Athlete of the week: Nicole Thorndal, Elk River, track: Multi-tasking

by Bruce Strand, Sports editor

The usual pattern for young athletes is to try multiple sports early on, then settle on one or two in high school. Nicole Thorndal took the opposite approach.

The veteran Elk River trackster added Nordic Ski her junior year and swimming and golf her senior year, for a total of four, with impressive results for such a late starter in each case.

“Holy cow, what an athlete,” said golf coach Dave Bleyhl after Thorndal’s first meet when she shot 46.  “She really hits the ball hard. If I’d had her since seventh grade she’d be in the state tournament.”

Throwing the discus (and shot) is what Nicole Thorndal has been doing the longest, but she also made her mark in skiing and golf as a late starter and toughened herself up with swimming. (Photo by Bruce Strand)

In track, the 5-foot-5, 137-pound athlete has  been a steady scorer in shot put and discus since ninth grade and helped the Elks win conference and true-team section titles the past two years.  This season she placed fifth indiscus and 10th in shot at true-team sectionals, then took eighth and 19th respectively at state. Last year she placed eighth and ninth at sectionals.

In this week’s conference meet she was eighth in discus (and missed shot put because she was playing golf that day).  In 10th grade she placed fifth in conference discus. She has raised her PR’s to 112-10 in discus and 35-10 in shot put.

“Nicole has really developed herself. She was not as athletic when she was younger as now,” said coach Russ Gnan. “She is a real good leader. She was one of our captains last year and led that throwers group. It’s different this year because of her involvement in golf.”

In golf, she is the fourth- or fifth-best shooter on what was already a very good  team and has gone unbeaten in the NWSC. She has posted  counting scores (top four) five times, with lows of 46 for nine and 94 for 18.

“Nicole has a lot of natural strength,” said Bleyhl. “She has a good work ethic and she’s a good listener. You can’t be too intricate (teaching skills) to her yet, but she is grinding it out.”

She started playing in earnest last summer with her uncle Ro, who introduced her older brothers to the game and bought Nicole a set of clubs, too. She found that she had some ability.

“I absolutely love golf,” Thorndal said, “and Ro kept urging me to go out for the team. I was really nervous to tell Coach Gnan, because we are pretty good and I didn’t want to abandon track. But I had to give golf a go. There’s double-decker practices some days, but I like being busy.”

She missed a couple golf trips due to track meets but there won’t be conflicts in the big meets.

Thorndal took up Nordic Ski as a junior and progressed rapidly enough to qualify for state as a senior, in large part because she added swimming last fall which built up her arm, leg and cardiovascular strength.

“Nicole had never done this before. The first year, she was a decent skiier, and we knew she had great potential,” said coach Kirsten Anderson. “This year, her arms and legs were so much stronger after swimming and she improved a lot.

“She is a natural athlete and trains hard and she makes sure to get the techniques down … I would love to have had her since seventh grade. All the coaches have said that about her.”

Thorndal improved from 43rd in conference her first year to 15th this year (top 25 are all-conference), then placed ninth in the sectional to qualify for state, where she placed 87th among 117 qualifiers.

As a swimmer she did the 50 and 100 sprints and never got past JV in her lone season but coach Colleen Killpatrick said she was quite impressed with her athletic ability and how much she improved.

“I wanted a fall sport and people told me I could be good at swimming. Plus, I thought it would get me in good shape for skiing. Swimming was the hardest sport I’ve ever done! I thought skiing was hard! But it made me a lot stronger in my arms and cardiovascular.”

Thorndal isn’t a college-level performer in any of her sports — she’s going to NDSU — but has found a lifetime sport in golf, and “one for fun, like on vacations” in skiing.




Personal file — Age: 17 … Family: parents Joe and Christy; brothers Justin, 26; Tyler, 23; and Christopher, 13 … Sports: swimming, Nordic Ski, track, golf … Other activities: National Honor Society … Academics: 3.85 GPA …. College plans: North Dakota State, exercise science

Favorite stuff — Class: Nutrition (PSEO at Anoka-Ramsey) … TV shows: “Bones” and “American Idol” … Movie: “The Notebook” and “Twister” .. Food: pineapples and chicken alfredo …. Music: country, especially Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift … Team: Twins … Athletes: Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer … Kickback: hunting deer and fowl, and wakeboarding … Place she’d like to visit: Egypt


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