By Jacki Wood, written for the Nodaway News Leader
When Nali Tattersall arrived in Missouri in January, the 17-year-old exchange student had never participated in track and field, never attempted the high jump nor the long jump, never even seen how to do the triple jump.
Now, the Nodaway-Holt junior from Darwin, Australia, will be competing at state this weekend after qualifying in all three events at sectionals.
“(I) feel overwhelmed to receive all the attention,” Tattersall said. “I enjoy seeing everyone’s athletic ability and getting to meet others I compete with and build relationships with them.
“I’m also excited to be able to help my team with points and hopefully continue this journey as far as I can.”
Tattersall’s host family, Erick and Heather Thornton and their son, Derick, have enjoyed watching him compete.
“He is a natural to jumping events, and having never done it before, we didn’t expect him to be doing so well,” Heather said. “It’s been great to celebrate with him each time he sets a new personal record or see his face light up when he gets another trophy or medal.”
Darwin is the capital of the Northern Territory of Australia and has a population of 136,000.
Tattersall said while the language is the same and western culture is shared, there are several differences between his home country and the US.
“We drive on different sides of the road and (there are) changes in climate. Here it gets really cold and I’m used to it being hot year round,” he said.
The food is also different.
“Americans have so many choices,” he said. “There are so many different kinds of snacks and restaurants in the states. In Australia, we don’t have free refills and very few candy bars. I love trying it all.
“I do miss vegemite, though.”
Vegemite is a popular spread for sandwiches, toast and crackers in Australia. It’s dark brown, tastes salty and slightly bitter and is made from leftover brewers’ yeast extract with vegetable and spice additives.
Tattersall has also found that school is somewhat different.
“There are no sports in schools in Australia and here there is something to do all year,” he said.
The students at Nodaway-Holt, however, are mostly the same as those in Australia.
“(They) like similar things such as hanging out on the weekends, playing video games and they like to fish and hunt,” Tattersall said.
Sarcasm has been a bit of a challenge for him, he said, understanding when it’s being used and what is meant by it. But he is really enjoying his time at Nodaway-Holt especially participating in athletics and making new friends.
“My school is amazing,” he said. “And I’ve built so many friendships that will last a lifetime.”
That includes his host family.
“I have been placed with an awesome host family who are very supportive and keep my family in Australia involved with pictures and videos on Facebook,” he said.
Heather said they are grateful for the opportunity to have him in their home.
“He is a great kid, very funny and easy going, polite and enjoys interacting with others,” she said. “He has taught us many things about his culture and answers your questions, even if it’s the 500th time he had answered it. Watching him experience new things is a joy.
“We are grateful for the experience and know he will be a part of our family for many years.”
While there were no athletics offered at school in Australia, Tattersall did play basketball in what would be equivalent to a YMCA or community center league.
In addition to track and field, he participated in part of the basketball season at Nodaway-Holt after he arrived, and because he will be here until November, he plans to also play football in the fall.
Before Tattersall arrived in Missouri, a few students had shown Coach Josh Petersen video clips of him dunking a basketball from right inside the free throw line.
“When he started school here, I think it was his first or second day of basketball practice, I asked to see him dunk it,” Petersen said. “And I was just amazed at how high he could jump.”
So when track season rolled around, Petersen said he couldn’t wait to see how well he could or would do in the jumping events.
“Long jump and high jump weren’t really an issue but I was curious to see how he would do in triple jump,” he said. “The day before our first meet, I showed him the technique. And after seeing the look on his face and him saying ‘far out’ in that Australian accent of his, I figured he would like it.”
Not only did he like it, he excelled at it.
The day after learning how to triple jump, Tattersall participated in his first meet and jumped around 38 feet. Now, he’s jumping nearly 43 feet.
His long jump started at around 18 feet and now he’s jumping 20’2”.
In high jump, Petersen said he was stuck on 6’2” for awhile but he eventually got 6’4” at the Mound City meet which is his best and a Nodaway-Holt school record.
He was also a part of the 4×200-meter relay team, which Petersen said fared pretty well in every meet.
“Nali has been a very big part in the success of our track team this year,” Petersen said. “We only had six guys out and he was usually first or second in every event he was in. He has been our high point guy in every track meet, usually scoring 26 to 30 points by himself.
“I have really enjoyed watching him do his events and couldn’t have asked for a better person to coach in my first year. It’s been exciting to watch him perform.”
With his unexpected success, Tattersall is now considering the sport as a potential part of his future.
“Participating in track at the collegiate level is not a possibility (at home); they don’t have sports in college there,” he said. “I could continue track in Australia, however, it would be very limited and difficult.”
So after he finishes high school, he said he will consider returning to the US to further his education and participate in track while doing so.
“This has been amazing,” Tattersall said, “and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.”