Natasha Hastings has a passion for track and field. That passion endures after two decades in the sport and two Olympic gold medals. “I was kind of born into track.” she says. “I’ve been around the sport for as long as I can remember.” With both parents, her mother Diane and her father Charles being track athletes, it was seemed natural for their daughter to pursue the sport herself.
“I remember my mom taking me to the Colgate Women’s Games in New York” ( the nation’s largest Women’s amateur track & field series which has produced over 20 Olympians.) And with her father being a coach at New York Tech, Hastings would often attend practices with him before she formerly joined a track team at the age 10.
This is not to say her parents pushed her into the sport. She credits her longevity to her being eased, not rushed into track and being allowed to “have fun” by her parents, a message she shares with young athletes and parents of future track stars.
My mom was very adamant about me being a child, not getting burnt out too early and enjoying the sport.” Hastings recalls one particular incident in which her mother removed her from a practice because she felt the coach was pushing the pre-teen too hard. “The coach wanted us to run ten-400’s, my mom looked at my coach and said ‘My child is not doing that, that’s insane, she’s 10 years old.” Following that declaration, mother and daughter left practice.
Under the watchful eyes of her parents, Hastings competed in the 100 and 200m sprints. Her then coach Shawn London realized that “she’s actually a quarter-miler, but we’ll let her have fun with 100’s and 200’s.” Although she had success at the 200m, she would eventually settle into the 400m.
At Phillip Randolph High School in Harlem, Hastings was a standout athlete winning the World Youth 400m championship in 2003, was a 2004 silver medalist in the Junior National Championships in the 400m and won the 400m at the World Junior Championships the same year.
After high school, with her reputation established, Hastings took her talents to the University of South Carolina to work under the watchful eye of legendary coach Curtis Frye (she was also recruited by Texas, UCLA, Maryland, LSU, Penn State and Stanford).
As a collegian, Hastings was a two-time NCAA champion and became known as ‘the 400m Diva.’ My coach always said, “if you look good, you feel good and if you feel good you run good.”
In 2007, her sophomore season, Hastings, went undefeated in the 400, winning the NCAA indoor and outdoor titles in the event.
The next year, she made her first Olympic team and won gold as part of the 4x400m relay team. She teamed with Mary Wineberg, Monique Henderson, and Sanya Richards-Ross to help the American team win a qualifying heat. While Hastings was replaced by Allyson Felix in the final she received a gold medal.
In 2012 Hastings failed to qualify for the Games in London in both the 200 and the 400. She considered retiring “to go back to school and start another life.” Instead, the occasion proved to be a career-defining moment.
She discovered she was surrounded by people whose strength she could lean on and tap into. “I had people around me who believed in me, for me,” she says. “Hastings’ discovery helped her begin “another life-journey.” “I fell in love with God again, I fell in love with myself and with my career.” “I think faith has many levels and it’s been instrumental in my life in so many ways.”
“I realize that competing in sports is a privilege and so every time I step on the track or have a lane on the track, I realize I don’t have to be there, but since I’m here, I’m going to make the most of it.”
Hastings would go on to qualify for her second Olympic team in 2016 in Rio in her specialty, the 400m, and won gold in the 4×400 relay.
Her trophy case is filled with medals from NCAA & World Championships and two Olympic Gold medals, but she still hopes to add the one things that has eluded her during her very successful track career, an individual Olympic medal. That wish may become a reality in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo since Hastings has decided to set a goal of working towards what would likely be her last Olympic Games.
“Family is huge for me,” she says. I really would like to have a husband and kids, so I’ve given myself 2020 to go to the Olympics one last time and go after that individual medal again that I came so, so close to this past summer.” (Hastings finished fourth in Rio in the 400m finals).
That push for 2020 begins at the 2017 World Championships in Sacramento, California, a place where Hastings has seen success. In 2007 she won a NCAA Championship and then in 2014 placed third in senior nationals. “I feel like now I’m coming into my prime and I’m finding my rhythm,” she says.”
At 30-years young (she turns 31 next month) and still running at the top of her game, you get the sense that Hastings is still enjoying the sport that has made her life-long journey on the track a remarkable one.
In her words.
Listen to the complete interview.
**Photo courtesy of Natasha Hastings