There are success stories, and then there is Natalie Helenthal's success story.
- Helenthal is the No. 2-ranked women's weight thrower in NCAA Division II this season, and is a nationals podium contender…four years after finishing her Ashland High School career never having competed at an outdoor regional or state meet (Helenthal did compete in the indoor state meet four times).
- She is the granddaughter of former Arrow girls basketball head coach Dan McFadden, and her mother, Nichole, and aunt, Michelle, were AHS girls hoops players…yet Helenthal is a collegiate track athlete.
- And Eagle head coach Jud Logan admittedly almost missed out on Helenthal due to her lack of prep success.
"She was never on my radar," Logan said, "and she knows that. She worked very hard from her freshman year in learning how to throw the weight. Even though I watched her progression, I saw her passion, I never thought that she had the ability level to make it at our level of throws.
"She wasn't really being recruited by anybody else, so she came on her visit, and at the time, I reluctantly said, 'I'm going to give you a chance.'"
That chance has paid off for both Helenthal and Logan. And that chance might not have happened if not for some "interfering" from Helenthal's mother.
"D-III schools were all looking at me. I thought D-III would be nice," Helenthal said. "She went behind my back and e-mailed Jud. My mom is the reason, because she believed in me more than I believed in myself."
While Logan, according to Helenthal, was more interested in one of her Arrow teammates at the time, what has resulted since is one of the top self-made individual stories in recent Eagle athletics memory.
Indoors in the weight throw, Helenthal has gone from a best of 16.72 meters/54-feet-10¼ unattached as a redshirt in 2014-15 to a top heave of 19.59 meters/64-feet-3¼ so far in 2017-18. Outdoors in the hammer throw, her top mark of 49.02 meters/160-feet-10 in her redshirt spring of 2015 has become 57.43 meters/188-feet-5 through her sophomore season of 2017.
Those marks place Helenthal among all-time great AU women's throwers like Jessica Bridenthal, Jackie Jeschelnig, Adriane Blewitt, Kelly Ash, Kim Habegger and Shatora Lewis.
"What I didn't count on was the fact that she was willing to work as hard, or harder, with a chip on her shoulder, than the other girls," Logan said of Helenthal. "I don't usually miss out on judging talent, and I missed out greatly in not being able to see through her heart and what was in her head and what she wanted to do.
"She is the ultimate story of the kid that was going to fall through the cracks. Something on her visit made me want to give her that shot. Every year, she's improved more and more."
So why track and not basketball?
"We always forget that my grandpa was a runner," she said, adding that McFadden also was a junior high track coach. "When it was Ashland College, he ran here. I played, I was decent, but as coach will tell you, I am short. But I was good, I wasn't great. I did all the summer stuff. But indoor (track) was more important to me. I want to focus more on indoor than basketball.
"And grandpa wasn't happy."
Helenthal, a team captain this season, is well on her way to another nationals appearance, which would be her third after going last season both indoors and outdoors. And she is quick to give credit where credit is due.
"We wouldn't be where we are without Jud, and that's the truth," she said. "We have Jud Logan. Four-time Olympian – you can't get much better than that."
As for where this success story ultimately ends, is it possible Helenthal goes from not even being an outdoor regional qualifier in high school to a collegiate national champion?
"That's serious," she said. "It'd be nice to think of a national championship, but it's scary. I put enough pressure on myself already. That's the goal, and that would be an amazing honor."