JACKSONVILLE — Desiree' Nathe didn't get a big sendoff before she left for the state track and field meet in Jacksonville on May 2.
But her classmates, teachers and friends at Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School did remind her that they expected her to come back to school with a gold medal.
"I had a few tell me, 'Oh, I've told all these people you're winning, so you better win,' '' a grinning Nathe said.
After three years of track and field disappointment, Nathe only had one thing on her mind when she lined up at the University of North Florida for the high jump: go out strong.
On her first attempt at 5 feet, 2 inches, Nathe cleared the bar, and her own expectations. No one else could clear that height on the first try, making Nathe the first state champion of any kind at Bishop McLaughlin.
"The best thing about it was, you've got a talented kid who worked hard and pursued her goal and finally got it,'' Bishop McLaughlin track coach Marty Williams said.
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As a freshman at Pasco High School, Nathe was one of the top high jumpers in the county. A season best of 5 feet, 2 inches was enough to get her all the way to state. But the morning of the meet, she and a friend decided to go go-karting.
"I was trying to miss a cow patty,'' Nathe said. "I told her I wasn't going to hit it, but she jerked the wheel."
The go-kart flipped. Nathe tried to use her left arm to brace the fall and dislocated her elbow.
Gold would have to wait.
"I could have won state that year,'' she said. "It was not a bright idea."
Nathe was young and figured she would get more chances.
She did, but bad luck seemed to follow her.
As a sophomore, she was part of Pasco's 4x100 relay state qualifier, running the first leg. But the team did not get out of preliminaries.
After transferring to Bishop McLaughlin, Nathe found more success in track. She went into regionals her junior year with a chance to qualify in the high jump.
But she was disqualified for wearing a rope ankle bracelet.
"It was one I got from a church camp,'' Nathe said. "I just forgot to take it off."
This year, Nathe was determined to finally make it back to state in the high jump.
She struggled with minor injuries most of the season, mainly a pair of balky knees that she wore braces for during basketball and cheerleading.
Eventually, she had to stop running the 200 and 400 meters to focus on her best event.
"You know, a lot of football players do track, and a lot of baseball or basketball players do track,'' Williams said. "But Desiree', she is a track athlete."
She jumped 5-4 at an early-season meet hosted by Calvary Christian that she said gave her the boost of confidence she needed.
At regionals, she qualified for state with a career-best 5-5.
"I had been peaking since about two weeks before districts. I was just getting better and better,'' Nathe said.
At state, Nathe, who may attend Florida Atlantic University next year to run track, competed in wet and windy conditions that delayed the start of her event. But for a change, misfortune wasn't her companion.
"When I hit the bar with my left calf at 5-4, I thought I had to clear that to win,'' Nathe said. "But then the other girl (who cleared 5-2 but missed more jumps) congratulated me. …I didn't know she had missed more. I just froze. I couldn't believe it."
Despite waiting in the light rain for what seemed like forever to get her medal, Nathe never stopped smiling.
John C. Cotey can be reached at [email protected]