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This article was published 20/12/2018 (247 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
NEEPAWA — Lara Denbow may set her sights high, but the 15-year-old track star always finds a way to stay grounded.
"You’ll never hear me talk about ‘I want to go and get this in a competition,’" Denbow said. "You’ll hear me say ‘I want to try and beat my best’ or ‘I want to finish stronger this time’ or ‘I want to do this technique better.’ It’s obviously always going to be there but that’s not the most important part to me. Just knowing in the back of my head that I did my best at a meet is the most important part.
"Your best isn’t always going to be the best every day but knowing that I did my best for today is a good thought."
Her best was certainly on display last August at the three-day Legion National Youth Track and Field Championships at Brandon’s UCT Stadium when she captured the under-16 girls’ high jump gold medal. It was also the first individual national medal for the Prairie Storm Athletics club, which is based in her hometown of Neepawa and coached by Bryce Koscielny.
Denbow was named Athletics Manitoba’s top jumper of 2018 and can add one more title to her list of achievements, as she becomes the 61st winner of The Brandon Sun’s annual H.L. (Krug) Crawford Memorial Award, which epitomizes sporting excellence in southwestern Manitoba.
Now in Grade 10, Denbow, who lives with father Jamie, mother Myrna and younger brother Callan, 12, has always shown a restless desire to keep busy. Her mother said Lara was an active child.
"She’s always been in Highland dance," Myrna said. "She obviously does a lot of jumping in Highland dance and she likes everything. She likes cross-country running, cross-country skiing, soccer, a lot of the things that do involve running or jumping or being active. She always had a lot of energy and she’s very self-motivated and always goes out and does these things on her own. We never pushed her into anything. She just seems to love certain things, and certainly track and field she loved from a young age."
She got her first taste of track in Grade 4, but really started it in Grade 6 when she heard about Prairie Storm and became an original member of the club.
"I tried practice and loved it, and I’ve loved it since," she said.
Denbow chuckles when she thinks back to the very beginning when she was jumping 1.20 metres at Winnipeg meets. But she said she slowly began to improve. Two years ago she cleared 1.50 metres, and that’s when the gains came more quickly.
"I really like seeing the improvement," Denbow said. "That’s one thing I like about track. You can see your improvement, and the results don’t lie."
At the start she would improve, hit a plateau and improve some more. But as she keeps getting better, the gains come more slowly.
Denbow also receives some coaching in Winnipeg with Ming Wu, who has coached national teams, but can’t say enough about what Koscielny has done for her.
"Mr. Koscielny isn’t just a coach, he’s a mentor too," Denbow said. "He’s teaching me what I love and also what I want to do with my future. He puts a lot of work in with the club. For sure four hours a week just at practices, but then he goes home and makes us plans for us to do on our own. And it’s not like it’s just a plan for everyone, everyone has their own plan because not everyone has the same goals. For everyone to meet the same goals, there is a lot of work that’s put in to individualize it for us."
Denbow and Koscielny charted out her 2018 season, prioritizing the high jump at all of her meets in case there were scheduling conflicts with running events, but also prioritizing the meets themselves.
She participated in high school provincials and the Tri-Prov western Canadian championships, and used a meet at North Dakota State University to further prepare her for nationals.
As the only non-university athlete competing, Denbow jumped 1.70m outdoors for the first time and won the event. Koscielny said it allowed her to process a new environment, and since he had a scheduling conflict, to also compete without him there watching.
When he found out Denbow cleared 1.70m, Koscielny admitted he thought she might have some success at Legion nationals, which draws the best young track and field athletes from across Canada.
"It crossed my mind," Koscielny admitted. "I won’t lie. Our sport is so black and white. You know how high everyone jumps if they jump their best. You know that every athlete is going to be working to be their best there. I knew going in that Lara’s best, if she could do it, would put her into the top few athletes who could medal. Did I dwell on it? No."
It wasn’t the only success she had enjoyed during the track season.
