Each of the 12 West Ranch student-athletes who signed a National Letter of Intent on Friday afternoon at West Ranch High School has a unique story as to how they ended up playing his or her respective sport.
But the stories of two athletes overlap. Pole vaulter Amber Racina and thrower Noah Bultman are each headed to college for a track and field career and each has had gymnastics intersect their athletic careers.
Racina, who is headed to UC Davis, became heavily involved in gymnastics at an early age.
“From the time you’re 10 years old, your whole life is gymnastics,” she said.
For five hours a day, five to six times a week, Racina was in the gym after school. When she got home, she had enough time to do homework, but that was all. She had few friends outside of the gym and the sport was starting to take a toll on her body.
Her freshman year, Racina quit gymnastics. And she picked up pole vaulting.
She got the idea from a friend who had recently switched from gymnastics to pole vaulting. Once she picked up the new sport, she excelled. This season, Racina is attempting to break the Foothill League record of 12 feet. She cleared 11-7 in a dual meet against Golden Valley earlier this year.
“It was really relieving but also I’ve been looking forward to this for a really long time,” Racina said of signing her NLI. “I was a gymnast until halfway through my freshman year and so playing a sport in college was something I always aspired to do since I was a gymnast, so it was really nice to accomplish it and that made it real.”
Bultman, who signed with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo was the opposite. Growing up in a family of throwers, he started track and field when he was four years old, competing for the Lightning Warriors.
He was constantly at his brothers’ track meets, but Bultman’s dad made it clear that if he didn’t want to be a thrower, he didn’t have to be. He could be a jumper or a runner or even pick up a non-track sport like basketball or football, just as long as he was doing something.
In fifth grade, he quit track to do gymnastics.
Bultman competed in trampoline and tumbling, but his gymnastics career came to a halt after two years when he injured his knee. He returned to throwing, but what he learned in gymnastics still stuck with him. He can still do a backflip, too.
“It’s so much how to move your body that it can be applied to any other sport,” Bultman said.
Racina has noticed similarities between track and field and gymnastics as well. Gymnastics taught her how to physically push herself through sheer grit. It also made her mentally tough.
“Pole vault is very mental,” she said. “When you’re on your third attempt, it’s all mental. Gymnastics taught me that and gave the ability to be a better pole vaulter and I wouldn’t be where I am without gymnastics; it taught me so much. And it’s really directly applicable to track.”
Racina will major in biology for undergrad studies, then pursue a master’s degree in nursing. Bultman is majoring in business.
Both will finish out the Foothill League track and field season with league prelims happening on Thursday at College of the Canyons at 2 p.m. Foothill League finals will also be at COC on April 25 and 26.
Other track and field athletes who signed NLIs on Friday include Natalie Ramirez (UCLA), Shelbi Schauble (UCLA), Grace Waterman (Rice), Evan Bates (Gonzaga) and Bryce Valles (Boise State).
Additionally, West Ranch swimming’s Cade Brower signed with UC San Diego, golf’s Favian Busnawi signed with Bowdoin College, softball’s Delaney Bevan signed with Cal State San Marcos and baseball’s Cade Nicol signed with Colorado Mesa.