NATICK — Laurie Femmel sat, catching her breath and stretching her legs, at the corner of Natick High’s artificial-turf field, another workout completed.
In that solitary moment, she was satisfied. She had pushed herself through another day of training to prove she belongs.
One of the best female athletes in Natick High history, she is the only woman from the East Coast on the University of California Los Angeles track and field team, and the soon-to-be sophomore’s unrelenting schedule is designed to make sure she keeps pace with her teammates and her competition in the Pac-12 Conference.
“Today was more of a tempo day,” she said, smiling under the late-summer sun. “It’s more conditioning, and it’s a little easier on my legs. I usually go speed one day and an easy tempo the next day, and I do that for six days straight.”
Femmel’s work ethic helped make her one of the most effective freshmen on the Bruins squad this spring. She anchored its 4x400-meter relay team at the Texas Relays in Austin, placed third in the 400-meter hurdles — her specialty — in an annual meet with cross-town rival University of Southern California, and took 12th in the 400-meter hurdles at the Pac-12 championships.
At the conference championships, Femmel found herself racing against the three best 400-meter hurdlers in the country, including world-record- holder Kori Carter of Stanford.
“I was just glad I got that far,” Femmel said. “I felt honored to be racing with them. I didn’t ever think I was going to finish as high as I did.”
At Natick, Femmel holds a variety of records. She set the school mark in the 400-meter hurdles, and the 300-, 400- and 600-meter sprints, and she led the 4x200-meter and 4x100-meter record-setting teams. She also holds the record for Natick’s all-time point total for indoor and outdoor track.
Of her seven combined indoor and outdoor track seasons for Natick, she was named the team MVP six times.
“We knew about her even when she was in middle school and did some middle school track meets,” said Natick High’s track coach. Matt Brennemen. “Obviously she had a ton of talent. And she was a very focused and hard-working young lady. She had a phenomenal track career for us, and she’s been one of the best to come through Natick High School, definitely.”
Brennemen remembered when Femmel competed in the 600-meter and 300-meter indoor races, which came back-to-back in rapid succession, to help beat Wellesley for the league title.
“No one in the league had ever really done that before,” he said.
Before her senior year at Natick, Femmel was introduced to Framingham’s Matt Gardner of Gardner Performance Training by Medfield resident Alex Stanton, who competes in track at Brown University.
Under the tutelage of Gardner, Femmel continued to hone her technique in the hurdles, and impressed with her natural athletic ability, even when training among older athletes.
“She did some workouts at Boston University, and she looked like a college kid,” Gardner remembered. “She broke 19 seconds on a standing 150 (meter), which is a good number. It means you have enough speed to be able to do some good things.”
When it came time for Femmel to choose a college, UCLA held an advantage over the others she considered — University of Hawaii, Wake Forest, Syracuse — because it had been her “dream school” for years.
She visited the picturesque campus on a family vacation while in middle school and never forgot it. When the track team began sending her letters as a high school sophomore, she was enamored.
“I fell in love when I visited,” she said. “It was a beautiful campus and the weather was nice every day, and they had a great sports reputation.”
UCLA is one of the top track and field programs in the country because of its star-studded coaching staff. The Bruins lost coaches Johnny Gray (a four-time Olympian) and Jeanette Bolden (a gold medalist in 1984) to the University of Central Florida this summer, but Femmel will train under new assistant coach Joanna Hayes, a 2004 gold medalist in the 100-meter and a former NCAA champ in Femmel’s event, the 400-meter hurdles.
Regardless of who oversees her workouts, Femmel is her own toughest critic. When asked to list her strengths as a hurdler, she responded quickly with what she needs to work on.
“I could work on my hurdle technique,” she insists. “I don’t have great technique. I’m trying to be nice and smooth.”
After falling in her first outdoor collegiate meet this spring in San Diego, bloodying her knees and elbows on the cement-like surface of the track, she believes she has improved. Her fastest time in the 400 hurdles came at the Mt. San Antonio College relays, when she finished in 1:02:18.
Her goals for the upcoming season are lofty: win the 400-meter hurdles in the annual UCLA-USC meet (one of her training T-shirts is powder blue and reads “BEAT SC” in yellow lettering across the back); place in the top eight in the Pac-12 championships; and qualify for the NCAA regional championships.
To get there, she’ll run nearly every day, just as she has this summer while back at home with her parents, Rich and Allison.
She planned to continue training even when she traveled to London and Paris for a family vacation at the end of this month.
Wary of treadmills, she did some preflight scouting and hoped to make her way through Hyde Park in London and the Champ de Mars, a grassy common under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.Phil Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.