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N.D. track and field star Carlson looks back on her career

JAMESTOWN, N.D. -- When you think of current or recent big-time athletes in North Dakota, many of them come from the Jamestown area. Baseball? Darin Erstad, Travis Hafner both were born in Jamestown. Hafner grew up in Sykeston. Football? Carringt...

JAMESTOWN, N.D. -- When you think of current or recent big-time athletes in North Dakota, many of them come from the Jamestown area.

Baseball? Darin Erstad, Travis Hafner both were born in Jamestown. Hafner grew up in Sykeston.

Football? Carrington's Jim Kleinsasser.

Basketball? Jeff Boschee. He was Valley City's true, but that's just a 30-minute ride from Jamestown.

Track and field? Like the three above, this one's a slam dunk too: Buchanan's Whitney Carlson.

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In fact, Carlson's greatness exceeds the area. She'll go down as one of the state's best track and field performers ever.

After winning 19 state titles for the Carrington track team, Carlson finished her career at North Dakota State University in Fargo as the school record-holder in the indoor long jump, pentathlon, 100 hurdles, 400 hurdles, long jump and heptathlon. She earned All-American honors in the heptathlon by placing fifth at the Division I NCAA Championships in June in Des Moines, Iowa -- a truly remarkable feat.

But for all of her achievements and accolades, Carlson remains a humble, down-to-earth farm girl.

Reflecting on her career with many of her awards placed on the kitchen table in her family's farm home, her massive accomplishments are not what popped into her head first. Far from it, in fact.

"When I see all this stuff again, I think, that's a lot of races, and there have been a lot of really great people that helped me get through it," she said. "When I see the Carrington stuff, none of that would have been possible without coach Greg Hoeckle. He was just really smart about what he taught us, and how he taught us. He knew how far to take us, without taking us over the edge.

"At NDSU, the coaching I got there was amazing. My immediate coach, Stevie Keller, he taught me seven events (heptathlon), a lot of them I knew nothing about. (Head) coach Ryun Godfrey, I also learned so much from him. ... And then the support I've gotten from my family, and my friends and teammates -- I've just been so blessed in so many ways."

Like the Erstads and Hafners and Kleinsassers of the world, Carlson never specialized. She didn't get her first pair of track shoes until the eighth-grade and those were hand-me-downs from her idol -- Sarah Klein -- another elite Carrington track and field performer.

She wanted to do more than track. She wanted to be on the go. So did her sisters Carly, 21, and Kelly, 17, said their mom, Deb.

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"All three girls were extremely energetic. I mean, they never quit. I'd just make them keep running and running around the house, and when the weather was nice, they'd go run outside," Deb said. "You know how kids bounce off the walls? Well, my girls literally bounced off the walls."

When they were sent outside, they may have unintentionally begun one of the great track careers in the history of North Dakota, thanks to rows and rows of cow food.

"Hay bales," Whitney said smiling. "Hay bales are a great way to work on your stride. One bale per stride is like the perfect length."

Then Kelly, the youngest of the sisters, chimed in with a harrowing hay bale yarn.

"We were out there running on the bales one day and all of the sudden Whitney was gone. We're like, where's Whitney?" Kelly said. "Then I heard some noise, looked down and there she was in a hole between the bales. ... That was odd."

Whitney agreed.

"I was running, and running, pretty fast, I thought, but then I was still running, but there was no ground. The next thing I know, I'm in a hole," she laughed. "Yeah, I don't think I'll ever forget being in that hole."

"We did get her out, but it took some work," Kelly said.

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They've never shied away from work of any kind. Excelling at the Division I level demands it.

There were two and sometimes three different training sessions per day. And then there was class work, where she also excelled. She posted a perfect 4.0 grade point average, earning her degree in zoology from NDSU, which was not her original college choice.

She had offers from many schools, but it came down to NDSU, Nebraska and Minnesota, which was eliminated first. She originally committed to Nebraska, but when the letter of intent arrived at school on signing day, she broke down.

"I was balling, crying, I just couldn't get it together, because I knew I just wasn't ready to leave home," she said. "I'm a farm girl. A family girl and I knew I'd get homesick. Nebraska was nine hours away, NDSU was two.

"I look back now and going to NDSU was the best decision of my life. I wouldn't trade the experience I had there for anything."

While her high school and college careers have now come to an end, more work remains, with the next chapter coming in Lincoln, Neb.

Her record-breaking long jump of 21-feet, 3 1/2-inches at the U.S. Championships in late June earned her a spot in the Olympic Trials next summer in Eugene, Ore. She'll continue training, but she'll do so in Lincoln as she begins dental school in the fall.

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