Newton’s Kalli Anderson with a comeback in the 4x1 relay you have to see to believe
Time had seemingly flipped to slow motion for Newton senior Kalli Anderson waiting for the final hand-off in the girls 400-meter relay at a Class 5A regional at Northwest on Friday.
A hip flexor injury had flared up in Natalia Varpness, Newton’s third leg, halfway around the curve and Varpness, a freshman, had to fight off excruciating pain to hobble the last 20 meters just to hand off the baton to the fastest sprinter in Kansas waiting for her.
Newton’s relay team entered with the fastest time in 5A, but its chances of finishing in the top four to reach next week’s state meet were bleak with four teams already having taken the hand-off a full 2 seconds ahead of Anderson.
Normally, that type of deficit is impossible to erase in the span of 100 meters. But Anderson is not a normal runner.
That’s why her initial reaction when she finally grabbed the baton wasn’t a sense of panic, rather shock when she surveyed an unfamiliar scene.
“I’m not used to seeing the back of people’s heads,” Anderson admitted.
In her rush to start the comeback, Anderson took off too soon, which forced her to slow to a near standstill to allow Varpness to lunge for the hand-off. While the four anchors ahead of Anderson had already taken several strides at full speed, Anderson had to go from a full stop to full speed.
It looked as if Anderson was shot out of a cannon, as the senior charged down the straightaway catching the fourth-place anchor from Hays with every stride.
Standing near the finish line, Myriah Nicholson, who ran Newton’s first leg, watched in awe with mixed emotions. She was worried for her teammate, Varpness, who had crumpled after the hand-off, but Nicholson also was amazed watching Anderson chase down the pack.
“I didn’t know what was going on, but I always trust Kalli so I knew that she’s got it,” Nicholson said. “I’ve never seen her run so hard in my life. She put her heart into it.”
Keep in mind: This is a runner who just before this relay had scorched the track with an 11.59-second performance in the 100-meter dash, just off her personal best but still good for the third-fastest time in Kansas history.
But here was Anderson, a four-time state champion, turning the impossible into the possible.
With every stride down the stretch, Anderson gained ground on the Hays anchor. If the rest of the field was running at normal speed, Anderson looked as if she had been sped up to 1.25x speed.
Anderson still trailed 10 meters before the finish line, but she not only completed the comeback in her final eight strides but put nearly one-tenth of a second between Newton (51.54) and Hays (51.63) to get the needed fourth-place finish.
“That was definitely one of my most exciting races,” Anderson said. “The adrenaline was going crazy. As I got closer to the finish line, I could hear people in the stands yelling at her, ‘She’s coming, just finish!’ So that was pretty cool to come back.”
Nearly 100 meters back on the track, Newton coach Tad Remsberg was oblivious to what had happened. He had watched Varpness go down on the track from the stands and rushed down to check on his injured runner.
He stayed with Varpness until they transported her from the track, where she was taken to a local hospital for an X-Ray. Remsberg had not heard the extent of the injury near the end of the meet.
It wasn’t until nearly 20 minutes after the race when one of his assistant coaches made an off-hand comment about how incredible it was the 400-relay team was going to state.
“I was like, ‘No, they aren’t, there’s no way,’” Remsberg said, laughing. “I didn’t believe it until I saw the video. It was like watching a roadrunner cartoon. It was just incredible. Kalli has such great speed, and she was definitely determined once she got the stick.”
While Anderson’s comeback was incredible and will allow Newton to defend its state title next week, it wouldn’t have been possible without Varpness fighting through the pain to make the hand-off.
“Natalia showed a lot of courage, especially for a freshman,” Remsberg said. “She’s a tough, tough kid.”