It was a beautiful day filled with lots of promise and big dreams at the track and field state finals. Little did North Newton senior Ben Vanderwall know as the bus pulled away, the thoughts and feelings he would have by the end of the day. It was hard work and goals that would all come to a single point in taking that final walk.
Coming from a small county school with a class size of 96 to competing against schools whose class size is three times could be a little overwhelming. I spoke with Ben on his thoughts on several different things.
Going from a small track and field what did you think about when stepping onto the state grounds?
“The complex itself was much larger and much more unique than anything I had been a part of. You could feel the energy, and at that point, there wasn’t even anyone else in there. I was humbled to be a part of something much bigger than myself, and on a much bigger stage than I had gotten used to in my two short years.”
As this was a bigger stadium and stage I am sure that Coach Karen Madrigal, Stringfellow and Loughmiller gave you some good advice. Outside of their constant support throughout the year what piece of advice were you able to take to heart and put to good use?
“Coach Madigal made it very clear that I (needed to) hit 22 feet if I was going to make it to the finals,” stated Vanderwall. “She also told me that I needed to increase my speed to the board and jump higher before (trying to jump) further, keeping my head up and other basic technique pointers. When I got frustrated they told me just have fun and take it all in. We talked extensively about how there is no better way to end my high school career.”
After the final jump of his high school career, it was unknown if Vanderwall had made it to the finals. Holding onto a jump of 22’ 2” and on the bubble of the top nine to advance was nerve-wracking. It was the waiting and anticipation of holding his breath, nerves and praying that no one else would hit the distance he had posted. Ultimately his jump did secure his position and a spot on the podium.
When asked about the important people in his life the first person out of his mouth was his mom.
“The first person I looked to was my mom when my name was called,” said Vanderwall. “She was my entire support system when I made the decision to switch sports. She was the one who told me that track would be good for me and it would work out. I wanted her to know that all her support did not go unnoticed. The biggest thing I have enjoyed sharing most with my mom was the stories of how hard I’ve worked to get to where I am today. She is always proud of me, but going into a sport that I’m not familiar with and not used to, I had to work that much harder. I enjoyed her coming to every meet and seeing me compete and giving my all because whether I won or not, that is all she had ever asked of me. Just to work hard and dream big, and nothing could stand in my way.”
Walking off the podium and out of the venue was not only the last time of the season for Vanderwall but also his last of his high school career. Many emotions with the finality of this walk would eventually hit Vanderwall.
“It was seeing all my best friends, and some of my best friends from baseball, standing there with my family,” added Vanderwall. “I could tell they were proud of me, and I just started to tear up hugging each and every one of them. But just to look them in the eyes knowing we weren’t on the same field was very hard for me. But risking something that I grew up doing to get where I was that day was hard, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Switching from baseball to track was a big risk. Vanderwall had a rough sophomore year when he tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder. This caused immense amounts of pain and made it extremely difficult to throw the baseball. It meant giving up his passion for a sport he had played for years. When Vanderwall mentioned to his mom about switching to track, she told him it would be great for strength and conditioning for football. It was that life-changing moment that led him to the track. He stated that his favorite thing about track was the support that everyone has for each other.
“Every team cheers for every athlete no matter what school they are from,” said Vanderwall. “There is a certain amount of passion that comes with track that is unmatched by most other sports. Coming from football, basketball, and baseball where there are big crowds, and lots of fans, who at times, could be cutthroat, so going to track was a pleasant surprise. It was very hard for my immediate group of friends and stepping out of my comfort zone. One of the best lessons I learned during track was that it was okay to be afraid of change. Taking a risk to try something new might just help you achieve new dreams.”
As Vanderwall took that last walk this past Sunday for high school graduation it was a step heading towards the future. It was at this point one can sometimes wonder the what would you say to someone about trying something new. I asked Ben this very question and the response was somewhat surprising.
“Dream big and step out of your comfort zone,” he said. “From your greatest fears and biggest risks often come the biggest rewards. From the time I stepped on a track and told my mom I didn’t belong there and I missed my friends, to placing at the state meet, I never knew what the next step would be. It is okay to be uncomfortable as long as you work hard to become the best version of yourself you can be, good things will come.”