Nachelle Mackie — one-third of a terrific sister act, one-half of a fast identical twin set — was one of the top sprinters in the nation in high school, but only the second fastest in her family. What to do? She moved up to the 800-meter run and found her own race. Now she's the fastest in the nation.
This weekend Mackie will enter the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships in Nampa, Idaho, with the country's fastest time at 800 meters. A month ago, she took on many of the NCAA's top middle-distance runners at the New Balance Invitational in New York City and beat them handily, finishing with a time of 2:03.56. Only teammate Katie Palmer was close, in 2:03.79.
In the BYU record books, only Julie Jenkins, a former Olympian and NCAA champion, has run faster (she owns the outdoor record of 2:00.50). "Nachelle will break two minutes before next year," says BYU coach Patrick Shane firmly. At the recent conference championships, Nachelle clocked an 800-meter relay split of 2:02.
Recent history bodes well for Nachelle at the national championships. BYU teammate Lacey Bleazard, a senior from Lone Peak High, has finished first, second and first respectively in the 800 in the last three NCAA indoor championships (she narrowly missed qualifying this season).
"I am thrilled for Nachelle," says her twin sister Natalie. "This has been so fun to see her do well."
For those familiar with Utah high school sports, none of this will come as a surprise. Nachelle, who is married, is part of the Stewart-sister team that dominated prep track and field, specifically, the 100, 200 and 400 dashes, the 800, the relays and the hurdles. That didn't leave much for the competition.
The oldest sister of the family, Diane, a three-sport prep star, set a state record in the 300 hurdles as a junior in 2005, but missed most of her senior year with a knee injury and never had a chance to improve the mark. Still, her time of 42.56 stands as the second fastest time ever by a Utah prep. Diane has been sidelined frequently by various injuries at BYU, but after returning from an LDS Church mission last May, she has returned to form this winter. Meanwhile, the twins have made their marks and then some.
Natalie holds state records for the long dashes — 200 (24.18) and 400 meters (53.39). She also held the state record in the 100-meter dash (11.99) before it was broken by Aubrie Haymore and then Aubrey Hale.
Nachelle holds the 5A state record for the 800 (2:08.48). She also held state records in the short sprints, only to have her sister break them; she ranks No. 2 on the all-time Utah prep list in the 200 (24.35) and 400 (54.18), behind her sister.
The Stewarts also played no small part in setting state records in the 4 x 400 (3:50.70) and medley (3:50.92) relays that might never be broken. They rank No. 2 in the 4x100.
Together, the Stewarts combined to win 29 state championships in individual races and relays and played a big part in Spanish Fork winning three team titles.
In retrospect, the friendly rivalry between the twins seems to have produced a remarkable symmetry. It's almost as if the track gods demand some measure of equity in their talents and successes. Nachelle beat Natalie in the sprints during their freshman and sophomore seasons in high school, setting state records in the 200 and 400. Then it was Natalie's turn. She beat her sister and her records during their junior and senior seasons.
"Sometimes it was hard," recalls Nachelle. "I was happy for her; I was just disappointed I wasn't doing better."
Their prep coach, Dave Boyack, found the perfect solution. He convinced Nachelle to try the 800 during her junior season. "I saw in practice that she recovered quickly," he says. No sprinter likes the agony of the longer races, but Nachelle agreed to the experiment and found instant success. It also meant she didn't have to see her sister's backside for a change.
"We didn't really mind racing against each other," says Natalie, "but it's nice we have our own races."
Independently Nachelle says the same thing: "It's nice to have a race to myself."
"Both kids were always excited to see the other have success, but it was probably a good idea to move Nachelle up to the 800m to give her a chance to shine in an event that Natalie didn't and couldn't do," says Boyack.
The track gods have continued to administer successes — and even injuries — with a certain equity. Nachelle redshirted the 2011 outdoor season with a stress fracture in her foot. Natalie redshirted the current indoor season with a knee injury. Last year Natalie produced a school record in the indoor 400 of 53.90 and placed third at the same distance in the conference championships. This year Nachelle set a school record in the indoor 800 and won a conference championship.
The twins have continued to progress when healthy, improving on their high school times. Natalie has run 23.85 in the 200 and 53.05 in the 400. Nachelle ran a 52.9 leg on the 4x400 relay as a freshman.
"These kids are so motivated in everything they do," says Boyack.
That applies right down to their school work. All three girls sported 4.0 grade point averages in high school. Their GPAs at BYU: 3.90, 3.98, 3.99.
"I've told them they should get something less than an A to take the pressure off," says Shane. "You couldn't ask for better women to coach. They want to do well and they work hard and they're pleasant to be around."