Brian Murphy: No holding back for College of Idaho star Hillary Holt

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comMay 11, 2014 

College of Idaho runner Hillary Holt, center, leads the women's team in a victory lap after winning the Cascade Collegiate Conference Track and Field Championships on Saturday at the Northwest Nazarene University Track in Nampa.

KYLE GREEN — kgreen@idahostatesman.com

NAMPA — The Cascade Collegiate Conference championship had been won, but Hillary Holt's work was not done.

With most of her College of Idaho track teammates resting, celebrating, chatting and snapping photos nearby, Holt did crunches. And leg lifts. And planks.

This is what it takes to be a national champion and a U.S. national finalist and an Olympic hopeful.

It's a lesson Holt learned the only way one learns such lessons - the hard way.

Holt fell in love with running at cross country camp before her freshman year at Mountain View High.

She became a better-than-average high school runner, contributing points to team success but never winning an individual state title.

"Not really a high school career of any individual notoriety," she said.

Before her senior season, Holt resolved to win the 800-meter state title.

Instead, she finished third in the 5A final.

She was upset. And angry.

Her competitive fire, the one she inherited from her mom's side of the family that drove her to throw tantrums in youth soccer and to warn strangers about playing cards with her, burned.

"I'm so sick of being in the background, so sick of just being a point scorer. I want to be the best," she told herself. "I want to be more than just a team player. I want to have individual-level success. Let's start working hard. Let's really, really commit to this. I'm sick of just getting fourth place. I'm going to start tapping into this potential that my coaches think I have."

Four years later, Holt doesn't have to worry about fourth-place finishes. She has won 10 NAIA national titles, including consecutive back-to-back wins in the 1,500 - her signature event. She's a near-lock to add to those totals later this month.

Holt, who made the 1,500 final at the U.S. Championships last year, is prepared to turn pro and chase even bigger honors this summer.

Her "potential" is again a hot topic.

"She certainly has the ability to make some world championship teams, maybe Olympic teams," said College of Idaho coach Pat McCurry, whom Holt credits for unlocking her potential. "You get to that level and the margin for error is so minimal, and even the best athletes have to have some things go their way to actually make those teams. She definitely has that potential."

So how did it happen?

Sure, Holt has long legs and a short torso - keys for a middle-distance runner - and she runs with powerful strides and she has the proper mix of speed and endurance. Yes, McCurry made some mechanical changes in her stride to increase efficiency.

But all this - the national titles and international ambitions and professional contract that will surely follow - came because Holt worked harder than she ever did in high school.

And she kept working.

She dedicated herself to consistent training, which led to consistent strength training, which led to a focus on diet and injury prevention and recovery. The fitter she became, the more she could train; the more she could train, the better the results.

Holt, who earned All-American status in the 800 as a freshman, suffered a stress fracture in her fibula during her sophomore season. It forced her off the track and into the pool. Despite missing months of preparation, she won the 1,500 title.

That's when Holt set her sights on the biggest prizes.

"I can do something really special," she thought.

The pool workouts remained.

Holt - a model student who applies the same work ethic in the classroom and will graduate with a degree in exercise science this weekend - swims at least four times a week.

Holt can be seen running on campus early in the morning. Or in the weight room. Her sculpted arms and shoulders stand out among the runners in the field.

And there she was Saturday afternoon, the meet over, the championship won, getting in more work. The NAIA national championships are coming up, and the U.S. championships.

"I want to know that when I finish this, I gave it all I had and I left it all on the track," she said. "I left everything that I could have possibly done out there."

It's not a bad legacy.

Brian Murphy: 377-6444, Twitter: @MurphsTurph

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