Newborn gives Heath extra edge at the finish line

Susan Filkins

Two years ago, the future looked promising for sophomore sprinter Kim Heath. She set a school record in the 100-meter dash, she was part of the 4×100 relay that placed third in the Big Ten championships and she was voted the Gophers’ Newcomer of the Year.
Last year, the Pittsburgh native was forced to redshirt because of the birth of her daughter Autumn on Aug. 15.
This season, Heath returned to the Gophers track and field team backed by the support of her husband Rodney Heath, a former Gophers football player, and her new baby girl. Heath said she believes having her baby made her stronger, but regaining her speed has been a challenge.
“They say once you have a child you get stronger and learn to control your muscles more, and it’s true,” Heath said. “It’s just the speed from being off a year. Your body starts to slow down, and you have to build it back up to where you were before.”
This season, Heath has struggled to regain her old form but has enjoyed success running the 100 and the lead leg of the 4×100 relay.
Last weekend at the Minnesota Last Chance Meet, the 4×100 relay team of Heath, Yvette White, Shellie Braggs and Apasha Blocker recorded the third-fastest finish in Gophers history with a time of 47.02 seconds.
Heath and her teammates will attempt to better that time this weekend at the Big Ten championships in Champaign, Ill. Along with the 4×100 relay, Heath will run the 100 and the 200 at the Big Tens.
Heath said she has no regrets about taking last year off, although she said watching the meets made her anxious to return.
“It was hard; I wanted to run,” Heath said. “I don’t like going to a track meet knowing I can win and do good in a meet, but my daughter was more important at the time. I thought I could take the chance and go ahead and redshirt the year.”
One of Heath’s main battles returning to the line-up was dealing with the decision whether or not to run the 200. In her first season with the Gophers, Heath established the second-fastest time in Minnesota history. She said she has been hesitant to run the race this season in fear of recording a disappointing time.
“I really didn’t want to run it at all this year because I would be running really slow times, and it wouldn’t do anything for me,” Heath said. “I thought maybe that it would come back next year.”
On May 3, however, Heath ran the race at the Minnesota Classic and clocked a time of 25.45 seconds, which was good for third place in the meet. Heath said since that meet she has been working on the event and will run it at the Big Tens this weekend.
Heath’s track career started when she was 11 years old when she began competing in summer track meets with the New Image Track Club. She also played basketball in middle school, but decided not to continue in high school, instead focusing all of her energy on track.
“Every year in high school they asked me to come out for basketball, but I just wanted to run track,” Heath said. “Had I known back then that there was going to be the women’s NBA and the (American Basketball League), I think I probably would have stuck with basketball.”
Heath said she has no plans on dropping her track career at Minnesota to try her hand in the new women’s professional basketball leagues, however.
“With the proper training, I could get back into the swing of things,” Heath said. “I’m pretty sure I could do it, but I love track too much.
For now, Heath will continue to train to increase her speed and help her team this weekend at the Big Tens. No matter what happens on the track though, Heath knows her reason for taking off last year has resulted in one of her biggest fans — her daughter.
“She’s a big inspiration for me,” Heath said. “It’s a different kind of lifestyle now, but I enjoy watching her grow up. She’s the happiest baby I’ve ever known, and we’ve been so blessed to have her.”