Soaring to the Podium
Oxbow Sprinter Flies Past the Opposition
Oxbow’s Will Heathman gets edged off the track by Mt. Anthony’s Ben Seward during the 300-meter run in a track meet at Norwich University in Northfield, Vt., yesterday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Heathman, right, accepts condolences from St. Johnsbury’s David Duong after the race. Heathman, his coach, Amy Cook, back left, and his father, Allan Heathman, back right, blamed the result partly on the use of a “California Start” in which six runners share four lanes to save time on the track. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Bradford, Vt. — Having enrolled in the Air Force, Oxbow sprinter Will Heathman plans to one day take to the skies while serving the nation. Until then, the senior is happy simply to fly past opponents on the track.
The younger brother of former Vermont Division-III multi-event sprinting champion Adam Heathman, a 2010 Oxbow graduate, Will is entering the stretch run of a standout career in his own right for the Olympians.
Beginning with a runner-up finish to Adam in the 100-meter dash — his first off the blocks at outdoor states as a freshman — Will Heathman has gone on to gather seven podium placements at state meets (indoor and outdoor combined).
The run includes a second-place finish in the 200 last spring that propelled him to the New England Championships in Saco, Maine, where he set the Vermont state record with an eighth-place mark of 22.55 seconds against the best in the region.
“That was a big achievement,” Heathman said. “It wasn’t something I expected, but it’s something you have to be happy about.”
Heathman has been tough to beat again this season, going undefeated at Vermont meets in the 55, an event he championed at last year’s state meet in 6.69 seconds. He’d been unbeaten in the 300 this year, too, until receiving a disqualification at a league meet yesterday at Norwich University for crossing a lane boundary.
Heathman’s most impressive results this season may have come at the Dartmouth Relays on Jan. 11-12, when he placed sixth in the 300 (36.98) and eighth in the 55 (6.85) against competition from high schools across the northeast.
“I really thought my (placements) would be much more middle-of-the-pack,” Heathman said. “Particularly in the 55, I thought there would be more people who broke seven seconds, but again, it was a pleasant surprise.”
Heathman has aspirations to break 6.5 seconds in the 55 this winter, defend his title successfully and then set his sights on the spring. Last year, the Newbury, Vt., resident placed second to Thetford rival Ian Weider in both the 200 and 100, the latter by less than one-hundredth of a second.
“We’re good friends, we talk to each other all the time at meets,” Heathman said. “I definitely have to try to beat him this year, if possible.”
Heathman has worked diligently with third-year sprinting coach Amy Cook to improve execution, including his approach off the blocks and the length of his stride. While runners instinctively desire to go as fast as possible immediately during a sprint, it actually benefits them to work up to peak acceleration, Cook said.
“Most kids just want to stand up and rush to the finish line, which might sound like it makes sense for a sprint,” Cook said. “It’s actually not the best approach. You want to lunge yourself out as much as possible off the blocks to propel yourself forward and reach your top speed about 10-15 strides in.
“The average runner can only go at their top speed for five seconds, and even for above-average runners, only about 10 seconds. That’s not very long, so there’s going to be a period of deceleration almost no matter what. That’s what we’re trying to minimize.”
To help achieve that, Heathman has worked on shortening the length of his initial strides while building momentum and always rasing his heels to be level with his knees.
“I’ve learned that I was reaching too far at the beginning and that it’s actually better to gradually increase your stride,” Heathman said.
A former middle distance runner who went on to play club rugby at Cornell University, Cook has become a fastidious absorber of knowledge pertaining to sprinting. Almost all of it gets conveyed to Heathman at practice.
“It’s become a running joke between Will and I,” the coach said. “Every time I introduce a new technique to Will, he says, ‘Oh, I guess you must have read another article.’ ”
Heathman has engaged in his own improvement methods, including one-mile loops around his neighborhood, increased weight lifting and a trip last summer to Annapolis, Md., for a track and field camp at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Though enlisted in the Air Force, Heathman recently joined a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps in hopes of running in college. He has yet to apply for any schools as part of the program.
“It was a little late to join an ROTC, but I talked with my parents about it and we decided it would be a good idea,” Heathman said. “(Running collegiately) is definitely something I’d like to do.”
Until then, Heathman is happy leading the Olympians. The first team captain ever appointed by third-year coach Emily Willems, Heathman has become a vocal leader on an improving Oxbow team that was fifth at outdoor states last season.
“Will has become very responsible and coachable,” Willems said. “He gets along with the entire team and works with everyone, not just the sprinters. When we do stretching and team exercises, Will leads the way. That’s huge for us because it’s something this team didn’t have for the first couple years I was here.”
Jared Pendak can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3306.