Tall on the Track

elma track
Natalie Grant is proof that good things come in small packages.

 

By Gail Wood

les schwabAt 5-foot-2, Natalie Grant certainly isn’t the tallest runner on her track team. She’s actually the shortest.

But if you’re measuring desire, if you’re measuring heart and “want to,” then her coach will tell you she’s one of the “tallest” on his Elma High School track team.

elma track
Bethany Lipska (left) and Natalie Grant are good shots at returning to the state track meet for the fourth time.

“She’s tough as nails,” said Bryan Schneider, Elma’s head coach. “She gives it everything she’s got.”

This is her mindset even when she’s hurt. Last year at the 1A state track meet, Grant’s hamstring was hurting. But rather than quit, rather than tell her coach “I just can’t run,” she gutted it out in the 400-meter semifinals, running it in 49 seconds to reach the finals. Then in the finals, she “jogged” and placed eighth.

“I just wanted to get into the finals,” Grant said prior to a recent practice. “Whatever place I took, I’d be okay with it because I could get to the podium.”

And that’s why Grant, a three-time state qualifier, is a “giant” on her team. She doesn’t quit. With her shorter stride, she compensates with more RPMs and determination.

“Natalie is a fireplug,” Schneider said with a chuckle. “She’s a dynamo.”

The other Eagle who will make her fourth straight trip to state this spring will be Bethany Lipska. To accomplish her four-peat, Lipska had to make a difficult decision – move with her parents to Nevada or stay in Elma for her senior year? While torn, Lipska picked friends and sports.

elma track
Elma’s sprinters run some 30-meter sprints at a recent workout.

“I actually moved with them but moved back because I missed it,” Lipska said. “It’s my senior year.”

Naturally, Schneider applauds the decision. His top jumper is back. Recently, Lipska cleared 5-foot-1 in the high jump, a lifetime best by one inch. She’s also gone 35-9 feet in the triple jump, which is long enough to get her back to state.

“For three years, I was stuck at 5 feet in the high jump,” Lipska said. “I know I can go higher.”

She’s increased the speed of her approach and she’s improved her mechanics as she’s rolling over the bar.

“I have to hit it just right and then bend,” Lipska said. “It’s hard.”

Lipska isn’t the only Eagle to return to their nest this spring. Asa Quimbi, a junior who is throwing the shot put and discus, is back after moving to Nikiski, Alaska, for his sophomore year. He stayed with his uncle and worked with his uncle’s fish processing business.

“I’ve been going up there and spending some time there since fifth grade,” Quimbi said during a recent practice.

elma track
Asa Quimbi is back on the Elma Eagles track team after going to school in Alaska for his sophomore year.

But a return trip to Elma last summer struck a “homesick” chord with Quimbi.

“I came home and we were driving over the freeway exit and I just looked around,” Quimbi said. “I was home. I don’t want to leave again.”

Quimbi didn’t. And Schneider is applauding. He’s got his thrower back.

Grant’s journey to the state meet actually began when she was in seventh grade. During a gym class, Schneider, who is a middle school P.E. teacher, spotted this little girl who ran like the wind. It was Grant.

“I asked her if she’d be interested in turning out for track,” Schneider said. “She said no.”

Not giving up, Schneider talked with Grant’s parents. With some prodding, Grant turned out for track.

“Honestly, I never thought about turning out for track ever,” Grant said, smiling at the thought. “But I’m glad I did. It’s definitely been a good part of my life.”

While Grant had some opportunities to continue that track experience in college, she’ll be “trackless” next year when she’s attending Hawaii Pacific University. She’s planning to major in medicine and become a nurse.

elma track
Natalie Grant is proof that good things come in small packages.

“I really want to focus on school,” said Grant, who has a 3.52 cumulative GPA and is 17th in her class.

With 41 kids turning out for track, Elma not only has the biggest turnout it’s had in years, but it also has some throwers and sprinters with talent. Besides Quimbi, there’s Conley Doyle and Megan Peterson on the girls team in the throws. Doyle was an inch away from going to state as a freshman. And after missing last season with knee surgery, she’s back and healthy.

The boys 1,600-meter relay is reloaded and is showing promise after last year’s team that was filled with seniors made it to state. With Wyatt Gray, Lucas Starks, Wesley Allen and Austin Horsley now on the team, Schneider is optimistic about their chances of reaching state.

“They just try so hard,” Schneider said. “I just love the 4X4. That’s my baby. I love coaching it. We get everyone rooting at the end. It’s crazy. It’s fun.”

That’s the approach Schneider, who is the head coach for the first year after being the sprint coach for six years, takes to coaching. He mixes hard work with fun. For one practice during spring break, he took 14 of his sprinters to the beach for a workout and followed it up with ice cream.

“We work hard and we have fun,” Schneider said with a smile.

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