Nicole Bonk: The Natural


…or so it would seem. Each spring, for the past three indoor track seasons, Nicole Bonk has stepped onto the Embry Riddle track for her one “warm-up” race walk. She posts a pretty good time (fast enough to qualify for the NAIA Indoor Nationals), returns to her running events—usually the 800 and 4 X 8—and chills. A few weeks later at the Nationals, she rockets along…well, figuratively speaking, it is the walk, after all—and leaves with a trophy. Ditto for the outdoor season. Easy said, easy done.

This time around, after just three years’ experience, and with a grand total of 13 races (six 3Ks, four 5Ks, and three 20Ks), the Embry Riddle Senior added yet another Race Walk Championship—her fourth. In winning the 2013 NAIA National Indoor Championship she set a collegiate record of 13:53.63.

Being the analytical writer that I am, I had to find out what she eats. But I was late for our lunch date—a monkey stole my car keys—so, unfortunately, I had to settle for an interview.

Ralph: “Where did that 13:53 come from?”

Nicole: “I think it was a combination of having competition, and being able to push myself…to see how far I could go and trust in my training. I also think that experience helped with my confidence; having a feel for it.”

Ralph: “Speaking of training, what went into becoming a National Race Walking Champion? How did you practice for it?”

Nicole: “Mostly, I would just run. I did middle distance with the other girls. He (Coach Hopfe) would make me run distance, VO2, repeat 200s and 400s, and get the miles in on easy days. He tried to get in about 12 miles a day on the easy days.”

Ralph: “And for the walk?”

Nicole: “After the regular workout, he would tack on some race walking. Mostly 400 repeats.”

Ralph: “And, going into that race, apparently, it wasn’t the only event on your calendar?”

Nicole: “We had the 4 X 8 preliminaries on Friday,”-- February 28th at 5:30 PM—“the 3000 walk on Friday morning,”—March 1st at noon—“and the finals of the 4 X 8 on Friday afternoon. That was definitely the hardest.”

Note: The women’s finals were at 6:45 PM. And, while they made it to the big race, the girls couldn’t come close to their preliminary time of 9:24.20.

Ralph: “Of course, there must have been something that made a race like that special?”

Nicole: “I actually did it for my Grandma. The day before, I found out that she was dying, and dedicated the race to her.”

Ralph: “What kinds of things does a race walker concentrate on during such a long, but relatively slow-motion event?”

Nicole: “I think while I am walking. Tactics. How and when I’m going to make my move. In this race, I’d say it came down to the last 900. I was thinking, ‘You’ve done all your training, trust in yourself…’I’m not just doing it for myself, but also for my teammates, and especially for my Grandma.”

Ralph: “A week later, has what you did—breaking Amber Antonia’s 11 year old record, 13:56-- set in yet?”

Nicole: “I think it’s starting to, but it still hasn’t hit me.”

Ralph: “What about the possibility of a foul, or fouls. Does that possibility ever creep into your mind, with—how many referees are watching you?”

Nicole: “(Usually) three or four.”

Ralph: “Does this create an element of tension; the possibility that you could be pulled off the track for fouls?”

Nicole: “My main goal is to have fun with the walk. If you’re not having fun, why do it?”

Ralph: “So you’ve never fouled out?”

Nicole: (Tapping on the formica table) “So far.”

Ralph: “What about tension on the part the other walkers? Do you think they feel it?”

Nicole: “I’m sure they do. Actually, in the guys, race, there was a push for first, and he got two or three red cards and was disqualified. He won”—Cody Risch, of Cornerstone—“but he got disqualified, so he didn’t win.”

Ralph: “You’re a senior, with one more big race, the NAIA 5000 meter race walk in May, which you won last year (26:43.05 on May 24, 2012). Soon after that, you graduate. Will you continue to compete?”

Nicole: “I’m going to stick to race walking after I graduate and train for the next trials.”

Ralph: “But there’s that gap.”

Nicole: “Wherever I work, I can train. I’m from Chalfont, Pennsylvania, and it’s cold in the winter, but I can train. But where I race will depend upon where I get a job. If it’s out west, it might be LA.”

Ralph: “What line of work will you be in?”

Nicole: “I’m majoring in unmanned aircraft. It’s my ambition to an unmanned aircraft”—UAV—“pilot. It’s the up and coming thing because of technological advances, and the way that society is going. You have the border patrol, oil spills, and environmental concerns. I’ll probably be working for a contracting company…Arizona, California, maybe overseas.”

Ralph: “And no interview would be complete without saying a few words about the people who are important to you here at school.

Nicole: “I would definitely like to thank my coaches. I wouldn’t be here without them. They helped me grow and mature, become a better person. They’re very supportive, as is my family. And my teammates. They’re not only teammates, but they’re family.”

Ralph: Oh, and that monkey part is true. Really. Watch out for those capuchins; they’ll get you every time.

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