(December 6, 2009): With a personal best of 22.61 secs for the 200m and 49.84 for the 400m, Natasha Hastings is ready to accomplish more, much more. The 23-year-old New Yorker by birth, who is of Caribbean blood, has shown that she's a force to be reckoned with on the track.
Representing the USA, Tasha, as she is affectionate called, has captured gold medals at both the IAAF World Youth and the World Junior Championships, then took her game to the senior level where she won Olympic gold as a part of the American 4x4 relay team in Beijing last year. Her other career highlights include indoor personal bests of 37.64 secs and 50.80 over the 300m and 400m, respectively.
Like a number of other athletes in the US, this 2007 NCAA 400m (50.15 secs) champion, a Brooklynite, has roots running deep into the Caribbean and the sport. Her mother, Joanne Hastings nee Gardner was born in England and grew up in Trinidad; her father, Charles, was born in Jamaica.
“Both mom and dad ran track,” Natasha said. “They met when they were both on the track team at New York Institute of Technology. My early inspiration to run track was a part of my upbringing. My parents would take me to the track when I
was as young as three years old. There were pictures of track athletes in our home. I grew up around track & field,” she explained.
Errol Anderson Photo
Running the 4x4 relay at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
As Natasha further recalls, she joined the track teamwhen she was only 9 years old. Her passion for the sport was fueled by her immediate family, particularly her mother, who competed for England and Trinidad & Tobago (T&T). Her mother ran for the British junior team before moving to Trinidad at age 13 and representing that country at the Commonwealth, CAC and CARIFTA Games.
“My mom made the 1984 T&T Olympics team and was unable to compete because she was hit by a discuss a few months before the Olympics,” she said. “Her specialty was the 100m and 200m; my dad ran the 400m [for CAST now the University of Technology or UTECH in Jamaica]. I just want to finish what my Mom started.”
'I Just Want to Finish What
Natasha’s teenage years weren’t easy though; she had to make sacrifices. “I could not do what my peers were doing: going out and hanging out. I had a tight schedule. I lived in Brooklyn but my track team was in Long Island. I would go to practice every day during the week after school and on Saturdays I had track meets.
“I was never forced or pressured to run track, my mom wanted me to do something with my time, so track filled that void. I never lost the passion for it.”
Today, the quarter-miler is acknowledging one of the great benefits of not following her peers and taking training seriously during her teenage years: “Track and field gave me an opportunity to get a scholarship to the University of South Carolina.”
Why Represent The US?
In response to what could well be the inevitable question: Why did she choose to represent the US rather than T&T, her mother’s homeland or Jamaica, her dad’s birthplace, Natasha said that she was born in Brooklyn and felt some allegiance to the US.
She also recalls perhaps the overriding factor behind her decision. At age 16 in 2002, the World Junior Championships were to be held in Kingston, Jamaica. And while Natasha struggled to decide which country to represent, one comment was made that she should represent Jamaica because she could not make the US team. That sentiment motivated her to prove that person wrong and also pushed her to not only make the US team but also to capture gold in the 400m (53.41 secs) at the 2003 World Youth Championships in Sherbrooke, Canada.
For an encore the following year, the determined teen was at the top of the podium again, collecting a gold medal for the one-lap event (52.04) at the 2004 World Junior Championship in Grosseto, Italy.
Errol Anderson Photo
Natasha (left) with mother and brother, Justin, at a surprise party for her.
College was next on the agenda for Natasha. Although living in the northeast in New York, she chose to go away to the University of South Carolina (USC). Her choice was based on her conclusion that USC had a rich track and field tradition. The Gamecocks had captured the 2002 Women NCAA outdoor title and was loaded with excellent quarter-milers such as Tiffany Ross, Demetria Washington, Lashinda Demus and Lisa Barber. “As a freshman in 2004, I was able to train with these talented seniors and that really helped and prepared me a lot,” she said.
The Lady Gamecocks became known as the “Gamecock Divas” because of their flair, attitude and personality on the track. Natasha proudly recalls that her teammates gave her the name ‘400m Diva’, and she has kept it since. “I am known for looking good, feeling good and doing good on the track.” she said.
Regarding her greatest accomplishment so far, Natasha cautioned that the chapters are still being written. She noted that “2007 was a good year for me as I set personal best in the 200m (22.61) and the 400m (49.84) and I am also proud of my Olympic gold medal as a member of the 4x4 relay at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.”
Natasha never underestimates her competition even though she feels she can beat anyone. “You have to have that attitude that you are the best. It is not being conceited; you just have to have that confidence when you step on the track. I want to be Number One and I will never disrespect anyone.”
For the Americans, there will be no major global championships in 2010. However, Natasha believes that the US team has the power and the talent to stay competitive. In order to keep pace with the competition, she plans to run in the upcoming indoor season. “I have been training for the past 4-5 weeks. I am healthy and I am still adjusting to life as a professional,” she said.
Having received her degree in Exercise Science from USC in 2008, Natasha says her interests and future ventures, which extend beyond running, will definitely involve sports.
“My interest is diverse, from my desire to become a chiropractor to coaching to personal training to broadcast journalism. I have done some motivational and public speaking and charity work.”
As a track star, her favorite female athletes are Laila Ali (boxer daughter of boxing legend Muhammad Ali) and the Williams Sisters of tennis “because their stories are so inspirational. My favorite male athlete would have to be my manager, Michael Johnson, because he did so many good things for the sport.” Natasha also admires Dwayne Wade and the passion of Lebron James.
The 400m Diva loves to shop and drive a fast car. To feed her indulgence, Natasha recently purchased a stick-shift sports car which gives her the speed and control she enjoys.
Natasha, whose favorite food is Pelau, a Trinidadian stew, isn’t inhibited about the Caribbean part of her life. “I grew up in a Caribbean home, so I am used to eating roti, patties and everything Caribbean,” she said. “Being from Brooklyn, you can’t escape the influence. My father owns a Jamaican restaurant. I listen to Sean Paul, Lady Saw and other Caribbean artistes. I must admit that I have not been back to Jamaica in over 14 years but I was in Trinidad four years ago.
“Before I started running competitively, I used to visit Trinidad and Jamaica every year. [Now] Whenever I make plans with family and friends to visit the Caribbean, my schedule always gets in the way. I am looking forward to visiting Jamaica again.”
As a Caribbean-American, Natasha had this to say about the rise of the Caribbean sprinting dominance at the last two major Games: “I think what Bolt is doing is great for the sport. He is bringing more attention [to it] and more fans to the meets and has caused everyone to reassess where they are because he has brought sprinting to a whole new level. For a male running sub-10 in the 100m, there’s is no guarantee that he will make the 100m final at a major championship.”
And Natasha Hastings, too, has felt the waves created by the Bolt Effect: “I was shocked when I went overseas and saw people holding up MY poster. It is amazing the attention we get overseas.”