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Altamont’s Grace Nelson smiles after winning the 300-meter hurdle event at the Class 1A girls track and field state finals, on Thursday, July 10, 2021, at O’Brien Field on the campus of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

Over the last year, Altamont freshman Grace Nelson has jumped over her share of hurdles.

COVID-19 derailed Nelson’s eighth-grade season, while earlier this year, she suffered a fractured foot that made her second-guess how she would compete.

But, she never backed away from the challenge put in front of her.

“After I broke it, I was in a boot, and I wanted to do a lot of therapy and get my mobility back,” Nelson said. “I told myself that I wouldn’t do the long jump because this is my jumping foot, and I just wanted to focus on hurdles and the 200. It was a good idea. I didn’t want to tweak it, and it hasn’t bothered me at all; it felt great.”

The pain never showed on her face as she leaped over the last hurdle and crossed the finish line Thursday afternoon in the Class 1A girls state track and field meet at O’Brien Field in Charleston.

Only a smile from ear to ear was noticeable, as she had just won a state championship in the 300-meter hurdles.

“It’s such an accomplishment,” Altamont girls track and field head coach Trenton Deadmond said. “She lost her eighth-grade year to COVID; she was looking to build on some success as a seventh-grader, so this was a big meet for her. She wanted to place a little higher in the 200s, but she was probably pretty gassed. She’s not used to the heat, and I’m super thrilled with how she competed.”

Crossing at 44.41 seconds, Nelson also set a new personal best for herself. She beat out Bridgeport (Red Hill) senior Katie Moore (45.78 seconds), Pittsfield junior Kaite Cox (46.56 seconds), and Catlin (Salt Fork) senior Gracie Jessup (47.01 seconds) to win her first state title.

Qualifying for three events on the day, Nelson’s sectional time for the 300-meter hurdles was the second-best mark to Moore’s. Nelson finished in 45.16 seconds, while Moore crossed at 44.97 seconds.

It was in the 100-meter hurdles where Nelson entered as the top seed.

And, she nearly walked out of the stadium with two first-place medals draped around her neck.

Nelson lost by five-tenths of a second to Catlin (Salt Fork) senior Gracie Jessup at 14.86 seconds — which also was another personal record for the freshman.

“My start was not my best,” Nelson said. “Normally, I’m always first to the hurdle. I didn’t get out of the blocks well, but I caught back up and still ran a P.R., so I’m still proud of myself, even though I didn’t get first. I still have three more years; it was her [Jessup’s] senior year.”

Overall, Nelson ended her first year of high school track with a first, second, and ninth-place finish at the state meet. She finished ninth in the 200-meter dash after a time of 26.47 seconds.

Three events. Three top-10 finishes.

And through it all, Deadmond said that he’s never coached an athlete quite like Nelson.

“She’s a singular athlete,” Deadmond said. “These accomplishments are all hers. She’s probably one of the hardest workers that I’ve ever met. She’s very focused, professional, and a smooth operator; she gets the job done.”

Now, it’s what’s next.

How can she top a stellar freshman campaign?

“I’ll still do the same events. Hopefully, I can do the long jump at sectionals when I’m all healed up,” Nelson said. “In the 100 hurdles, I’ll probably work the same as I always have. I just got to get my starts down and keep my form good, and I’ll keep going.”

No matter what lies ahead, if there are more hurdles in front of her, Nelson plans to do what she did on Thursday.

Jump over them.

Contact EDN Sports Editor Alex Wallner at 217-347-7151 ext. 124 or alex.wallner@effinghamdailynews.com

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