Kamiakin’s Ellie Heiden is the owner of 10 gold medals in state track and field, is on line to be one of the most decorated athletes in state history and exudes confidence.
But when she lines up for a race — any race — she still gets butterflies in her stomach.
Even when that race is in a league meet against girls she has beaten every time they’ve ever lined up against each other.
Heiden is human afterall, even if she wins with machine-like precision. And her nerves are something that keep her grounded, even as she approaches the end of a golden high school career.
“I think if I didn’t get nervous, then why am I doing track,” she said. “Getting nervous, you are also getting excited. I think if I lost that, I don’t think track would be as enjoyable.
“I think it is good. You can have too much nerves, though, so it is definitely a balancing act.”
Heiden will race in the 100, 200 and 400 meters and anchor the 4x200 relay at this weekend’s Class 3A state championships at Mt. Tahoma High School in Tacoma.
If she wins four gold medals — something she has done each of the last two years — she will have 14 for her career, which would be the most ever for a Class 3A or 4A girls athlete.
Cleveland’s Cheryl Taplin won 13 from 1987-90, while Rainier Beach’s Ginnie Powell won 11 from 1999-2002. Blaine’s Cherish Morrison won 14 from 2009-12 at the Class 2A level.
“I care more about times, definitely,” the BYU signee said. “Having four more state titles is great, but I really want to get my times down. And hopefully if I get my times down, the medals will follow.”
Heiden has struggled with her times a bit this season.
Beyond the natural pressures of winning so many state titles, there also are outside distractions that affect senior athletes: school portraits, choosing a college, senior prom and graduation.
“She is a high-caliber athlete, and it becomes overwhelming a little bit,” Kamiakin coach Cheryl Schauble said. “We came in a little behind from the year before, but (it was) because of all the distractions, the stuff coming from every angle. I think she will be OK. She has to be confident in the process and the training.”
The training is the key to Heiden’s success. Yes, she has remarkable natural ability that was obvious when she was a tiny freshman, winning two state titles.
But the amount of work she puts in is what separates her from her peers when the big crowd looks on at the state meet.
“Most people only see her on weekends,” Kamiakin sprint coach Kyle Schauble said. “If you see what she does during the week, she’s special. It is one of those things. You can tell by her cadence, how she acts in competition, that is the way she is in practice as well. She is fun to coach, very coachable. That is why she is doing very well.”
Part of that great coaching has been Kyle’s doing. He started as an assistant on his mom’s staff in 2011 when Heiden was a freshman. Kyle was fresh off competing at Washington State in the decathlon and was a former state title winner at Kamiakin in the hurdles.
He brought an immediate impact to Heiden’s training.
“You could tell she was more of a college athlete than a high school athlete,” Schauble said. “Her regimen was a little different.”
He installed some of the workouts that star Jeshua Anderson used at WSU when training for the 400 hurdles, and the payoff has been immense, as evidenced by her growing collection of medals.
“People may think it is all natural (ability),” teammate Megan Beauchene said, “but she gives the extra (step). She does everything that you don’t see. She is there working hard and is always up to do the extra work so she’ll have the edge.”
While Heiden has struggled at times this season, losing the 100 at the Pasco Invitational and the 400 at the Lake Washington Invite, she takes all of it in stride and is just continuing to concentrate on trying to set the school record in the 100 and PR in her other events.
“I can’t get too upset,” she said. “I have been so blessed in past seasons that my best was enough, but there have been two times this season where my best wasn’t enough.”
Heiden will have competition at state this weekend, but it would be a pretty big shock if she didn’t get her gold medals.
And it would wrap up not only a stellar track and field career, but also a high school career that included a second place team finish in soccer this year and being named the Most Valuable Player by the state coaches association. She also has been part of back-to-back state track and field team titles.
Through it all, though, she has remained grounded.
“That is awesome. That is super exciting,” she said, “but athletics can only take you so far. So, I’m excited to take the athletics to college and then get a degree.”
No one doubts that she will do just that.
w Craig Craker: 582-1509; firstname.lastname@example.org