Battle Mountain’s Presley Smith finishes strong at 4A state track meet
400-meter specialist becomes first in school history to run one lap under 58 seconds, takes third
The only thing perhaps more graceful than Presley Smith’s elegant stride is her million-dollar smile. Her gratitude for the former is evident in the latter — every time she steps on the track.
“She relishes the opportunities she has,” head coach Rob Parish said standing along the backstretch of the Jeffco Stadium track on the final day of the state track meet. Moments earlier, he watched Smith run 57.88 — the first in school history to go sub-58 — and finish third in the girls 4A 400-meter dash. For two seasons, Stephanie Feldhaus’ 58.41 standard had remained elusive for the junior. In Thursday’s prelim, Smith shattered the 25-year-old school record with a 58.12, then lowered it even further in the final, won by Niwot’s Madison Shults.
Considering what Smith has been through, this campaign culmination is particularly moving.
“A lot has been said and written about her and Lily,” Parish continued.
On June 30, 2021, Presley and her teammate Lily Whelan were involved in a rollover returning from Lake Powell. Addison Smith, Presley’s sister, died at the scene and Presley and Whelan were airlifted to Grand Junction. She broke her jaw and arm and would require reconstructive surgery. Whelan suffered a severe traumatic brain injury, a fractured femur, a fractured pelvis, broken ribs, a broken scapula, a tension pneumothorax in her lungs and more.
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“It’s truly inspirational. I don’t think I would bounce back from that like she has. Just that she’s able to accomplish this and with a smile on her face, enjoying the process,” Parish said.
“She’s like a beacon of hope.”
Running with speed, spirit and a smile
Shults, the 800 and 400-meter state champion in 2022 — and already the repeat 800 winner this year, lined up in Saturday’s final in lane five. With Smith in six, the Stanford commit would be invisible throughout the race.
“I was just kind of saying, ‘Hey, stay ahead of her as much as I can,'” Smith said. “And when she catches me, try to stay with her.”
From the gun, Smith bounded ahead, calmly relaxing into her loping gait. She ate up the track more in the style of a true mid-distance runner, though she’s set on identifying as a 400-meter sprint specialist — the first Parish can recall in program history.
“She’s a very good cross-country runner, she can run the 800, she can be on the 4×200 — she could probably be on the 4×100 — but her best event is the 400,” he said.
“And she loves it.”
As a result, Parish and sprint coach Josh Wright concocted a customized training program wherein they shared the talent this spring. On Mondays, she does the 800-meter workout. She might hop in a mid-week medium-long run, but other than that, the rest of her miles are with the sprint crew.
“No other athlete is on her training plan and I don’t think I’ve ever had an athlete on that exact plan,” Parish said. “She’s such a joy to coach — she’s happy to do whatever is asked of her.”
Though Shults made up the stagger by halfway, Smith’s form never wavered around the final turn, nor into the straightaway.
“Her game is consistency. I think as the race goes on — every step closer to the finish works more to her advantage,” Parish commented. “The last 100 (meters), she can always maintain her form.”
Accepted as one of track’s hardest physiological asks, the 400 eventually elicits sharp pain and tightness in the legs, even for someone whose stride is as pure as Smith’s. When asked what she was thinking as she tracked down Mountain View’s Brooklyn Ewert and almost caught Northfield’s Ophelia Pulley, Smith said, “I was just thinking about how bad do I want this? How bad do I want to be top three?”
Written down, it looks like words Kobe might have scowled saying in some motivational Nike commercial, but Smith can’t help but giggle as she continued in her trademark light, friendly, even bubbly manner, deducing her remarkable performance and downright hard race to its most simple idea:
“And then I was like, ‘You know, your legs can always move faster … why not make them push.'”
Going into the race, Smith admitted to being nervous. “But I was just like, ‘You know, top-9 either way, so I’ll go out and run my best and see what happens,” she said.
In addition to a proper perspective, she has a little extra motivation.
“I think about Lily all the time and I’m like, she’d want me to do this; she wanted to be here,” Smith said, crediting her community for supporting her every step of the way since the accident.
“And then my sister, obviously. She’s always in the back of my mind.”