It is late in July here on the prairie. Heavy gray clouds are being
swept along by a strong breeze. There is an occasional sprinkle of
rain. It is a cool, moist interlude to Minnesota's hot, dry,
The change in the weather has done nothing to alter Heather Van
Norman's outlook. She's bored and restless. She's anxious to get
started on the next step in her life: college.
"Windom is a great place to raise a family. I would recommend it
to anyone," Heather says. "But when you get to be a sophomore or junior
in high school, there's nothing to do. This summer has been the worst.
The people here have been great to me, but I have to get out of here."
Heather has been on the phone, trying to convince a friend - Missy
Ferguson, Meredith Tschetter, Elise Brodin, any friend - to get the use
of a car and make the 1 1/2-hour drive to Sioux Falls, S.D.
"I saw an ad on television for the Chi Chi's in Sioux Falls last
night," Heather says. "I told my friends, `Let's go. Let's drive over
there and eat Mexican food. Let's do something.' "
"Heather's problem is that most of her friends are busy. They are
out of town, or they have jobs," says her mother, Millie Van Norman.
At the moment, Heather says these are her summer commitments: "
`The Young and the Restless' from 11 to 12, `Days of Our Lives' from 12
to 1, `Another World' from 1 to 2 and `Santa Barbara' from 2 to 3."
A visitor asks Heather if it's tough to find a summer job in
Windom, a town of 4,500 in southwest Minnesota. Before Heather can
answer, her father jumps into the conversation.
"It depends on if you look or not," Don Van Norman says.
There is laughter around the Van Norman dining room table.
Heather's secret is out. The most dominant high school track star in
Minnesota's history isn't exactly a whirlwind when it comes to
household chores or pursuing employment opportunities.
"A lot of the kids in town pick on me about it," Heather says.
"The other day, I told a couple of the guys I had to go home and vacuum
the floor. They said, `Oh, my God,' and pretended like they were going
to pass out from the shock."
Budget crunches are common for Minnesota's school boards. Windom went
through it early in this decade. A town meeting was held in an attempt
to figure out where the cuts would take place.
"One of the things brought up at that meeting was the possibility
of dropping track," Don Van Norman said. "I got up and said, `I have a
little girl in the fifth grade who can run like the wind. If we don't
have track in Windom, where is she going to run?' I turned out to be
more prophetic than I thought."
Track and field survived Windom's budget cuts. Eight years later,
you can buy a T-shirt in Windom - for the small-town price of $3.50 -
that reads, "I'm a Heather Van Norman fan." There is a drawing of
Heather, and an underline that makes it clear who claims her: "Windom,
"Heather's talent was so obvious they wanted her to go to the
varsity district meet when she was in the seventh grade," Millie said.
"She wouldn't do it."
"I was too scared," Heather said. "I didn't want to be competing
with those older girls. I didn't think my friends would like it. I
wanted to be with them. I was embarrassed when they asked me to run
By the eighth grade, Lyle Riebe - the boys' and girls' track coach
at Windom for the past 30 years - had convinced Heather to move from
junior high to varsity competition. It was the spring of 1984, and
Heather finished third at 200 and 400 meters in the state Class A meet.
For the rest of her high school career, Heather was unbeaten - as
a freshman, as a sophomore, as a junior and as a senior. She won the
100, 200 and 400 meters in the Class A meet all four years; the
"quadruple triple" is what they call it in Windom. She finished her
high school career in June with a winning streak of 147 races.
"The high school kids here like to hang their medals on their
letter jackets," Don Van Norman said. "If Heather pinned her medals on
her jacket, she would be bulletproof."
In 1986, Heather was a one-person team, and her 30 points gave
Windom a tie for second place in the team standings. In 1987, Heather
again was by herself and scored 30 points, and that was enough for
Windom to win the state championship. This spring, Windom had a
third-place finish in the 2-mile relay to go with Heather's three
victories and won the team championship with 36 points.