GORHAM — Jaws dropped. Spectators at the Western Maine Conference indoor track championships turned to each other and mouthed oh-my-God. A young girl said aloud what everyone else was thinking: lightning.
Kate Hall had just run and won her heat in the senior 55-meter dash. The 17-year-old home-schooled junior from Casco competes for Lake Region High and has been winning a lot of sprints over the last two years. Winning a lot of long jump competitions. Breaking a lot of records, too.
Hall is the real deal, say those who follow the sport of high school track and field in Maine. The best sprinter and jumper they’ve seen. Maybe the best they’ll ever see in this big state with the small population. Maybe a future Olympian. And they’re not whispering the words.
You have to see her run and jump to believe and understand. She’s not good. She’s much, much better.
“I just feel like a normal girl,” she answered when I asked what it was like to be Kate Hall. “I just love what I’m doing. I love the atmosphere of a meet like this. I love the people. I love to run.”
The words spilled out of her mouth. Incredibly she has a gee-whiz, I-can’t-believe-how-much-fun-I’m-having personality, which is the perfect antidote to the outside world waking up to her immense talent. She’s been discovered. Letters and emails from college coaches pile up.
She ran 7.08 seconds to win her 55 meters heat race and the separation between her and second place was more than 5 yards. She won the final in 7:18. “Not as good,” she said to friends waiting near the finish.
Then her eyes crinkled and she flashed her ever-present smile. Her personal best in the 55 is 7:01. “I just want to get better.”
She won the long jump in 19 feet, 81/4 inches, a meet record, beating the 19-05.5 mark she set earlier in the season. The conference meet boys’ record of 22 feet, set by Falmouth High’s Tom Winger in 2009, is safe. Or is it? Hall fouled on her last jump, going about 2 inches past the board. Her jump was measured for laughs: 20 feet, 5 inches.
Dozens of fellow competitors sat or stood around the pit watching the competition. Rhythmic clapping echoed throughout the field house before she sprinted down the runway for that last jump.
“She motivates me,” said Catherine Bullocks, a sophomore jumper from York High who finished third several feet behind Hall. “And she’s so nice. I love competing with her. I just love it. I want to do so much better.”
Bullocks found herself in the lane next to Hall in the 55-meters dash during a meet not too long ago. “I was so scared. She didn’t know me. She turned to me and said, ‘good luck.’ That made me respect her even more.”
That Hall isn’t a diva strikes a chord with opponents and friends. Tayla Robbins was one of a small group waiting for Hall after the 55-meter dash. A sophomore runner at USM, Robbins is the manager of a summer ice cream shop in Windham where Hall is a scooper.
“There’s four years difference between us and I know she looks up to me,” said Robbins. “What she doesn’t know is I look up to her. She’s amazing. I know how hard she works (in the weight room, on the track). I know how nice she is. I know how hard we laugh together, we cry.
“Look at me. I’m getting emotional just talking about her. She’s such a sweet kid.”
It’s no secret Hall has Type 1 diabetes and must use an insulin pump or, when she competes, a patch.
It was also no secret to Robbins that her younger friend ate a lot of product at the ice cream shop.
“We have sugar-free ice cream but she didn’t like that. She eats the real thing.”
We live in a jaded world where we expect hyper-egos from athletes who don’t always earn the praise showered on them. Hall has the ability with her running and jumping to make people gasp and applaud in wonder. She actually blushes when she hears that.
She just feels like a normal girl.
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: