Natasha Feshbach flunked the hurdles the first time she tried them — and this is the first time the word “flunked” appears in a sentence with her name.
Feshbach, a Santa Barbara High senior, is a student-athlete par excellence. Her grade-point average is a staggering 4.95, fashioned by her taking advanced-placement courses in every academic subject and getting nothing but As. Yale University will welcome her into its classrooms next fall.
Aspiring to maintain a mind-body balance, Feshbach looked for a sport to try when she entered high school. She had participated in youth gymnastics but grew out of it. “My best friends were in cross-country, so I went out for it,” she said. “I was a very average freshman runner.” The same crowd went out for track-and-field in the spring, and that’s where Feshbach found the opportunity to soar above average.
It started when Dons track coach Olivia Perdices directed the team to try push-ups and pull-ups. Feshbach dove into the exercises with the same enthusiasm she hits the books. “One of the guys told me, ‘You should do the heptathlon,’” she said. The “hep” is the women’s version of the decathlon, comprising seven events: 100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200 meters, long jump, javelin throw, and 800 meters.
“I tried them all,” Feshbach said. “It went badly. I didn’t know how to hurdle. I hit a hurdle with my hands and pushed it over.” On the flat, though, she was one of the fastest sprinters in the school, a sign of her potential.
Feshbach attended a spring clinic at Westmont College that featured Ashton Eaton, the world-record holder in the decathlon, and Barbara Nwaba, a UCSB graduate who would become the U.S. champion in the heptathlon. She decided to train with Josh Priester, a Westmont coach who started up a multi-event team (now the Santa Barbara Track Club) with Nwaba and other athletes.
“She wanted to do the hep but not the hurdles,” Priester said. So it was the hurdles that they worked on. “We put the hurdles 5½ meters apart [instead of the standard 8½] so she could feel quick between them,” Priester said. “We went through a progression. Now it’s her best event.”
“At the Arcadia meet my sophomore year, I ran the hurdles in 15.26 [seconds],” Feshbach said. “Wow, I loved it.” She proceeded to win the varsity 100 hurdles for three consecutive years at the Santa Barbara County Championships, improving her time each year to a record of 14.40. In the CIF Division 2 prelims last Saturday, she set a new school record of 14.10. Agoura phenom Tara Davis (13.64) is the only Southern Section athlete with a faster time.
“Fast … fresh … Feshbach” is a slogan Priester has coined to describe her on the homestretch of her prep career. She said, “I tell my dad to try saying that 10 times real fast.”
Besides the hurdles, Feshbach will compete at Saturday’s CIF Finals at Cerritos in the long jump — another event where she is a three-time county champion. Then she will make a run for it. “I got asked to the prom that night,” she said. “I’ll have to hustle after the meet.”
She is savoring her last high school days. “I filled the four years as much as I can,” she said. “If I didn’t do sports, I would have had to find something else.”
Depending on her finishes at the divisional finals and the state qualifying meet, Feshbach hopes to run the hurdles at the State Championships on June 3-4 in Clovis. Meanwhile, she will do a heptathlon in late May at Mt. San Antonio College. It was there last year that she tallied her best score, 4,476 points, while finishing second in a field of 22 athletes. At Yale next year, she will take aim at the school record of 4,736 points.
Perdices marveled at how quickly Feshbach made herself an elite athlete. “She’d never put on a pair of spikes before the 9th grade,” the coach said. “She takes things in and processes them until she really gets it.” Despite her achievements, Perdices added, Feshbach does not put herself on a pedestal: “Walking down the hall, she’s just another kid.”
Leaving Her Marks
Natasha Feshbach currently holds these records:
Santa Barbara High
200 meters — 25.49 (2014)
300m low hurdles — 45.03 (2015)
100m hurdles — 14.10 (2016)
Santa Barbara County Championships
100m hurdles — 14.40 (2016)
Long jump — 18′4″ (2016)
S.B. Athletic Round Table of the Week
(Awarded on May 9 at the last Monday luncheon of the school year)
By Paul Wellman