Miner Elise Heddens is heading south to compete for Auburn as an heptathlete for the track and field team
It was the hardest decision Elise Heddens had ever had to make in her life.
It came down to her decision last November, choosing between what was her first love in life or taking a leap of faith on something new.
In the end, with the support of her parents Katy and Rich, Elise elected to go with the latter. This fall, Elise will head to the Southeastern Conference to attend Auburn University and compete in track and field for the Tigers.
“When it came down to it, Auburn was the school for me after I visited. … Simply because the coaches made a huge impression on me and there were so many perks, including academic ones, to help me in life,” Elise said. “My parents have been so supportive and just helped me with everything I’ve done in life. My mom has been my coach ever since I was a little kid and my dad has really been helping me with training so I’m really lucky to have them.”
Auburn wants Elise, who grew up competing in gymnastics, to be a heptathlete. The heptathlon consists of seven stages: 100-meter hurdles, 200-meter run, high jump, shot put, long jump, javelin and the 800-meter run.
Up until then, she was very content focusing on her gymnastics career and trying to get into college that way. She’d always wanted to go to a big-time college and compete and she figured that gymnastics provided her the best opportunity.
Turns out she was wrong, but in the best of ways.
What makes Elise’s journey to the one of the premiere track and field collegiate programs in the country unique is that she never even considered the sport until the spring of 2018, her sophomore year in high school,
Elise went out for the track and field program at Park City High School, where Dave Yocum coached her and saw what she could become.
“I immediately thought that she was a beast of an athlete. My wife knew her mom in the gymnastics world and I’ve heard of Elise before that season, so I knew what she could already do and how good she could be,” Yocum said. “Being an ex gymnast myself, I’ve always had an affinity towards the kids that came from gymnastics background because I knew how powerful she’d be. Her potential is untapped.”
Although she participated in track and field sparingly for the Miners during her sophomore and junior seasons because of her dedication to gymnastics, Auburn flew Elise out for an official visit last November. She immediately fell in love with the campus and knew that a tough decision was coming for her once Auburn said they wanted her.
“I was supposed to compete at some meets this season but obviously they got canceled, so I still haven’t competed in all of the events beforehand,” Elise said. “I don’t have much technique yet but I’ve gotten to where I’m at because of my gymnastics background. It’ll be exciting to fully focus on this event and go from there.”
According to Yocum, Elise being recruited without competing in the heptathlon beforehand is pretty remarkable.
“It’s pretty rare for them to look at her in this way. They have the coaches and the means, and she has the raw skillset, so they can mold her into something incredible,” Yocum said. “Elise has done amazing things since the winter, and they’ve seen that and just imagine what she will become. People see athletes and bring them in as projects, and that’s what they have with Elise, albeit one with an incredible work ethic.”
With Elise choosing track and field, it meant that she would be giving up her gymnastics career — something that began when she was just three years old and has participated in competitively as recently as last fall.
“I started gymnastics as young as I possibly could’ve, and with it came my biggest goal which was to go to college for it,” Elise said. “I loved the everyday challenge gymnastics came with, and with it being a very hard sport both mentally and physically. It was really cool to say you could do all of the different techniques, and with the team aspect and traveling, it was and is something I’ll always love.”
Part of the reason Elise began gymnastics at such a young age and ultimately fell in love with it was because Katy was also heavily involved in the sport.
Katy, the owner and founder of Black Diamond Gymnastics in Park City, is well-known in the national gymnastics community. She’s a former gymnast who also serves as a judge at some of the most prestigious events in the country — so it would seem fitting that Elise would follow in her mom’s footsteps.
But in the end, Katy couldn’t me proud of what Elise accomplished both as a gymnast, but as an athlete and most importantly, as a human.
“She reached her goals in the gym and achieved being a level 10 gymnast, which is the highest level you can get to. She got to that point and then had two amazing opportunities to do either of them in college,” Katy said. “I believe that she made a very mature decision in choosing track and field and I’m proud of her for that. She’s really fun and to have been able to work with her at all throughout this journey has been incredible and I can’t wait to see what she accomplishes next.”
With her role changing and going from coach to parent and back, Katy is focused on becoming her daughter’s biggest cheerleader, and embracing having that as her only role now.
“We were having a conversation in the car and I told her it’s hard being her coach and then getting into the car and taking the coaching hat off and putting my mom/parent hat on, and how challenging that was,” Katy said. “She then said to me ‘it’s hard for you too?’ and that made me smile. It’s a challenging dynamic but now I get to be the supporter who gives out the hugs when things aren’t going well and give her encouragement, there’s nothing better.”
For Elise, she doesn’t regret the decision she made and can’t wait to see what becomes of her time at Auburn.
“I don’t really have a goal yet because it’s still so new to me,” Elise said. “But more than anything, I want to be competitive and represent Auburn well as an athlete because they’re taking this chance on me.”
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