In 1994, as a freshman high school thrower, I watched the Class B (smaller, mostly rural schools) boys’ shot put at the North Dakota State Track Meet in Grand Forks, North Dakota. I remember this event because my Class A (bigger schools) teammates and I wanted to cheer on Jim Kleinsasser, a farm kid from Carrington whom we had thrown with at meets and who was expected to win and crush the state record. At the beginning of the finals of the boys’ shot put, the official announced that a finalist from Lehr-Wishek would now throw all three of his final throws immediately so he could run the 110 meter hurdle finals.
A guy who looked like a runner with big muscles threw his throws and dashed off through a door to the track. I remember saying to my teammate, Disa, “Who is in shot put finals and hurdles?”
I looked up results in the newspaper to see that the Lehr-Wishek athlete placed fourth in the 110 hurdles and seventh in the shot put. I was impressed, and while I never spoke to him, I remembered him.
If you’re a Midwest sports fan, we all were impressed by Kleinsasser who went on to play college football at the University of North Dakota and professional football for 13 seasons for the Minnesota Vikings, starting 130 games. He also still holds the state record in North Dakota for the Class B shot put, and he previously set a discus record that since has been broken.
Nathan Pinke was the hurdler/thrower who impressed me from Lehr-Wishek in 1994. Our paths crossed in a meeting on an airplane a decade later , and we married in 2006. His mom saved the programs from state track meets in his scrapbook, allowing us to reminisce about shared track memories a few times.
We just wrapped up being parent-fans in a one-month outdoor track season where our daughter, Anika, a seventh grader, started hurdling, jumping and running, and our ninth grader, Elizabeth, threw shot put, discus, javelin, and ran the 4×400 meter relay a few times. After a long winter, Nathan and I relished attending multiple track meets a week in late April into May, and loved having our kids find their way in our favorite events in track and field.
Fast forward almost 30 years since Nathan and I were at the same state track meet; on May 25-26, 2023, in Bismarck, we cheered on Elizabeth in her first-ever appearance in throwing events, discus on Thursday and shot put on Friday.
Elizabeth scratched her first two discus throws.
On her final throw of prelims, she needed a mark to get to finals to keep competing. She got a mark and squeaked into finals in eighth place. On her first throw in finals, she threw her personal best, 127’4” to take the lead, and the throw held. Elizabeth finished strong to win the 2023 Class B girls’ discus state championship . The following day, her teammate Trista finished fifth in the shot put, and Elizabeth finished seventh in the shot put like her dad did back in 1994. Life weaves together our experiences.
While we didn’t have a hurdler in the family running, Anika watched the hurdling events with great interest and drive, seeing one of the greatest athletes North Dakota has had on the track, Kelsie Belquist from New Rockford-Sheyenne, who broke her own records and raised the bar for all athletes to model and follow her tenacity and grit.
After Elizabeth arrived home on the team bus on Saturday night she said that one of the coaches mentioned that some state champions get a small-town parade or a fire truck escort. But Memorial Day weekend after school is out, it was a quiet homecoming for our state champion. I said her welcoming committee was her 4-H beef projects, two heifers and a bull calf, lined up to see her, hoping for some feed and brushing. I snapped her picture as our homecoming welcome.
It’s June now with track season complete. Elizabeth and Anika’s summer focus shifts to 4-H beef heifer preparation, sports camps, and some work. Neither Nathan nor I showed livestock but, in a few weeks, we’ll be ringside at the county fair to watch our girls work towards new goals with their beef heifers, far from the track.
Raising rural kids reminds me big goals can be accomplished in small, sparsely populated places. And, watching our kids grow and develop their skills in 2023 outshines anything I dreamed of back in 1994.
Source: Echo Press