She was just a little girl when she dreamed of becoming an Olympian. A little over a decade or so later she fulfilled that dream by winning gold at the Beijing Olympics 2008. Many athletes have made their countries track and field Olympic team but have never medaled let alone win the coveted gold. But our star athlete can boast of that accomplishment. Double G sports writer Janet Thompson Hilliman spoke ‘one and one’ with Natasha Hastings, USA track and field quarter miler. Tasha as she’s affectionately called is a warm person with a contagious spirit and just a pleasure to speak with.
JTH: Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to me. I’m just gonna jump right in to ask about, what I believe was a defining moment in your career that allowed the track and field world to see just what you are made of. It proved that you are a true athlete with the heart of a champion, and a professional in your sport. I’ m referring to the race at Penn Relays when you ran in one spikes. So tell me why didn’t you just stop running and what was going through your mind?
NH: This year I’ve been saying a lot of what was I thinking and I think that moment was one of them. My shoes came off because one of the other first leg runners clipped the back of my shoes. I think the main picture that is out is, the one with me with my hands in the air looking like I was screaming. I did scream out “oh my God.” In that split second I really was thinking do I stop, I almost did stop. But for whatever reason, the competitiveness, something in me just said keep running. I did end up running the entire race barefooted. I busted my foot open and it took almost three weeks to heal completely. I don’t know what I was thinking; I guess it was the adrenalin, my competitiveness. I was just so excited to be there. I have never missed a Penn Relays since 2004 and I always come home with at least one victory. I just had to run.
JTH: That event was one of the most memorable at Penn Relays. I think in general most people would have just stopped because they couldn’t run barefooted. So I truly believe that, that set you apart from other female athletes because of that performance. You’re gonna get the job done at all cost.
NH: Well, thank you
JTH: Now, I heard that it was a coach that saw you running and asked your parents if you could come out for track. Was it something you ever considered as a little girl to become a track star, or you just fell into it?
NH: I always say that I was born into the sport because both my parents ran track. My father ran track in Jamaica and my mom ran for England and Trinidad. So track and field I always grew up around it. I always saw pictures in the house. My dad coached track at their alma mater New York Tech. I used to go to practice with him so if there was any sport I was exposed to while I was growing up it was track and field. I guess you could say it came natural for me.
JTH: Yes, I was aware of the genetics. When I googled you I saw that your parents were both athletes and so I have to agree, yes, you are a natural. Now while we are on that, who would you say are some of the people who influenced your career as a track athlete?
NH: Well, when I got really involved and started watching the sport I think coming up, influences would be Michael Johnson and Marion Jones at the time. I also like Inga Miller and Gwen Torrence. I liked to see them go at it. I also liked Cathy Freeman as well. (She competed for Australia.) For the quarter mile I’d say, MJ and Cathy Freeman, and then Marion was America’s sweetheart in the 90’s and early 2000’s. On top of being a great performer (before everything else happened) I always thought that she had a great personality and smile, and you could relate to her. So growing up those were some of the people that I looked up to and tried to emulate what they did.
JTH: So do you have any kind of philosophy when you compete against your friends or training buddies? I remember talking to another athlete who said when she steps on the line, she has no friends until the race is over. Is that something that goes through your mind too?
NH: (Chuckling) Those are my sentiments exactly. I feel that way for any athlete especially in our sport because it is such an individual sport. It’s not a sport where you have team mates and if you miss the tackle, your safety can probably get the tackle for you. It’s all on us, so it’s that sense of competitiveness that when the gun goes off we’re all trying to get there number 1. So no, when the gun goes off I have no friends but when the race is over we can be cool.
JTH: Okay, so what usually goes through your mind at the start of a race? I know some people go into some type of a zone. Do you?
NH: I have a few things. I usually go over the last few things my coach and I talked about, my strategy, how I execute the race and I always say a prayer before I get into the blocks. Those are things that are pretty consistent. I try to focus on execution and breaking down my race into the different phases and remembering the things we went over in practice.
JTH: I’ve got to ask you this question and I must say you always seen to make a fashion statement on the track whether it’s your hair, or uniform. How important is it for you to look your best when you run?
NH: (Seems tickled by the question) It is important and let me say…. I’m actually a girlie girl. I love to do my hair, my makeup and get my nails done, that is just the type of person I am. But taking it over to the track that was something my college coach started. He would come down before the track meet, give us our pep talk and tell us what we were running; then he’d say before we got on the bus he didn’t wants looking frumpy. He wanted us to look good because he felt that when we look good we’d feel good, and when we felt good, we’d run good at the meet. I always said that Coach Frye was the one that started that. So when I come out on the track I’m fully done. I have my makeup on and my eyelashes etc. I feel like I’m out there on business so that’s my way of having a little fun with it.
JH: As you talked about Coach giving you advice, let me ask you this, what advice would you a young female athlete whose dream it is to become a pro athlete like yourself; maybe even some of the things you heard from your coaches?
