Archive for Wednesday, August 23, 2006

No purple rein

Initially ‘gung ho’ about K-State, Gratny instead joins Texas A&M equestrian team

August 23, 2006

Maggie Gratny is in need of a wardrobe makeover.

It's not as though the 2006 Tonganoxie High graduate warrants help from the fashion police, but where she's going, maroon is the color of choice, not purple.

Gratny will attend Texas A&M this fall on an athletics scholarship. She will compete for the Aggies equestrian team.

Gratny, who starts classes Monday at the university in College Station, Texas, had her heart set for years on attending Kansas State. Her older sister, Kelly, helped establish equestrian as a varsity sport at K-State a few years ago. Her sister, who since has married and now is Kelly Carlson, competed for the Wildcats while attending KSU.

Gratny said watching her older sister compete at K-State inspired her to work toward competing in the sport in college.

"My sister had kind of started the equestrian team," Gratny said about the K-State team. "When I found that out I thought, 'dang, they're paying her way to ride a horse.' I'll strive for that and see what happens."

During a National Reining Horse Association competition in Colorado, a Texas A&M coach asked Gratny whether she wanted to compete in the sport for the Aggies.

"I was gung-ho on K-State," Gratny said.

She had also received interest from Fresno State in California, but had planned to compete for the Wildcats on scholarship, in Manhattan.

However, the A&M coach had Gratny and her parents, Mark and Linda, fly down to Texas for a recruiting visit.

"We did that and about the third day I decided maybe A&M wasn't so bad and I fell in love with it," Gratny said.

The Tonganoxie graduate will compete against the school she grew up rooting for on two occasions this school year -- Feb. 25 in College Station and March 4 in Manhattan.

"My family supplies horses for them, so they'll be there for them and me," Gratny said. "Yeah, it will be a little weird, but I still like K-State at heart."

Gratny's father, Mark, owns Mark Gratny Quarterhorses, and as Maggie noted, supplies the K-State team with their horses.

In addition, Maggie's parents both are Kansas State graduates, but her mother said that wouldn't make that March 4 meeting in Manhattan some heated rivalry.

"Only in a fun way," Linda explained. "We're big K-State alumni and fans. We continue to support the K-State teams. We'll have to root for both teams when they compete."

Rising sport

In 1998, equestrian was classified as an NCAA emerging sport.

Entering the 2006-07 school year, there are 23 colleges and universities that offer equestrian as a varsity sport -- six of which are Texas schools.

According to the NCAA varsity equestrian Web site, www.varsityequestrian.com, to hold an official NCAA Equestrian Championship, 40 NCAA schools must field a team in the sport.

In the Big 12 Conference, Texas A&M, Baylor, K- State and Oklahoma State are the only members to field equestrian teams. However, Gratny said Oklahoma and Texas are working to add programs.

Although there's not an "official" NCAA championship, national championships have been held the last few years. Texas A&M won the overall title in 2002 and won the Western title in 2006.

Gratny will ride horses supplied by Texas A&M in practices and at home events. The host school provides horses for an event, so she will have to adapt to different horses for road competitions.

In past years, riders had to draw different horses for a competition. Gratny said that became a luck of the draw in which a good rider could be stuck with a substandard horse and a less talented rider could do better because of a better horse.

Starting this year, Gratny said, a horse is drawn and each competitor rides that horse.

"I think it will be a lot more fair and equal opportunity," she said with a laugh.

Gratny will practice four times a week and also will have weightlifting sessions three times a week. Those workout sessions begin at 6 a.m.

"I'm not sure what's going down in those three days; I'm not looking forward to it," Gratny said with another laugh.

Those workouts, though, should help when Gratny competes. A rider must have strong thighs and calves. And, riding can put a strain on a person's lower back.

"You have to have a strong back," Gratny said.

Tack on Gratny's class schedule -- 17 hours for her first college semester -- and Gratny will be busy. The equestrian regular season begins Sept. 30 at Stephen F. Austin and ends March 4 at K-State.

It will be a busy first year of college juggling academics and athletics, but being a student-athlete also has its advantages.

"You wouldn't believe all the perks for just being an athlete," said Gratny who plans to major in pre-natal care and business. "They have tutors. You can pick from about 500 tutors if you'd like."

A love for horses

Gratny said she's been riding horses "since the womb."

When she was 2 and 3, she started riding a small pony. Now, she rides a horse named Chic Olena Light.

In the last few years, Gratny has competed in shows nearly year-round, with January being an idle month.

She's competed in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Nebraska and Ohio.

During each of the last five years, Gratny has placed in the top 10 at the All-American Quarterhorse Congress in Columbus, Ohio. Last year, in the 14-18 age division, she placed fourth.

She also placed fourth in the non-pro NRHA division, which has more than 130 competitors. During another NRHA derby in the spring in Oklahoma City, she placed second.

"I was leading until the end and one girl beat me," Gratny said. "I was so mad."

Through the 10th grade, Gratny played volleyball and basketball, but then shifted her attention solely to equestrian.

"I was hardcore sports for awhile, and then they got to conflicting with my horse shows," Gratny said. "And I was like, yeah, I like horse shows more."

Aggie pride

To be a Texas A&M student, one has to know several chants and traditions for athletic events.

For instance, students meet at Kyle Field, home of Aggie football, for yell practice just after midnight the night before Texas A&M home football games. Students, as well as the Aggie Band and Corps of Cadets, practice their yells for the upcoming game.

Fans also yell "Gig 'em Aggies," at which time they make a fist and point there thumb upward. The term was established at, what else, yell practice in 1930 when the team was set to play the TCU Horned Frogs that Saturday. The term is used in frog hunting, which involved spearing frogs.

After learning about all the Aggie traditions, Gratny jokingly said she was a little apprehensive about her new school.

"Oh my gosh, I'm joining a cult," Gratny said.

However, she is ready to learn all the Texas A&M traditions. She's especially eager to throw on a maroon A&M shirt and sit with 80,000 other Aggie fans at home football games.

"When we are on campus, everyone was very, very nice, and everybody said howdy," Gratny said, noting that it's also tradition for students to greet each other with a "howdy."

Although Maggie won't be following in the purple footsteps of her parents, Linda said she and Mark were thrilled their daughter is attending Texas A&M.

"We both think it's exciting," Linda said. "My husband and I both. It should be a big challenge and a lot of fun.

"We've always maintained that college is the time to experience something new and different. Hopefully Maggie will remember her Kansas roots."

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