She took gold in the high jump at the western Canadian championship with a leap over 1.66 metres, and earned two golds at club track and field provincials, showing off her impressive speed in the 300m race, finishing first in 42.42 seconds, and topping the high jump at 1.65m.
At high school provincials, the Grade 9 student won the junior varsity high jump (1.65m) and earned silver in the 400m race in 59.29 seconds.
She also found time to rewrite the provincial indoor meet’s record book with a high jump of 1.69m.
At Legion nationals in Brandon, 12 of the 18 available spots were filled. In 2017, Denbow had competed as a 13-year-old in the under-16 event, clearing 1.55 metres and finishing fifth in a countback, so she knew some of the girls who had returned for 2018.
As the competition drew to a close, Denbow was left competing against Emma DeBoer of British Columbia.
In high jump events, if two athletes tie for a maximum height, a countback determines the winner. The mechanism is simple: Whoever missed jumps at a higher level finishes first.
Denbow had made all of her jumps to 1.70 for the first time in her career, while DeBoer had missed twice at 1.67, so Denbow had the advantage. That is, until DeBoer sailed over 1.70.
Denbow’s first two jumps at 1.70 hadn’t gone according to plan, with the bar falling each time when it was touched by her calf. She had one more chance to make her mark.
She had a silver medal locked up, but clearing 1.70 would likely mean gold.
Each competitor has two or three minutes maximum between jumps, and she used it before her jump as a large crowd of Prairie Storm teammates, family and friends watched.
"I’m the kind of person that I put the other stuff behind me," Denbow said. "I don’t focus on the ones I missed. I focus on the one chance I have left. A lot of times, if it’s my last attempt, you might see me do certain things, like I might try and run a little bit faster or I might try and swing a little bit higher, just give it your all for the last one."
It worked. She sailed over the bar to put her back into the lead.
"You can’t always tell if it’s on or off, and when you look up and you see the bar is still on, it’s a pretty nice feeling," Denbow said. "And then you start to get excited about your next jump."
She and DeBoer each had three jumps at 1.73, but were unable to clear a height that would have been a personal best for Denbow. When DeBoer missed her final jump, the Prairie Storm had their first national champion.
"I was really happy," Denbow said. "The first thing I think I did was go and give Mr. Koscielny a hug and thanked him. It was kind of overwhelming but it was nice."
So does this reset her internal motivation moving forward?
"Yes, but I’m trying not to think about it too much," Denbow said. "Every season is going to start the same. Coming off three months is going to start differently. Not everything is going to work the same but that idea, knowing that I can do that, really leads me to dream."
What she doesn’t do is talk much about her outstanding season. Her mom said Lara seldom brings up what she’s done.
"She’s had a lot of accomplishments this year but Lara is modest," Myrna Denbow said. "She’s very quiet about her accomplishments. I think she just strives for these things personally too. It’s very important to her for her personal accomplishments to reach these goals. We’re very proud."
While Denbow has found the most success in high jump, in 2019 she also plans to run the 200-, 400- and 800-metre events, with a focus on the 400.
She’s also competed at the 60- and 600-metre distance, and ran cross-country.
"To me, the most important thing about keeping up with track is that I continue with my love of the sport," Denbow said. "I always want to keep that in mind and not let the results and my goals get to me too much so that I lose the enjoyment of the sport. It’s really nice to try and imagine and see where your future might go."
She hopes she’s visualized where that career might lead, saying she would like to compete in track at the university level. Denbow also imagines moving into road running as she gets older.
If there is an archetype for high jumpers, the five-foot-eight Denbow came right out of central casting to meet it.
"Long and lean and tall can be advantageous but I think there still has to be some explosiveness and some power and some spring," Koscielny said. "Lara has that. You kind of see at the elite levels that skinny, tall, spring-type people, but there are a few who are a little thicker and have a little more of an athletic build than we might consider, but for the most part it’s the long and the lean."
Koscielny notes her body type is also good for other events, which may explain Denbow’s attraction to running and the results her high jumping accrues from her track work.
