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Woolard jumps at chance to run at Columbia College

CHS standout to compete in track and X-C

Posted: May 30, 2018 4:48 p.m.
Updated: June 1, 2018 1:00 a.m.
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CAMDEN HIGH’S HEATHER WOOLARD SIGNED a National Letter of Intent to continue her academic and track/cross-country pursuits at Columbia College while flanked by her parents, Lisa and David Woolard. Standing, from left, are Camden High athletic director Brian Rimpf, CHS girls’ cross-country coach Mark Chickering, CHS principal Dan Matthews, Heather’s twin sister, Caroline Woolard, CHS assistant track coach Quiyam Fleming, CHS head track coach Emet Reyes and CHS girls’ track coach Angie Brennen.

Mark Chickering recalls the moment as if it happened yesterday.

With Chickering’s Camden High girls’ cross-country team hanging onto the 10th and final transfer slot into the AAA state meet last fall, Heather Woolard was the runner whose finish would decide if the Lady Bulldogs would make a third consecutive trip to the state meet or, have their season come to an end in the state qualifier.

We’ll let Chickering take it from there.

“One thing I’ll always remember about Heather is,” Chickering said of his senior runner, “last year when we were trying to make it to the state meet, she was coming down the last 100 meters of the state qualifier and some girl was trying to pass her. Heather fought her off and held her off the rest of the way. Because of that, we finished 10th and qualified for the state meet. If it had not been for her determination, we would not have made it.”

It was a stirring finish to a race for Woolard, who begrudgingly ran cross-country after, admittedly, being a track-first athlete.

That combination of athleticism landed the AAA Upper State qualifier in the triple jump, long jump and 800 meter run to signing a National Letter of Intent to continue her academic and track pursuits at Columbia College. The Koalas then added to the deal after Woolard agreed to run cross-country in the fall, along with competing on the track in the spring.

“Originally, I signed for track and then, they said they could sweeten the offer if I would run cross-country,” Woolard said with a smile following her signing ceremony held inside the Camden High library. “I said, ‘Well, I guess I’ll have to do that.’ It was a way for me to get more time on the field, I guess.”

There was not a lot of arm-twisting which had to be performed on Columbia College’s part. The school sold itself with its strong academic reputation as well as being a perfect landing spot for Woolard to continue doing what she loves to do best athletically.

“I chose Columbia College because it combined the college that I wanted and it also got in the aspect of running again,” she said. “At a bigger college, I wasn’t looking at being able to get a track scholarship or, being on the team; only as a walk-on, really. I really was excited to have that experience of being a varsity athlete again.

“I’ll be doing the same things I was doing here. I hope to focus on the triple jump but, I know they need girls to run the relays, too, so I’ll still be running the 800 and 400 (meter relays) along with the long jump. I’m not sure if they will throw me in an open 800 or 400 race, here or there.”

Should Woolard be “thrown into” an 800 or 400 meter race, it will not be the first time she was put in that situation said Camden High head track coach Emet Reyes. When his girls needed points in a middle distance race, Reyes looked in Woolard’s direction and she answered the call.

“Heather actually started as a jumper. We probably got as much as we could in terms of her full potential jumping-wise,” Reyes said. “Last year, I asked her if she would run the 800 meters because I knew she had a background in cross-country. Not only did she win the race, she set a new school record in it.”

The 800 meters is one of two events in which Woolard holds school records. She is also the standard-bearer in the pentathlon, a competition consisting of five different events --- high jump, shot put, long jump, hurdles, and the 800 meter race --- not run in high school meets but was held in the spring of 2017 Golden Corner Invitational at Seneca High School. Woolard came in third in the event and set a CHS mark during the 800 meter leg of competition with a final clocking of 2:36.

Running came naturally to Woolard who, as a youngster first started playing softball before leaving that sport. “I used to play softball and running the bases was the best part,” she said.

From there, she made her way to cross-country when she tagged along with some friends to attend a cross-country meeting at Camden Middle School for rising seventh-graders.

“Cross-country came first but, just by the way the schedule falls,” she said. “I was in sixth grade and my friends were in Mr. (Breck) Laschanzky’s class and he was the one who hosted a cross-country meeting and they all said, ‘You have to come to the cross-country meeting.’

“When I got to cross-country, people said that I should definitely come out for track. When I got on the track, I said that ‘I was not going to run long distance track; I will not do it. I’m a sprinter.’”

One person who did not agree with Woolard’s assessment of her track specialty was former CHS assistant track coach Daniel Sisk, who worked with the sprinters among his other responsibilities. “Coach Sisk said, ‘You’re five-feet tall and maybe 80 pounds. You’re not cut out for a sprinter but, we’ll throw you in the jumps.’”

Woolard never hesitated in making the switch. She credits former CHS triple jump state qualifier Omar Mingo with piquing her interest in the triple jump.

“I wanted to do it. I started off doing long jump,” she said of adding the triple jump to her repertoire. “We had a really great jumper on our team, Omar Mingo, and he made it look like he was flying. After that, I said that I wanted to do the triple jump.”

Competing on the track will have to wait however, as first, Woolard will compete in cross-country next fall. With that in mind, she has increased her road running in preparation for the longer distance college cross-country athletes are asked to run.

“I’ve already seen the difference. I already received my running schedule for cross-country so it’s right back into it,” she said. 

“The longer distance is a problem when it’s hot. I ran six miles (two weekends ago) on the only day that it wasn’t raining and I got baked.”

“It’s definitely a tougher distance to cover,” Chickering said of the added half-mile on the college cross–country course. “Obviously, the competition is going to be better plus, you are going to have a lot more things pulling at you academically and with other things in college. Heather should be fine, though.”

Reyes said when he talked to Columbia College track coach Travis Nichols about Woolard, he told the Koalas’ boss that he was getting a ‘diamond in the rough’ in signing Woolard who, Reyes said, is only going to get better as she gets stronger with Columbia’s nutrition and weight programs.

“Heather is an outstanding person. She’s an outstanding athlete but, she has also done so much for this program,” Reyes said. “She’s been involved in our track program for six years and has been a region champion and one of our top jumpers. The biggest thing that she’s done is that she was always helping other jumpers and younger members of our team. Her leadership is something that we’re definitely going to miss next year.”

“Nobody worked harder than Heather throughout entire career. I’m not talking only about cross-country but in her academics and all the way across the board;  she’s just a hard worker,” Chickering added. “She’s there before practice starts and she’s there after practice is over; that’s the kind of kid she is.”

Neither coach expects Woolard’s work ethic to change once in college. There is one thing which will change when Woolard gets to Columbia. For the first time, she and her twin sister and former CHS standout runner/athlete, Caroline, will be apart as Caroline will attend Erskine College in the fall.

The transition to running cross-country and track in college may not be as hard as not having her sister by her side every day.

“I’m not sure if it will be the feeling of being away from home as much as it will be being away from my sister, who is going to Erskine, which is about three hours away from Columbia. Columbia College is only 30 to 40 minutes away from my house,” Heather Woolard said of the change she will see in going from high school and into college.

“I’m hoping that the academic transition is not as strenuous as some people like to say it is. I think that I’ve been well prepared at Camden High School for the academic rigors of college.”

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