NMU senior Leslie Luehmann can high jump 5-feet-4.5 inches and launch herself 17-feet-10.25 inches in the long jump – both of which are school records – but that isn’t good enough for her. She also competes in the 800-meter run, 200-meter dash, 100-meter hurdles, shot put and the javelin.
Luehmann is one of three Northern athletes who compete in the heptathlon, a grueling two-day competition that requires participants to have a wide range of athletic skills. She said she enjoys the parity this creates for the competition.
“What I like about it is you can be average at every event and still be good overall,” Luehmann said. “You don’t have to be a superstar to be good.”
Head coach Tom Barnes said that when competing in the heptathlon, the trick is to know your own strengths.
“Each one of (the athletes) is stronger in different events,” Barnes said. “You don’t have to be great at every event, you just have to be able to compete.”
Luehmann, who went to the NCAA National Championships for the heptathlon last season, traveled to Florida last weekend to compete in her first heptathlon of the year. Luehmann finished seventh at the meet with a score of 3,530. In two weeks, she will be joined by freshmen Bailey Franklin and Melissa Christensen.
The heptathlon, like other multi-event track competitions, is scored using a standardized scoring table that awards points for each event regardless of the place the competitor finishes in. For example, if an athlete jumps five feet in the high jump, they will always earn the same amount of points.
Barnes said he has a set philosophy in what type of athletes he is looking for when he decides who will compete in multi-event competitions.
“I usually look for power athletes. In my experience, hurdlers are the best,” Barnes said. “That’s not always true though. I’ve seen some really good 800 (meter dash) runners who are good at the heptathlon.”
The two freshmen may not have competed in an NCAA heptathlon yet, but they both have taken part in an indoor-season pentathlon – a five-event competition featuring the 60-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, long jump and 800-meter run.
One thing that Barnes said of the heptathletes is that they work harder than most of the other track athletes.
“The athletes who compete in the heptathlon have to put in a lot more time than anyone else on the team,” Barnes said. “They’ve got events in every aspect of track to focus on compared to most athletes who only have one. We have several coaches working with them, so it takes more than one coach, because they train in so many different areas.”
Luehmann, taking part in a 7 a.m. practice, gave some insight as to the rigorous training schedule her and the other two heptathletes follow.
“It takes a lot of work. I’m in here at least two times a day practicing, a lot of days it’s three times a day,” she said. “Today I’m in here in the morning doing hurdle practice. In a few hours I’ll be back to lift for the shot put, and after that I have high jump practice in the afternoon.”
All that hard work prepares the athletes for what Luehmann calls an event like none other.
“It’s a lot different than anything else you do for any other event,” she said. “You compete in an event, then get a half hour break, then start warming up again for another event.”
She added that by the end of the second day, many of the athletes are exhausted.
“You get a little tired by the end of the second day,” Luehmann said. “I hate the 800 (meter run) so I’m not usually looking forward to competing in it. But when you get done with it, it’s just the most amazing feeling in the world.”
It’s left to be seen whether Luehmann will be making a repeat appearance in this year’s Division-II National Championship, but she said she knows it’s a real possibility, but not something she wants to dwell on.
“I’ve just been working really hard and not trying to anticipate anything, because you never know what will happen,” she said.
Luehmann, Franklin and Christensen will all be competing in the heptathlon on April 16-17 when they compete at Northwood University.