At nationals, she qualified for the U16 girls’ 300-metre sprint final and placed eighth there in a time of 42.56 seconds.
But great athletes are seldom just the product of their physical gifts. Koscielny said her mental strength is a key component.
"She will get uncomfortable, and then there will be some hard days and it’s forgotten," Koscielny said. "She doesn’t dwell on it. She isn’t afraid of anything. There is never a ‘No coach, I’m not going to do that.’ It’s always ‘I’m going to try and it might not be easy, but we’re going to do it together.’
"I think that’s a big, special piece of the puzzle. Obviously there are genetics and internal motivation, which is huge, to do the stuff at home that she needs or has asked to do. I think the big thing is she’s able to see a lot of the dots that I try to piece together."
Denbow, who also received an Order of Excellence from Sport Manitoba, is thankful for the club and her teammates as they train in the school gymnasium, hallways and at the Yellowhead Centre arena.
With a national title under her belt, Denbow is embracing her coach’s philosophy of enjoying the process.
"I’m really hoping that I can put that experience and all the others that I’ve collected towards bigger meets," Denbow said. "Whether it be going down to the States for a meet, travelling, or a national meet, or maybe an international meet. One meet isn’t going to define it all. It’s what you’ve learned all together. You just keep building up the ladder."
» Twitter: @PerryBergson
KRUG CRAWFORD AWARD WINNERS
2018 — Lara Denbow, track and field
2017 — Pat Lamont, trapshooting
2016 — Isabela Onyshko and Lorie Henderson, gymnastics
2015 — Braden Calvert, curling
2014 — Isabela Onyshko, gymnastics
2013 — Halli Krzyzaniak, hockey
2012 — Rob Fowler, curling
2011 — Mark Stone, hockey
2010 — Paul Sanderson, volleyball
2009 — Lisa Barclay, volleyball
2008 — Brayden Schenn, hockey
2007 — Mark Derlago, hockey
2006 — Jenna Kerbis, gymnastics
2005 — Eric Fehr, hockey
2004 — Neil Andrews, curling, baseball
2003 — Jordin Tootoo, hockey
2002 — Israel Idonije, football
2001 — Jerry Hemmings, basketball
2000 — Shane Moffatt, baseball
1999 — Reed Eastley, baseball, volleyball
1998 — Cory Cyrenne, hockey
1997 — Grady Manson, hockey
1996 — Carmen Hurd, track and field
1995 — Kelly McCrimmon, hockey
1994 — Pam Flick, basketball
1993 — Marty Murray, hockey
1992 — Sandra Hamilton, basketball
1991 — Joey Vickery, basketball
1990 — Trevor Kidd, hockey
1989 — Shirley Bray, curling
1988 — Patrick Jebbison, basketball
1987 — Mabel Mitchell, curling
1986 — John Carson, basketball
1985 — Al Robertson, baseball
1984 — Ray Ferraro, hockey
1983 — Cathy Woodmass, water skiing
1982 — Jerry Hemmings, basketball
1981 — Diane Ogibowski, figure skating
1980 — Dan Halldorson, golf
1979 — Dunc McCallum, hockey
1978 — Glen Hanlon, hockey
1977 — Dan Halldorson, golf
1976 — Bob Thompson, baseball, hockey
1975 — Karen Anderson, curling, fastball
1974 — Jack Brockest, hockey
1973 — Ron Chipperfield, hockey
1972 — Lawrie Lewis, track and field
1971 — Gary Howard, basketball
1970 — Don Sumner, baseball, curling
1969 — Vailla Hoggan, water skiing
1968 — Buck Matiowski, recreation
1967 — Gerry MacKay, baseball, curling
1966 — Juha Widing, hockey
1965 — Bill Robinson, gymnastics
1964 — Lynda Kidd, basketball, softball
1963 — Earl Dawson, hockey
1962 — Fred Pilcher, curling
1961 — Ron Maxwell, hockey
1960 — Jake Milford, hockey
1959 — Mike Doig, shooting
1958 — Jack Matheson, hockey, golf