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Speed runs in the family

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Spanish Fork track stars, sisters Natalie, left, and Nachelle Stewart, are record-setting athletes for the Dons and will challenge each other on the track all season.

Spanish Fork track stars, sisters Natalie, left, and Nachelle Stewart, are record-setting athletes for the Dons and will challenge each other on the track all season.

Keith Johnson, Deseret News

SPANISH FORK — Something unique happened in the 2006 5A girls 200-meter preliminaries — two athletes broke the state record in back-to-back heats.

The feat would have been impressive had it been two athletes from different schools, rare if both competed on the same team, and border on the realm of impossibility if both record-setting performances came from the same family. But that's exactly what happened two years ago this May when then-sophomore Natalie Stewart posted what would have been a record-breaking 24.51 moments after her twin, Nachelle, ran 24.35.

"At least I didn't have to hold the record for only a few seconds," Natalie said with a smile. "I did break it, but she broke it first."

The Stewarts have been chasing records and each other since elementary school. Both competed at the Hershey Nationals track meet multiple times and earned top-five finishes in several events.

"My mom noticed my brother was really fast and got him to run track. She followed up with my sister, and we followed them right into it," Nachelle said. "It was always fun, but I think going to Hershey Nationals is when we realized track was what we wanted to do."

The decision paid off in 2006, where the Stewarts went on to finish 1-2 in the 200 and 400, as well as picking up points with a two-four finish in the hundred and contributing to a first-place 4X400-meter relay team and a runner-up 4x100 team. Last year's effort in 2007 was even more impressive for the Spanish Fork duo, with wins in the 100, 200, 400, 4x100, 4x400, 800, and two second-place finishes in the 200 and 400.

In fact, since their freshman debut in 2005, at least one of the Stewarts has won or finished in the second in every sprinting event between the 100 and 400. And considering their older sister, Diane, broke two state records herself before moving on to BYU, the Stewarts have to be one of Utah's most dominant track families and a big reason the Dons have won two state titles in the past three years.

"They make it easy to coach when they work so hard," Spanish Fork sprint coach Reggie Kovatch said after the Utah County Invite last weekend. "You have to tell them to go home. They're just such great examples to everyone else on the team, guys and girls. Nachelle ran four events today with duct-taped feet because she had so many blisters."

Nachelle's effort that day helped Spanish Fork set a state record in the 4x400 at 3:50.92 moments after she set a meet record of 2:11.34 in the 800. Not to be outdone, Natalie broke her sister's 200-meter state record by just under two-tenths of a second.

"I was hoping I could get it today," Natalie said. "I just tried to lean into the turn and finish it out on the straight. I kept telling myself, 'Just don't slow down, don't slow down."'

Slowing down just isn't something the Stewarts do, on or off the track. When they aren't setting records or doing homework, both are very outgoing, enjoy reading, watching movies and spending time with friends. Nachelle wants to be an elementary school teacher while Natalie is thinking about teaching and coaching track, and according to coach Kovatch, she already has a pretty good start.

"They're just such amazing leaders," he said. "They cheer as loud as anyone for their teammates, and everyone follows their example. They want their team to be recognized more than themselves."

Spanish Fork head coach Dave Boyak says the twins haven't let success go to their heads. They're great examples on and off the track.

"They are every bit as outstanding off the track as they are on it," he said. "They're both 4.0 students in the classroom, do volunteer service in the community and active in their church and young women's organizations. They even turned down an expenses-paid trip to Nike Outdoor Nationals to stay home and help with a young women's activity."

Despite all their individual accomplishments, neither twin is as concerned with who ends the season with the most state records as they are with helping the Dons win another state championship. They'll have their hands full with a very talented Davis squad.

"I don't think you can end any better than a state title," Natalie said, "but Davis has an excellent program. Every one of our girls will have to perform at peak level to win."

Another pair of state records from the Stewarts would go a long way toward realizing that goal, and so will their leadership.