NH: First thing I’d like to say to them is that, you are not too young to start dreaming because I was nine years old when I joined the team and I was ten when I decided that one day I’m gonna become an Olympian. I’d say you’re never too young to start working toward those dreams. Something I got from my coaches, probably, that whatever you’re doing your competitors are probably doing it twice as much, working ten times harder. So whatever you think you need to have that extra edge, whether it is doing crunches while you’re watching TV, or push ups. Anytime you can squeeze in a little extra, go ahead because you don’t know what your competitor is doing. You just wanna make sure you’re ready when you step on the line.
JH: So what was it like to win Olympic Gold?
NH: That one is still hard for me to put into words. I get asked that question a lot and I feel like I don’t give it much justice. About ten I dreamed of being an Olympian and at twenty two it came to fruition. I basically was living a dream and then to come home with a gold medal, it was overwhelming. I cried, me and my family. It was exciting! It was overwhelming and it was all that!
JH: After watching the race, one could sense the excitement and sense of accomplishment that reverberated through the TV. We saw the tears and could only imagine the feeling of euphoria. You represented yourself and our country well. I must add that as Jamerican, (Jamaican-American) I have the best of both worlds although sometimes my allegiance becomes a challenge because of the rivalry but I was happy for you. So here’s another question, would you say your Caribbean roots played a part in your upbringing?
NH: I think so most definitely. I grew up eating Caribbean food, curry chicken, jerk chicken and jerk pork. I’m from New York, I was born and raised there but I definitely grew up with Caribbean morals, the food and the culture.
JH: How does it feel to be one of Brooklyn’s bright stars? And how often do you go back?
NH: First of all I must say I’m very proud to be a New Yorker, from Brooklyn. Anytime I get to represent, that’s my thing. I love to do that. I don’t get to visit as much as I’d like to because I’m training ten to eleven months out of the year and training is pretty strenuous. I really get to go back to New York maybe two times a year if that much which is unfortunate because I do have a lot of friends and family still living in New York. Yeah…I’m from New York all day. I may have lost my New York accent but don’t get it twisted, that’s home for me.
JH: How did you make the transition from being a collegiate athlete to a pro athlete because I understand it’s a little different? Was it something you had to do mentally and was it a smooth transition?
NH: Honestly I feel like I’m still making that transition. I do believe it’s more mental than it is physical because when I was in college I was still running the times. I had world leading times; I finished the season top five in the world. So collegiately I have the talent and I have the times to compete at that level but it is so much more growing. It’s a job now, that is how I eat so it makes a difference. It is a mental adjustment but I think I have the right support system and the right people around that make it easier for me.
JH: Great! So do you consider yourself a role model or you don’t want that kind of pressure of having to walk a straight line for anyone?
NH: I think I take on the role of a role model, I wanna say even when I got to college. Right now I’m training in my college town (University of South Carolina) and I’m around my college team a lot, so they come to me for advice. I do try to be mindful of the things I’m doing because there are people out there watching me. When I go home to New York and go to a track meet, it is overwhelming to know how many high school girls know my name and they know my stats. So just knowing that, I’m mindful of the image that I portray, the things that I do because I know that I am an influence to young girls growing up.
JH: Yes I totally agree. I must say they have a pretty good picture that they’re looking at. But before we go, tell me if you weren’t running track what would you have done?
NH: I’d say either something in fashion… I do like makeup too. I’m from New York so I like the outlandish fashion and taking risks, it’s sort of my thing. When I went to college I went with the intention of going to Chiropractic School. I’m still debating that when my track career is over I’m probably gonna go back to school and pursue a degree, then open up a practice. To the other end of the spectrum, maybe pursuing fashion or being a chiropractor.
JH: Well, there’s no surprise there with the love for fashion. And so finally, what’s next for Natasha?
NH: Immediately I have the National Championship next week in Eugene. I believe it’s going to air on NBC if I’m not mistaken. So be on the lookout for that. I will be competing in the 400M obviously trying to earn my spot on the team to compete this summer. I just recently signed on with Wilhelmina Models, so I’m looking forward to that, opening up some new doors. Track and field I feel is like, sometimes we are put into a box because we are considered the every four year sport. I’m looking to break that mode and look forward for some avenues outside of track.
JH: That is so awesome to hear that you are going to pursue modeling. I’m so happy for you and wish you the best of luck in that venture. So any sights on the next Olympics?
NH: Most definitely, most definitely! I’d say I have at least two more left in me. God willing, I’d love to go to London next year. I did mention that my mom ran for England and she’s never been back since she left so I’d love to take her back. Of course I’d also love to go down to Brazil in 2016 and whatever comes after that we’ll talk.
JH: We’ll let me just say it has been my absolute pleasure. I am one of your biggest fans and I’ll be rooting for you. Thank you so much for your time and all the best for the future.
NH. It was my pleasure and thank you too.