Bittersweet memories

10 Apr

Natasha Thomas grew up in as culturally different a place as you can get from Ames, Iowa and still be in the United States: Brooklyn, N.Y.

A track and field standout in high school, Natasha was ranked third in the state in 400-meter hurdles. Her performance at a state track meet caught the attention of Iowa State’s assistant track and field coach, Patrick Moynihan, a native of Yonkers, N.Y.

Moynihan recruited the young track athlete, bringing her to Iowa State for a campus visit in 1984. She was just 16 years old.

“He took me to Hickory Park,” Natasha remembers. “Ames was prettier than I thought it would be. I remember the first time I saw Hilton Coliseum.”

And then the memories of Coach Moynihan come flooding back, and Natasha is overcome with emotion.

On Nov. 25, 1985, three members of the women’s cross country team, their two coaches — Moynihan and Ron Renko — a student trainer, and a pilot were killed in a plane crash in Des Moines. In an instant, everything changed.

“He was the main reason I came to Iowa State,” Natasha says of Moynihan, who coached her during her freshman year and the first part of her sophomore year. “He had this dry New York sense of humor that only I got. We lost three teammates [that night], our coaches, and a trainer. It was horrible. It was tough.”

Natasha went on to become a four-year letterwinner and a Big 8 Conference champion in 400-meter hurdles in 1987. She still holds records in 55-meter and 100-meter hurdles at Iowa State.

Natasha graduated in 1989 with a degree in marketing. She lived in Lincoln, Neb.; Des Moines and Waterloo, Iowa; and Los Angeles before settling in Atlanta, Ga., in 2002. She’s spent most of her career as a training and sales coach for State Farm Insurance. Soon she’ll have her own agency, which she describes as “exciting and scary.”

“I’ll be CEO of my own agency,” she says. “If I don’t make something happen, I don’t get paid.”

Natasha has stayed connected to Iowa State in a number of ways. She’s been an alumni ambassador and a mentor for African American students. And she travels to Ames four times a year as a current member of the ISU Alumni Association Board of Directors.

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