If there were rewards for heart, Maddie Nossek would be clutching most all of them.
Her spunk and gusto turned evident her freshman track and field season when she won the state class 3A long jump championship and continued throughout her prep career in basketball as well as track.
The resolution others have applauded in her might have peaked last week at the USA Junior National Outdoor Track and Field Championships held at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.
Most admirable about Nossek entering the prestigious meet was she did so knowing she’s didn’t have much of a chance of winning.
Her underdog status was because she would be competing against the finest under-20-years-of-age athletes from around the United States. To make the challenge even more daunting, Nossek understood most of her heptathlon foes would be one or two years older, some entering their sophomore season in college, and would have the tremendous advantage of having competed on the college level.
Nossek graduated last month from Payson High with the class of 2010.
“The Junior Nationals is the toughest meet there — much tougher than age group national competition,” said former PHS track and field and cross-country coach Chuck Hardt.
While some teenage athletes might have shied away from the invitation, worrying about the risk of being overwhelmed or shown up, Nossek scooped it up without hesitation.
At Drake, the former Lady Horn standout battled through adversity and the stiff competition to forge out a 23rd-place finish of the 32 invited athletes.
“A little better than her seed,” said her father, Scott, who accompanied her on the trip.
Maddie entered the meet with a No. 24 seed.
Although the young Nossek would have like to have fared even better, she returned to Payson with a renewed commitment to excel next season when she competes for the Arizona State University Sun Devils.
“Being at the Junior Nationals makes me want to work even harder,” she said. “Summer workouts start in July and school begins Aug. 19. I can’t wait.”
As for “working harder,” those who know the teen and have watched her blossom into a prep star the past four years might question whether or not she can put much more into her arduous regime.
Over the years, she’s developed a reputation as one of the most dedicated athletes to don a PHS uniform. Often she works out with and under the tutelage of her father, who is a local physical therapist and played collegiate and professional baseball.
But workouts can go just so far — Maddie’s appearance in the Junior Nationals also gave her some of the experience she’ll need to compete on the collegiate level.
Her challenges at Drake included competing against nine athletes who had completed their freshman year of college and some who appear bound for Olympic stardom.
The schools represented include Universities of Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas, Akron as well as Arizona State and Colorado State.
Several of the entrants had racked up more than 5,000 points in earlier heptathlons.
Nossek entered with a PR of 4,364 points that she set earlier this month at the Great Southwest Classic in New Mexico.
Maddie’s greatest stumbling block in setting a PR at the Junior Nationals occurred in the first of the seven events — the 100-meter hurdles.
Her 16.80 clocking landed her in 32nd place and was worth just 619 heptathlon points.
In the high jump she earned 736 points for finishing 19th with a leap of 5 feet, 1.75 inches.
The shot put has been one of the teenager’s best events and that strength again emerged as she tied for ninth place by throwing 32 feet, 3.75 inches.
Next, she turned in a 200-meter clocking of 26.75 to take 25th.
The long jump proved to be another strong event with her finishing 15th by leaping 17 feet, 2.25 inches.
The javelin is the curse of most every Arizona athlete because it is not an event in high school track and field.
In fact, three of the 32 invitees did not score because of fouls incurred during throws and technique.
Maddie, however, uncorked a throw of 78 feet, 9 inches to take 23rd.
With the heptathlon now winding down the second day of competition, Maddie and most athletes are drained by the rugged demands of the variety of events.
Just when most think they can’t exert another ounce of energy, they are required to wrap up the heptathlon in the grueling 800 meters.
“It was tough,” said Maddie.
Mustering all the strength and endurance remaining, Maddie ran to a very commendable 11th-place finish in 2:28.52.
While the 800 meters ended the competition for the under 20-years athletes, Maddie and her father remained at Drake to watch the Senior Nationals meet.
“Over 90 Olympians and several gold medalists,” Scott said. “It was awesome to see them compete.”
The senior meet allowed Maddie to see up close and personal some of the athletes she’s admired since she first took up track and field.
“I saw Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards — the whole experience was so much fun,” said Maddie. “It was also very special because my dad was there with me.
“He’s been supporting me since I first started sports.”
The only other Payson High School athlete to compete in the Junior Nationals is Stephanie Robertson, who accepted a heptathlon invitation as a sophomore when the nationals were held at Southern Illinois University.