Track and field athletes typically compete as individuals, but Natasha Miller is finding there’s value in the collaborative process.
After wrapping up her collegiate career at Biola University in Los Angeles this spring, the Abbotsford heptathlete decided to move to Calgary to train under former Canadian national team head coach Les Gramantik as she works toward carded athlete status.
In Calgary, Miller trains alongside high-profile track stars like former world champion hurdler Perdita Felicien, top-ranked Canadian male sprinter Sam Effah, and most pivotally for Miller, Jessica Zelinka, the fifth-ranked heptathlete in the world.
“The community I’m in is so much higher than I’m used to,” Miller said. “There’s Olympians here, and being with those people, you’re pushed to compete at a higher level.
“It’s a great opportunity to train with other girls who are working towards the same goals as me in the heptathlon. The last four years of my training career has been a lot of individual training. Getting in that group atmosphere, having people to push me, has been a great thing.”
Miller, a Mennonite Educational Institute grad, left Biola as the most decorated athlete in that school’s history. She won 12 individual NAIA titles and earned All-American honours 23 times over her four years.
The past couple months have been a somewhat turbulent time of transition for Miller – leaving behind her college friends in California, moving to a new city where she didn’t know anyone, and parting ways with her former coaches with the Abbotsford-based Valley Royals. She admits it’s been a “challenging” time, but she’s dealing with it by immersing herself in training.
“I’m learning so many things every day in my events, how my body works and stuff,” she said. “Having people to watch really helps. I’m a visual learner, so watching Jessica do the events really helps me figure out how to do things and what works for me.”
The early returns have been encouraging. At the recent Canadian Track and Field Championships in Calgary, Miller set personal bests in five of the seven heptathlon events – 100-metre hurdles, shot put, long jump, javelin and 800m run – en route to a bronze medal. She finished with 5,581 points, trailing Valley Royals teammate Ruky Abdulai (6,150) and Zelinka (6,132).
“It couldn’t have gone better,” Miller said. “I was a little worried going into it, because by this time of the season, I’m pretty tired mentally and physically. The fact God gave me the strength to keep going, it was really awesome. I didn’t think I’d have anything left in me.”
The next big event on Miller’s calendar is the Summer Universiade, Aug. 12-23 in Shenzhen, China. Miller was officially named to the squad on Monday.