Over the past three years, Seaside High School senior Gretchen Hoekstre has orchestrated the perfect blend of natural talent and hard work to produce the type of nationally recognized success most high school athletes dream of. In her mind, though, she’s just getting started.
“I was nervous that I would peak somewhere in high school, but I’m still getting better and I’m still succeeding,” said the track star, who captured another title at the state championship last weekend. “I have the natural ability to push my body to its limits, and that has been something I love.”
Hoekstre’s always possessed a vividly competitive nature, one that she previously channeled into team sports, including basketball, softball and volleyball. After butting heads with the softball coach her freshman year, she decided to give track a try and the sport clicked right away. Although she couldn’t compete that spring, hindered by a serious bout of mono, she went back the spring of her sophomore year and subsequently qualified for state that year.
“I just fell in love with the idea of an individual sport,” she said. “It’s so much easier to not be reliant on people to succeed in a sport. … I always struggled with that, because I’m a very competitive person.”
Although she continued to play volleyball her freshman and sophomore years and lettered in basketball as a freshman, sophomore and junior, she decided her senior year to put all her focus on discus-throwing and shot-putting, along with theater.
Small town, big goals
Throughout the year, Hoekstre’s broken several personal records and captured a couple key achievements: throwing 50 feet in the shot to become No. 1 in the nation and throwing the discus about 158 feet at state to break the meet record previously held by Astoria’s Laura Bobek. She also started planning for the future.
“In a small town, you’re always told, ‘You’re probable not going to go D-1, you’re probably not going to be the best in anything,’ just because you come from a small school and you don’t have the opportunities provided for you,” she said. “And I really wanted to prove that wrong.”
She considered other Seaside graduates — such as Ben Archibald, a former San Francisco 49ers offensive tackle, and Maddi Utti, Seaside’s basketball standout who is currently playing at Fresno State on a full ride — and knew national success was attainable.
“I want to be the best, and if I’m going to compete, I want to compete at the highest level that I can,” she said.
Her first decision to make was where to attend college. At first, was hesitant to sign with Brigham Young University, in Provo, Utah, uncertain about going to “a church school” and being “that typical Mormon girl,” she said. One visit to the campus, however, and she saw an unparalleled opportunity for her athletic potential to be further cultivated.
“I fell in love with the coach, the athletes, the atmosphere, the idea of going to a school of that caliber,” she said.
Hoekstre knows she will be challenged academically and athletically, and also fully supported in her journey to achieve success at the next tier. She plans to compete in a variety of indoor and outdoor track events — including the weight throw, shot, discus and hammer — during winter and spring. She was only recently introduced to hammer throwing last summer, but instantly appreciated the track event and how it could play off her particular strengths.
“It’s very complicated, it’s very demanding on your body, but it’s a beautiful sport,” she said. “The way it’s done, it’s like a dance. … Because of my build and natural strength, and my natural weight in my legs and my trunk, I think I could really succeed.”
Heading into her college career, she hopes to place in two events by her sophomore year and to be a national champion during her junior and senior years.
Going for global success
Hoekstre’s dreams stretch beyond collegiate achievement, though. Another massive one: Competing at the 2024 Olympics in Paris. She will need to get her numbers up in the shot, hammer throw, and discus to qualify for the Olympic trials, but she perceives that as a manageable, and worthwhile, goal.
“I don’t want to just be the best for a small town or the best in the state of Oregon,” she said. “I want to be the best in the world. I want to take that challenge.”
Hoekstre is no stranger to making sacrifices to pursue her passion. She has spent countless hours weight-lifting and practicing and put other activities on the backburner, particularly during her senior year.
“I’ve given up parties, and a lot of friends, and dates, anything you can think of that a high schooler or teenager would like to do, to be able to succeed,” she said. “I’ve given up a lot already, and every time I PR or I succeed on the field, it is worth it. Every time.”
She knows the Olympics is a lofty goal, as only the best athletes in the world are given the chance to participate, and she has a backup plan: Studying exercise science, becoming a physician’s assistant, and working with the international nonprofit Doctors Without Borders.
Given the opportunity to participate in the Olympics, though, she feels confident she can make the most of it given her aptitude for hard work and discipline. Even now, when struck with a sense of awe or disbelief about the goals she’s already accomplished, she recalls the massive amount of work she’s invested and feels justified.
“Sometimes it is kind of scary to think, ‘Wow, what if I’m not the person that people say I am?’,” she added. “But I’ve proven to myself, especially recently, that the work I’ve put into the sport is worth everything and it has gotten me to the point that I really can succeed.”