Wisconsin woman's journey to the Olympics

Published: Aug. 5, 2016 at 8:33 PM CDT
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COLUMBUS, Wis. (WMTV) --- One woman's road to Rio started in southern Wisconsin.

Heather Miller-Koch grew up on a farm in East Bristol, showing cattle in 4-H, and playing sports at Columbus High School. Now, she is one of three American women with a chance to be the next World's Greatest. She is competing in the Olympic Heptathlon.

"You could ask me questions about track and I would talk to you all day about the kids I've coached," said Marlin Hensler, Columbus High School track coach.

While time has passed, the memories are still fresh.

"We set the record for most points in the state meet," Hensler said.

It's more than just records for Hensler.

"t was an amazing time here in Columbus. Emily Raymond, Christie Jahnke, Kaycie Merriehew. I had a really talented team then," he said.

But there's one name that stands out.

"This is her sister Alicia. This is Heather. This is her sister Danielle,

Heather Miller was a three sport athlete for Columbus. In addition to her state titles in track, she was also part of Columbus' back to back State Championship basketball teams.

"She was phenomenal when she was here. She had all the ability in the world. And once she put her mind to something, it was going to get done," Hensler said.

After graduating in 2005, Heather turned down track scholarships to places like Wisconsin and Notre Dame, instead opting for Division II St. Cloud State in Minnesota, where she could run track, play basketball, and pursue her career goal of becoming a nurse.

After three years of basketball, and a trip to the D-II Final Four, Heather decided to focus on track, and was introduced to the heptathlon.

"What I like best about the heptathlon is that it showcases the best athletes in my opinion. We have to hurdle, we have to high jump. We have to long jump. We have to throw. We have to sprint. We have a test of endurance racing a half mile," Heather said.

After seven years of training and working, Heather put her nursing career on hold, to move to San Diego and train full time for the Olympic trials with her husband and coach, former La Follette athlete Ryan Koch.

"My dream was just to make it. I've made steady progress since ending college. The Olympic rings were in my dreams, to make the team," she said.

Heather's chance finally came last month. She was third in the standings after the first day heptathlon competition, needing a top three finish on day two to go to Rio.

With her family, in-laws, and high school track coach in the stands, Heather delivered in the last event, the 800 meters.

Coach Hensler described himself as an emotional guy, and said he's been known to get a little misty when any of his athletes does well.

"We had a little laugh about that afterward. She said, 'I know you cried Hens.' It was such a huge stage. And to be present for that, and to witness it, it was amazing," Hensler said.

Back home in East Bristol, Heather's family is packing their bags for Rio.

"Something you never dreamed of really. Going to the Olympics. You watch it, and that's about it. And now to be there watching your own daughter, that will be a big moment," said Gary Miller, Heather's father.

"For a community our size and a program and a school our size, to say that I've coached an Olympian and we have an Olympian from Columbus, I think that's the amazing part," Hensler said. "I'm very proud of that fact. That I get to say that I coached Heather Miller."

Heather received a one year sabbatical from her hospital in the Twin Cities, where she is an O.R. nurse, so that she could train full time.

Copyright 2016: WMTV