At the Wartburg Track and Field team practices, Melissa Norton, the strength and conditioning coach for the team, smiles, and jokes with her “kids,” as she calls them, right up until it’s their turn to step up to the circle.
Her smile drops, her eyes sharpen, and her posture gets more upright as she prepares to look for improvements in their styles.
She stands directly behind them, analyzing every movement and watching with a hawk-eye view for any improvement. As the shot-put hits the floor, she waits for a second, grins and demonstrates what improvements can be made.
Norton has been working with the track and field teams since 2004 and has adopted the role of the stern mother and overseer for the track athletes.
She is even closer to the field athletes though, as this is what she has been doing her entire life.
“I was a little bit of everything,” Norton said. “I did high-jump, I threw the shot-put and the discus in high-school and I ran, so when I came here I started out as the thrower-jumper mix, but they also wanted me to do the heptathlon, so I tried that my freshman year.”
While she sees herself as the “mother” of the team, she doesn’t necessarily convey the same traits that you would expect of a motherly figure while coaching, according to long-distance coach Ryan Chapman said. Rather, she is very stern with her athletes, and is not shy to call them out when needed.
“She’s still a tremendous athlete so she can still get in the ring and show them what to do which is very advantageous for these young men and women,” Chapman said. “She’s just going to ride them until they produce what she sees in them.”
While she acts as a mother to the athletes at practices, she is an actual mother as well. Her 10-year-old daughter, Addy, is at most practices that the team has.
The motherly figure that she brings extends a bit beyond athletics as well, as she has her soft side, Dakota Moore said. This can be seen mostly when her “kids” succeed.
Last year, Moore felt he did not perform as well as he should have been throughout the season. At the conference meet, however, he suddenly improved his performances in almost every event, leading to a bronze.
“Right after coming off of the podium she just right away came up and gave me a big hug and said ‘that’s it, you know what to do now,’” Moore said. “For me I think that was a big thing, just seeing that when I won she was genuinely happy for me to do that showed how much she really does care.”
Chapman said Moore is an example of how Norton will never give up on one of her athletes.
The strength that she inspires in others is drawn from the strength that she had to dig hard to find in herself, but even in reflecting on the hardships, Norton was nothing but positive.
“Coaching, as a woman, I’ve realized is hard. You see that all the time,” she said. “Being a single-parent, a widowed single-parent is even harder, but I would not change anything.”