BIGFORK – Somewhere between the removal of painful scar tissue in his hips and the end of his junior year, Andrew Whittaker became the fastest kid in the state.
This year, the Bigfork speedster is even faster.
Whittaker is hoping to retain his Class A title in the 100-meter dash at this weekend’s state tournament in Bozeman. He placed first in divisionals last weekend, running a time of 11.11 seconds.
For a kid who doesn’t come from an athletic background and didn’t run on a track until his sophomore year, he marvels at the position he’s in today. In fact, he hadn’t won a meet – ever – until his final race of the season at last year’s state tournament, when he slipped past Glendive’s Derek Ohs for the Class A title.
“It was just crazy how it worked out,” Whittaker said.
Whittaker is quiet and polite. So when students come up to him in the halls and ask him if he’s going to win again, he doesn’t know what to say. Susan Loeffler, Bigfork’s head track and field coach, said that sort of pressure can be difficult.
“They don’t have a clue what it takes to win the first time,” Loeffler said. “But to repeat, they think it’s a piece of cake.”
To take some pressure off Whittaker in the 100, Loeffler had him start running the 200-meter dash this year too. Another benefit of doing both events, Loeffler said, is that he has a better shot at running in college. Whittaker turned down a scholarship offer from a small college in California and will try to walk on at the University of Montana next year.
Whittaker certainly isn’t built like Carl Lewis. He’s short and so are his legs, resulting in short strides. He jokes that he hasn’t raced any tall people this year yet, but Loeffler says his technique carries him to victory.
He’s 5 feet 6 and a half inches tall, though he prefers to call it 5-7.
“I always learned in math you round up,” Whittaker said.
In the 200, particularly suited for longer strides, Whittaker is “a great corner runner,” Loeffler said, which helps compensate for his shorter strides. In the 100, he shoots out of the starting blocks as well as anybody.
“Out of all the kids I’ve had,” Loeffler said, “I don’t think I’ve ever had a kid that starts like he does.”
At the state final last year, Whittaker ran an 11.26 in the 100 to edge out Ohs, who ran an 11.27. This year Ohs has the fastest time in Class A, recently running an 11.07. Whittaker, however, owns the second-best time with his 11.11 finish at divisionals. His time of 22.61 in the 200 is also second fastest in the state.
at a May 10 invitational in Polson ran an 11.22 for the second-fastest time in the state this year. He also won the 200 with a time of 22.9, one of the best times in the state.
It’s tough for Whittaker to pinpoint where exactly he thinks he gets his speed from. He said besides his uncle, who ran track, no one in his immediate family is or has been involved heavily in athletics. When he was growing up, he wasn’t active in youth track meets nor does he ever recall racing anybody.
Perhaps, as far as he can tell, his speed comes from incessantly squirming around as a kid.
“I was always a little kid who was quick and hyper,” he said.
The multi-talented Whittaker is also a top-notch pole vaulter. Clayton Woll, Bigfork’s pole vault coach, thinks Whittaker could place at state, potentially giving him a third medal. He is currently in the top 10 in Class A.
During football his junior year a bothersome accumulation of scar tissue in his hips finally became unbearable. So he visited a physical therapist and underwent Graston Technique therapy, which essentially rubs the scar tissue out of the problematic areas. Since his muscles had grown unevenly while he battled the scar tissue, he said he was still not 100 percent during last track season.
But this year heading into state he’s completely healthy, which could be trouble for the rest of the field.
“It’d be amazing to be able to do it two years in a row,” Whittaker said.
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