Freshman track athlete has deep roots in track and field
Bryan Hudnell | Staff Writer
The sport of track and field runs in the Ullom family.
Freshman Maddie Ullom comes from multiple generations of track runners and coaches and she’s wasting no time living up to the family name. Ullom was the only freshman in the indoor state final for the 400 meter open and finished 5th overall with a time of 57.94, a school record. In the outdoor season, Maddie split a 25.4 in the 4×200 and a 57.8 in the 4×400.
Head track coach Tony Affatato is good friends with Maddie’s family and thinks that her unique family background is the main contributor to her success on the track.
“Her family grew up in sports,” Affatato said. “Her dad was an All-American swimmer at Purdue. Her mom was an All-American track runner at Purdue. Her grandpa coached track. Her grandparents were also teachers their whole lives and she just really grew up in that atmosphere. Her parents are great because they’ve put no pressure on her about what their expectations are and they’re just enjoying whatever happens for Maddie.”
When Affatato got the head coaching job, he can remember Maddie as a baby when he went to hire her mother as an assistant.
“Maddie was about four weeks old when I got the job,” Affatato said. “Kelly (Affatato) was my first coach. Then, my next coach that I went to hire was her mom. I remember going to her house, Maddie was six weeks old, I’m sitting at her kitchen table and I said, ‘Kierstin will you come coach with Kelly and I’ and then she came and coached with us for the next 10 years.”
Kierstin Ullom had a decorated career at Purdue University. She was the first women’s Big Ten pole vault champion and an All-American in the distance medley. Kierstin believes being around the coaches that knew her as a baby will positively influence Maddie in her track career.
“One of the best things about all of this is that when I was coaching, I started coaching when she was a newborn with the same coaches that are coaching now so they’ve known her for years and have watched her grown up,” Kierstin said. “We’ve all been kind of waiting for her to get to the varsitcy level so that they can coach her and it’s been fantastic to see it all happen.”
Kierstin believed her daughter was special long before she stepped foot on the track but didn’t want to place lofty expectations on her.
“It’s really awesome,” Kierstin said. “For a long time, in the back of my mind I thought that she’d be pretty good, but I didn’t want to push her too soon or too early. It’s pretty neat for me with my track background to watch her come out and do what I kind of thought she could do. It’s just really awesome watching her.”
For Maddie, being at the track at such a young age inspired her to run the sport herself. She enjoys running with the same coaches that she’s been around her whole life.
“I think it’s really special because I grew up with all these people and looked forward to running in high school since I was really little,” Maddie said. “They’ve been super supportive and it has made it easier for me to just focus on running.”
Affatato has a picture of Maddie in his office when she was two years old at the high school state track meet at Ohio State. Since he’s watched Maddie grow up for most of her life, he feels more like a family member rather than a coach.
“There is a picture of her (in my office) where she was at the state championship when she was two years old,” Affatato said. “Maddie keeps that picture in her bag actually which is a unique thing to think about. To have her here now, I don’t necessarily feel like her coach. I kind of feel like an uncle, it’s a little hard to explain. I don’t really look at her like a regular kid on the team because I’ve known her since a baby.”
Another aspect about Maddie’s family life is her grandfather. He has been coaching track and field for over 30 years and not only impacted Maddie, but Kierstin as well. Maddie believes that he’s played a significant role in her life.
“He’s really helpful,” Maddie said. “I also sometimes think it’s better to listen to him than to my mom sometimes because he’s not with me all the time. He likes to give me coaching points after races and stuff like that and it really helps me.”
Kierstin looked up to her father when she was young much like Maddie did to her.
“He’s a mentor for all of us,” Kierstin said. “He guided me when I was growing up and made me in the person I am and developed my love for track. He’s done the same thing for Maddie. He spends a lot of time with her and he can give her so much perspective and with all his experience, he is just so knowledgeable so everything he says you can take it as the truth. He’s just someone that we all kind of look to for guidance.”
With the postseason on the horizon, the Mason Girls Track Team will be competing with the best the Greater Miami Conference and the state of Ohio have to offer and will rely on Maddie to play an important role in their success. Maddie places a great deal of trust in her teammates and is grateful to be running with them.
“I’m really thankful for my teammates,” Maddie said. “Kaylie (Connors) and all of us push each other in practice and we bond with each other on the track.”
Affatato is still trying to find where Maddie can help the team the most by testing her out in different events ranging from the 200 to the 800. Affatato thinks Ullom can be a special athlete.
“We’re trying her in all sorts of different events and let her run everything she can and figure out where we think she’ll be the most successful,” Affatato said. “It’s a lot of trial and error right now but she has an incredible opportunity to be successful once she settles in.”