(Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
Watch a mtn. feature on the Grossarth Track Family.
PROVO -- At the Robison track during the BYU women's morning practice a baby play pen can be seen, but don't expect to see the baby inside. Little Makayla Grossarth, 18 months old, is probably shadowing her mother, All-American Jennifer Grossarth.
"Makayla does come out on the track and she is in that copy-cat stage, so she wants to do everything we do," ranked second in the MWC in the 400-meter hurdle Jennifer said. "She will get into the blocks and do starts with us. She does some of the warm up stuff like leg swings. And at the track, she knows when the gun goes off that a race has started and she will stand and clap."
Jennifer Rockwell Grossarth, a Tooele High School graduate, has always had great athletic ability as she lettered 12 times in high school in four sports; track, swimming, soccer and cross country. She was region champ three times and state runner-up multiple times in track, as well as being the Utah State Champion in the 100 butterfly three years in a row. For all her success, Jennifer doesn't take it for granted. It's been a long road back to the top.
"It was hard to come back physically," she said. "There were times I was worried I would not come back, or that I would lose the ability I had."
Nearly two and a half years ago, Jennifer was in a very different place than she is now. Life was changing in a big way.
"Right before I got pregnant, I was injured the season before so it was frustrating to sit out and know that I was not going to be able to compete like I wanted to," she recalled. "So when I got pregnant I thought, 'well I only have one year left I don't even know if I want to come back.' But I had committed to the team and sitting out watching the rest of the team compete really got me hungry to compete again."
Jennifer found that pregnancy not only adds a new life to your family, but also changes the way she runs.
"When you get pregnant your body just gets bigger and you lose a lot of muscle mass and muscle tone," said Jennifer. "I really wanted to get back to where I was, even if I didn't compete. I felt like I didn't reach my potential. I felt like I could do better and I never ran as fast as I possibly could. I wanted to see how fast I could be."
Getting back to All-American status would prove to be more difficult than imagined.
"The first six months was a struggle, and I didn't see much improvement," said Jennifer, who holds the seventh best time in the 400-meter hurdles in the nation this year. "I didn't feel like myself. Running felt kind of weird but I kept on working, and I was eventually able to compete last April unattached. I was about two seconds off my best times, which was really good without weight training. It was tough."
The team rallied behind Jennifer and gave her encouragement to keep going.
"My teammates have been incredible," she said. "They would tell me when I first came back, 'You're doing so good,' 'It's great that you are out here,' and they would tell me how well I was running even though I knew I wasn't doing that good. They were really encouraging. The coaches have been very supportive. Coach Poole has been really good with reminding me of the things I need to do so I can get back into running shape."
Jennifer also drew strength and support from her husband and BYU men's assistant track coach Kyle Grossarth. Kyle was a hurdler at BYU in 2000, when he also competed at the U.S. National Championships and placed fifth in the 400 hurdles. Jennifer relied on him for moral support as well as help in raising their daughter.
"I try to be as supportive as I can and try to watch Makayla as much as I can so she can workout," said Kyle, the 1999 and 2000 WAC Champion in the 400 hurdles. "And help her with her running as much as I can. I try to be supportive as a coach and a husband. I also want to keep those two roles as separate as possible."
Jennifer also takes Kyle's suggestions to heart, knowing he wants to help her accomplish her goals.
"Kyle is a hard guy to impress because he has such a knowledge of track and field," said Jennifer. "He helped me see how much I was working out, or he reminded me I was not working enough. When you work out and you are tired, it's hard to see that you aren't doing as much as you should be. I want to impress him and reach my potential. I know he believes I can run faster than I am and that helps me mentally know I can do more."
Jennifer has accomplished more. She was part of the MWC championship distance medley relay team, as well as led the MWC in the 400-meter hurdles during the 2007. Jennifer is in the top-15 in the conference this year in four events; 100 meters, 200 meters, 110 hurdles, and the 400 hurdles.
"Kyle tells me not to look at the record board but I do," said Jennifer. "I see some women on the board in a couple events and I want to be up there in multiple events, from the 100 meters to the 400 hurdles. I don't feel like I have reached my potential. I also have goals in the weight room, so I have a lot of motivation to keep going."
This season holds great promise for her as she has already surpassed previous accomplishments and marks.
"Her desire and drive has come up this year," said Kyle. "Everyone wants it but she has taken it to the next level. She knows this is the last shot and it has reflected in her work ethic. She has shown that in her performances. She has set lifetime bests multiple times this season."
Motherhood has helped to give Jennifer a new perspective on life and on the track.
"Before I was a mom, when I would compete, I thought that I had to feel just right to compete well. I thought that everything had to feel just right and feel like I was going to run my very best in order to run my best. I have learned to go with the flow more. Some days I don't feel up to competing and you just have to mentally say, 'I just have to run hard today,' and run my best. Changing my attitude that way has really helped me to work out harder and push myself at the track meets, when I don't feel great, to do my best."