Tucked in the corner of Clark Fork, Idaho, a six-lane track interrupts a patch of trees that rest quietly beneath a mountain range. On the track, which has weathered countless harsh winters, hurdles riddle lane three. Now that track season is over for the handful of Wampus Cats that endured the season, the stadium will remain vacant until summer football practice starts.
But for now, this is where Sara Hathaway, one of the best hurdlers across all divisions in northern Idaho, trains.
A stray sweatshirt is the only occupant in the stands for the star’s last practice. Hathaway and Clark Fork’s first-year head coach Matt Majors are at the start of the home stretch, practicing block starts for her 100 meter hurdles. State week tapering is in full effect — after all, she’s running in jeans and trainers. Her pair of turquoise Nike spikes rest against a pair of starting blocks closer to the finish line.
Nevertheless, Hathaway is loose and relaxed, yet sharp out of the blocks as she attempts one more good rep before calling it a day. The hard part — countless hours of preparation in practice — is over.
This weekend marks Hathaway’s third state appearance in three years for the 100 meter high hurdles (16.63 lifetime PR) and the high jump (5-0 lifetime PR), and second for the 300 meter intermediate hurdles — the latter of which became her marquee event after running a 47.81 en route to a third-place finish at state last year.
“I know it’s my race, but it hurts so I don’t want to admit it,” Hathaway said after brief banter with Majors, who playfully insists he knew this all along. “But I think that’s why it’s my race. I have the mentality to push through the pain and a lot of people don’t. So my speed and my hurdle form is a killer combination with the 300. I just have to work on my endurance a little more.”
To the casual observer, Hathaway’s endurance needs little refinement. She regularly competes in four events a meet — usually without adequate recovery time — and wins most in dominant fashion. This season, the junior has won the 100 meter hurdles seven of her nine times, the 300 hurdles four of the six times and the high jump four of the eight times. Oftentimes, Hathaway toes the line and runs against herself.
“I was raised learning that if I’m going to do something, I’m always going to do the best I can,” Hathaway said. “I was raised by parents who were really self-motivated, so natural for me to be self-motivated.”
Because of her success, Hathaway has become something of a folk hero in north Idaho high school track circles.
Although Hathaway also competes on Clark Fork’s varsity basketball team, the 100 and 300 meter hurdles are where she truly stands out. Coaches throughout the North Star League and beyond know of her talents. Opponents who meet her for the first time refer to her as “the girl.” Even one of the racing officials who starts nearly every major invitational in north Idaho told Hathaway that he’d make the drive down to Boise to see her race.
Despite her large group of supporters, Hathaway admits she is the one who puts pressure on herself to excel.
“I know my times and what they are and know my heights, so I just try to beat myself,” Hathaway said. “And I’m really competitive. I’m really hard on myself.”
In conversation, Hathaway strikes the balance between recognizing her talents and admitting areas where she can improve. According to Majors, Hathaway has been incredibly coachable all season. The goal this year has been focusing on the mental side of running — an important aspect of the sport that is especially critical, given how successful Hathaway has been.
“She is super hard on herself,” Majors said. “She wants the best of her ability every single time. I’ve been teaching her and redirecting her that rather than getting so high and so down, I’ve been focusing on getting her [to learn] how to ride the roller coaster a little bit and not getting so high or so low.”
Like all athletes, Hathaway is human. Sometimes, there’s the occasional three-step (a series of quick, wind-up steps before reaching a hurdle), clipped hurdle or infinitesimal glance on the high jump bar. In spite of all the obstacles along the way, Hathaway’s natural ability is usually more than enough to carry her through the toughest of races. To wit, during the 1A District 1/2 Championships, Hathaway fought a calf injury sustained in her warm-up and still swept the hurdles.
“She went through the event hurt,” Majors said. “That just shows how mentally tough she is, that she’s able to push through that and still win.”
However, this pattern of success brings its own set of challenges. As appealing as being recognized at track meets is, Hathaway puts pressure on herself to justify the recognition she earns.
“If I know I don’t do as well as I know I can do, I get really upset,” Hathaway said. “That’s really an incentive. I know I have to do my best so I don’t cry to myself because I’ve disappointed myself, which has happened before.”
Ever unwilling to be complacent, Hathaway is oftentimes one of the most-focused individuals one could come across at a track meet. Track isn’t merely a hobby for her; it could, quite literally, pay dividends in the next few years.
Linfield College, a Division III school out of McMinnville, Oregon, was the first school to reach out to Hathaway earlier this season, inviting her to watch one of the Wildcats’ track meets. After the visit, Hathaway admitted her collegiate running career ultimately depends on earning enough scholarship money. Predictably, Hathaway is also a self-motivated student. She boasts an unweighted 3.97 G.P.A. and is the junior class valedictorian — both of which should put her in good standing for scholarship offers when the time comes.
At the moment, however, Hathaway turns her eyes towards state.
Luckily for her, she finds a way to save her best performances for last. Whether it’s the competition, peaking at the right time or Hathaway’s mental preparation going into such an important event, but all of her career bests — including clearing a school-record 5-0 in the high jump during her freshman year — have occurred at the 1A Track and Field Championships. Hathaway looks to continue the pattern this weekend at Middleton High School.
“This year my goal is to get first or second in the 300s, then top three in the high jump and 100 hurdles,” Hathaway said.
Hathaway will high jump at 3 p.m. on Friday, and run her 100 meter hurdles prelims at around 3:30 p.m. Finals for the 100 and 300 meter hurdles will be on Saturday.