No question now who Heymsfield is

By: Bob Holt
Published: Thursday, May 29, 2014
Arkansas runner Grace Heymsfield congratulates an unidentified teammate during the SEC Outdoor Championships on Saturday, May 17, 2014 in Lexington, Ky.
Photo by Elliott Hess, UK Athletics/Southeastern Conference
Arkansas runner Grace Heymsfield congratulates an unidentified teammate during the SEC Outdoor Championships on Saturday, May 17, 2014 in Lexington, Ky.

FAYETTEVILLE -- When Arkansas distance runner Grace Heymsfield began getting noticed at meets last year, some opposing coaches had a question for Razorbacks Coach Lance Harter.

"As coaches, when somebody is running well and we don't know her, we have a tendency to think, 'Oh, she must be a foreigner. How else could I miss out on recruiting her?' " Harter said. "So I had coaches coming up to me saying, 'Who is this Grace Heymsfield? What country is she from?'

"I'd say, 'She's from Elkins,' and they'd go, 'Elkins? Where's that?' "

NCAA West Track and Field Preliminaries

WHEN Today through Saturday

WHERE John McDonnell Field, Fayetteville WHO Approximately 1,700 athletes from 200 teams

WHY To qualify for the NCAA Championships. The top 12 finishers in each event advance to the NCAA meet on June 11-14 in Eugene, Ore.

TICKETS $35 for adult three-day pass. $25 for 17-and-under and student threeday pass. $15 for single-day adults. $10 for single-day 17-and-under and students. All tickets are general admission.


It's about 12 miles east of Fayetteville.

"Grace was kind of hidden away from everybody else in Elkins," Harter said. "Now she's our local hero."

Heymsfield, a senior, has become an NCAA champion as a member of Arkansas' distance medley relay team at this year's indoor meet and a two-time SEC champion in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.

"My four years here have really exceeded my expectations," Heymsfield said. "I went into it just because I enjoyed running and I wanted to see how good I could be if I really dedicated myself to it.

"Coach Harter's training has been a great match, and everything has kind of come together a lot better than I could have hoped."

Heymsfield will run at home for the final time Friday night in the steeplechase at the NCAA West Preliminaries at Arkansas' John McDonnell Field. The top 12 finishers in each event advance to the NCAA Championships on June 11-14 in Eugene, Ore.

"I'm just so proud of this track and this area," said Heymsfield, who took seventh in the steeplechase at the NCAA meet last year. "I think our whole team is excited to represent Arkansas at this meet on a big stage.

"I'm especially excited because my home is so close. A lot of my family and friends haven't gotten to see me run the steeplechase before because at the smaller meets I usually run the 1,500."

Harter converted Heymsfield into a steeplechaser her freshman year. She set Arkansas' school record of 9:53.56 at Stanford earlier this season, a time that ranks third at the West Prelims.

"Coach just said it might be a good fit, so we'll try it," Heymsfield said. "I tried it my freshman year, enjoyed my first race and then just kept working at it."

Heymsfield has improved her steeplechase time by more than a minute since her debut in the event. She now runs the 3,000 meters with the barriers and water jumps faster than she ran an open 3,000 as a freshman.

"I think the key to the steeplechase is you've got to be mentally tough," Heymsfield said. "That's more important than form or speed, because form and speed are easier to work on than mental toughness.

"It's a hard race, but it's a fun race -- if you can commit to it."

Heymsfield showed her commitment and toughness in the steeplechase at the 2013 SEC meet in Columbia, Mo., when she slipped late in the race after going over a barrier but managed to pass a pack of runners to win.

"Honestly, it was just a reflex to get right back up," she said. "I tried not to panic. I'm glad it happened, so if it happens again I know I can just get back up and keep going."

Heymsfield won several state cross country and track titles at Elkins, which didn't have a track. Sometimes she trained at Springdale High School's track, other times in the Elkins' school parking lot.

"We got creative at times," Heymsfield said. "You'd try to guesstimate how long the parking lot is and use some cones.

"Scrambling for facilities was part of the fun of it. It's not like I never got to go on a track. It was fine at the time, but it definitely makes me appreciate all the more what we have at Arkansas."

Two weeks ago Heymsfield won her second SEC steeplechase title -- she didn't take a spill this time -- and finished third in the 5,000 to help Arkansas win its first conference outdoor title since 2004.

"Grace is very intelligent, very tenacious," Harter said. "She has a great work ethic, and she's been easy to coach.

"I think she came in with relatively modest goals but had to reset them time and time again because she's run so well for us."

Sports on 05/29/2014