By David Fong
COLUMBUS — By not defying her mother, Gracie Huffman was able to defy the odds.
Coming into the 400-meter dash at Friday’s Division I state track and field with the 15th-fastest time (out of 16 runners), the Troy senior was a long shot, at best, to make today’s finals. The thought of ending her career in the prelims had left the record-setting Trojans a bundle of nerves.
That’s when mom stepped in with some advice for her record-setting daughter.
“This was the most nervous I’ve ever been for this meet,” Huffman said. “From the time I woke up to the van ride over … it was tough. I have a bad habit of over-thinking things. It always happened to me when I played soccer — I would start over-thinking things and get real negative.
“My mom texted me (Friday) morning and told me not to have a negative outlook. She told me having a negative outlook affects me and weighs me down. For once, I listened to her.”
Huffman took her mother’s advice to heart and ran the race of her life, breaking her own school record with a time of 57.30, good enough for the seventh-fastest qualifying time, earning her one of nine qualifying spots in today’s finals.
It seems only fitting that Huffman — one of the most-decorated track and field athletes in school history — would run the final race of her high school career on the final day of the state meet. This will mark the fourth time Huffman — already a four-time state placer — will compete in the state finals, although it will be her first time running as an individual as opposed to in a relay.
“It feels good,” she said. “I started to get a little emotional before the race started, thinking it could be the last one of my career. I knew that if it was my last race, it was going to be bad. No one would have wanted to be around me. I knew what my time was coming in … I knew I basically needed a miracle.”
Which she was able to produce — which may have shocked many, but certainly not her coach, Kurt Snyder.
“I told her she had to come out and run the race like it was the finals,” Snyder said. “She had to have that mentality. I think sometimes runners will run the prelims thinking they only have to do enough to qualify. We knew Gracie couldn’t do that.
“We knew she had to run the race like it was the final one of her career. If a race comes down to who wants it more, Gracie is going to win it every time. If it comes down to talent, she may not win every one, but the 400 is a race that a lot of times comes down to who has the most guts …. and nobody has more guts than Gracie.”
* Troy’s 4×100 Falls Short: The unfortunate flip side to Huffman making the state finals for the first time in her illustrious career was the fact that, for the first time in four trips to state, she won’t be going to the finals in a relay event.
Troy’s 4×100 relay team of Huffman, junior Kelsey Walters and sophomores Ashley Barr and Celina Courts fell short of qualifying for the finals in a fast field. Although the Trojans ran a respectable time of 49.15 seconds, it was only good enough for the 13th-fastest qualifying time, short of getting the Trojans into today’s finals.
“It means a lot just to make it to state,” said Walters, who will compete in the finals of today’s Division I shot put. “Honestly, I didn’t think we would even make it to state this year. But Celina really stepped up this year. This is state, you are running against the best people in the state.
“We’ve got nothing to be mad about making it this far. It’s heartbreaking, but I’m going to try to take it out in the shot put (today). The hardest part is going to be running without Gracie next year.”
Contact David Fong at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong.