By Chris O'Donnell
---- — What happens when a Division I sprinter and a Division I middle distance runner get married and have kids? They produce pentathletes. And they pay a lot less for their kids to attend college.
At least that has been the case so far for K.C. and Helen Latham of Newbury, whose daughter, Deanna, will open her junior season with the University of Wisconsin indoor track and field team this weekend.
Deanna has had a stellar five seasons (two indoor, three outdoor) for UW of the Big 10 Conference, which is as big a stage as there is in college track and field.
She is a two-time All-American. “Second team,” she says without the slightest hint of satisfaction. She was also the runner-up in the 100-meter hurdles at the Big 10 Championship last May in a svelte 13.15 seconds, a personal-best.
Latham is quick to point out she has bigger goals, for this indoor season and beyond. She wants to compete in the 2016 Olympics in Rio. “I’ve wanted to since I was 6,” she said. “I wanted to make it in gymnastics, but I grew a little too tall and awkward so I switched to track.”
On a weekly basis, she lines up against Olympic hopefuls. Based on her results and the window of opportunity she has, it is not a far-fetched goal. She will redshirt this outdoor season (she also sat out her freshman indoor season), return for the full 2014-15 season and spend 2015-16 training full time for Rio.
For this season, however, she is aiming for a top-eight finish in the pentathlon, up from 11th at the NCAA Championship last year. The Pentathlon consists of the 60-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, long jump and 800 meters.
Not your average athlete
College multi-event athletes have a disadvantage compared to others. Typically, Latham will compete in two full pentathlons in a regular season while competing in open events the remainder of the year. For example, she may run the hurdles and do the long jump this weekend, and throw the shot and do high jump at the next meet. Time constraints (and fatigue) limit athletes from doing five open events in a single meet.
Putting it all together – nailing all five events – seldom happens for any pentathlete. Points are given according to how well an athlete jumps, throws and runs. One nick of a hurdle can ruin a meet.
The training is grueling. “Each practice is dedicated to 2-3 events, and I’ll go anywhere between 2-4 hours from warm-up to finish,” Deanna explained. “But I love it. It keeps me fit and healthy, and it helps me budget my time. I am used to a busy lifestyle. I am much more focused with track in my life.”
That is evident from her 3.6 grade point average in elementary education. But her teaching career will be on hold after graduation while she trains.
It’s in her blood
Helen (Dawe) Latham held school records in the 600 and 800 meters as an undergrad at Maine. K.C. set the school record in the 200-meter dash as a senior. They enjoyed above-average college careers.
“Not compared to Deanna,” K.C. quipped. “We weren’t on the same stage she is competing on.”
They had a pretty good idea Deanna had a gift when she was 4 years old. She was stronger and faster than all the other kids her age. She started gymnastics at 7, and a year later she could morph from a seated position into a handstand without her feet touching the floor. In middle school, she was long-jumping 16 feet.
By the time she graduated from Triton Regional H.S., she was an 11-time state champion between the indoor and outdoor seasons and placed sixth at the New Balance National Championship.
Her biography on the UW website takes a good 15 minutes to read.
It is K.C. and Helen’s influence, in large part, which fuels Deanna’s insatiable drive. They’re not the push-push-push, screaming, constant advice type. Quite the opposite.
“No matter how she does, we will always be proud of her,” Helen said. “We just try to instill that into her.”
“Both of us want it to stay fun for her, because if you’re not enjoying it, you can’t be your best,” K.C. notes.
K.C. and Helen were fixtures at every one of Deanna’s meets in high school. Now that she is halfway across the country, they’ll get to only two or three meets a year. On meet days, Helen is scouring tweets and refreshing the live results every few minutes.
“I’m usually on my snowboard somewhere, holding my breath,” K.C. said.
No matter what
Deanna tells a story about competing in the pentathlon at the NCAA indoor championship last March. She opened in the 60-meter hurdles with a time of 8.34 seconds, her personal-best and tied for second in the field of 16. She struggled, however, in the high jump, clearing 5 feet, 4.25 inches, and the shot put (37’ 4.0’’).
“It was over for me,” Deanna recalled. Between events, she met up with her mother, and out came the magical words.
“My mother looked at me in the eye and said, ‘Your father and I are so proud of you.’ They just have big hearts. Just knowing at the end of the day, they’re proud of me no matter what, makes all the difference.”
Deanna ended that day with a leap of 19’ 6.75’’ in the long jump and running the 800 meters – her mother’s event – in 2:22.77. She compiled 4,066 points – her best pentathlon total yet – to place 11th, good enough for All-America Second Team honors.
“I think the biggest thing about my parents is how they have helped me mentally,” Deanna said. “I’ve seen kids whose parents are distracting them more than they’re pushing them. But my parents have guided me.
“Even if I came in last place every meet, it wouldn’t matter.”
Notebook: Murphy continues stellar start
College track and field resumed last weekend and junior Taelour Murphy (Salisbury) enjoyed a stellar return at the Dartmouth Relays as she placed third overall (second among collegiate athletes) in the 60-meter dash in 7.76. Murphy also led the River Hawks 4X200 meter relay team to runner-up in 1:42.25.
Senior Ashante Little (Seabrook), the reigning NCAA Division III champion in the outdoor 400 meter dash, won the 55-meter hurdles at the Southern Maine Invitational in 8.36 seconds.
Brendon Pickering (Merrimac), a junior on the Wheaton College track & field team, placed third in the 5,000 meters in 16:49.64 at the Southern Maine Invitational.
Sophomore Kevin Holmes (Newburyport) scored Fitchburg State’s second goal in a 6-1 win over Assumption on Jan. 7, his fourth of the season. Freshman Mike Fish (Salisbury) added one assist. The Falcons are 6-7-0 and 3-3 in the MASCA.
Former Governors Academy standout Cody Ferriero, a senior at Northeastern, has two power play goals and one assist in his last three games, including one of each in an 8-8 overtime draw at Dartmouth Dec. 30. The Huskies are 13-6-3 (6-4-1 in Hockey East) and ranked No. 11 in the latest national poll.
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