Kate Hall has enjoyed a welcome chance to rest this week.
And that rest was well earned, as the 18-year-old from Casco recently completed a remarkable indoor track season by soaring to a meet record in the long jump while winning the national high school championship in that event at the New Balance Nationals in New York City.
Her winning effort of 20 feet, 11 ¼ inches was the fourth-longest ever by an American high school girl in competition, and her six jumps in the final also included two leaps of 20-10 and another of 20-9 ¾ — all exceeding the runner-up’s best.
“My goal that day was to become a national champion,” said the 5-foot-4, 125-pound Hall, a senior who is homeschooled but competes for Lake Region High School in Naples. “That had been my goal since the previous year when I got second place. I really, really wanted that title.”
This latest achievement in a career that has included 23 individual Maine championships — as well as additional meet-record performances while winning 2015 New England indoor titles in the long jump and the 55-meter dash — was not without challenges.
“I had some issues with my nerves in the past couple of meets before that, so I was scared going into the meet thinking I was going to be too nervous and that it would affect my approach and mess up my steps,” said Hall, the pre-meet favorite in the long jump nationals.
Such angst allowed her barely an hour and a half of sleep the night before the long jump finals.
“The more I couldn’t sleep the more frustrated I got,” Hall said. “But I had it my mind that I’d been working for this for a whole year, so I couldn’t let it affect me. I didn’t get any sleep and I might be exhausted, but I wasn’t going to let it get to me.”
That Hall saved her best indoor performance for the national stage came as no surprise to Lake Region track and field coach Mark Snow.
“Even when she was going to youth competitions during the summers while she was in middle school and then in high school, Kate’s always been able to do well in the big meets,” he said. “She’s never cracked at a big meet.”
A short night of sleep before a big meet is not the only challenge Hall has endured.
At age 10 she not only started competing in track, she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
“When it happened, I wasn’t really worried that I wasn’t going to be able to do sports,” she recalled. “I just thought it was something I’d have to deal with and I could still do whatever as long as I controlled it.”
Hall has dealt with the condition through adapting her diet — which also is gluten-free to address her celiac disease — and vigilantly managing her blood sugar level.
“It’s definitely more difficult to handle when track is involved because I have to be constantly monitoring my blood sugar,” she said. “If my blood sugar becomes too high or too low for a long period of time, then my pH level will change and I get muscle cramps really easily.”
Hall said those muscle cramps were most pronounced during her sophomore year when they forced her to drop out of the Western Maine Conference championships.
“It’s really important at these meets to be constantly monitoring my blood sugars,” she said. “You have to monitor them well before the meets so once you get there they’re good. You can’t just start looking at them when you get there.
“So when it goes high I need to give insulin, and when it goes low I need to eat and hopefully it will go up. I have to do this all the time, but it’s even more important to watch when I’m at meets. It can get stressful.”
Hall uses one meter to check her blood sugar by pricking her finger at least five times daily and has a separate meter she can use during meets to get live feedback on her levels.
“Diabetes does throw another obstacle at her that she’s been able to overcome extremely well and take in stride,” Hall’s personal trainer Chris Pribish said. “We’ve done some learning processes, but overall it’s been some different nutritional interventions, as well as understanding that there’s times when we have to pull back the reins because she’s having some issues with her blood sugar or recognizing those times when we can continue to let her go, always monitoring and making sure we’re looking out for her best interests in the long run.”
Hall always wears a small insulin pump on her arm — even as she’s sprinting and jumping.
“With the OmniPod I use now, there’s no tubing, so you just stick it on and wear it and change it every three days,” she said. “Before I had this one I had to take my pump off because there was wiring, and I couldn’t run with it because it would fall off.
“The one I use now is a lot easier. I always forget where it is and I can never tell I even have it on.”
Hall said the need to closely monitor her condition adds a degree of discipline to her daily routine.
“You just have to have the mindset that it’s not going to stop you from doing anything, but you have to control it because if you don’t things could happen later in life,” she said. “I would do anything not to have it, but it’s kind of made me into who I am today.”
Snow sees Hall as a model athlete not only for her dedication to her sport, but for how she has coped with diabetes.
“She wears a pump on her arm that’s there for everyone to see,” he said. “So when other kids who have the same issue see Kate performing like she does with a pump on her arm, it can send a message to them that, ‘No, I don’t have to hide this.’”
Hall’s rise to the top of the national track and field scene has been relentless.
“Even in middle school, track was my favorite sport and I wanted to become really good at it,” she said. “And by the time I got to high school, I decided that if I wanted to go somewhere with it I’d have to concentrate on track.”
One turning point came as a seventh-grader when she was being treated for a pulled hamstring in Windham. As that therapy was concluding she met Pribish, a certified athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coach and now co-owner of Medically Oriented Gym in South Portland.
They’ve been working together ever since.
“When we started out, we were trying to correct some movement imbalances and muscle imbalances she had that were causing her these hamstring issues, then we noticed she was pretty good and getting better,” Pribish said. “We started making more of an effort as we got involved to really maximize her potential and maximize her strength, her power and her movement to make her as efficient as possible when she’s running and jumping.
“Our goal for her as a sprinter and a jumper was to keep her injury-free and healthy and make her as strong and stable as possible.”
It was a plan of action quite different from what Hall initially anticipated, but one she says has produced dramatic results and has led to a steady progression in both the long jump and sprints.
This year, she has already added 11 ¾ inches to her long jump best and has clocked a 6.933 in the 55.
Hall hopes to surpass 21 feet in the long jump during the spring outdoor season, then it’s off to Iowa State University on an athletic scholarship.
Hall also visited Louisiana State, Georgia and Oregon before deciding on Iowa State, which already boasts a significant Maine track and field influence through current Cyclones’ distance runners Dan Curts of Ellsworth, Bethanie Brown of Waterville and Josef Holt-Andrews of Bethel.
She’s already a step ahead in her collegiate transition academically, as her homeschool regimen will have allowed her to complete eight college courses at the University of Southern Maine and Saint Joseph’s College of Standish by the time she graduates from high school.
“It will be really helpful because when I get to Iowa State, I can take one class less per semester because of the classes I’ve already taken here,” she said. “In the fall when I don’t have any meets, I can take a heavier course load and in the spring I can take on less of a load.”
Hall also looks forward to receiving her first professional coaching in the long jump and if she can continue to improve her results at Iowa State, her ultimate goal — an Olympic berth — may be within reach.
“It’s kind of an interesting time for the Olympics because it’s coming up again [in 2016],” she said. “If it was a year later then it would probably work out perfectly.
“It’s going to be tough to qualify this time, but it’s reachable. I definitely have plenty of time, but it would be cool to make the next one.”