Bender is a bonafide superstar in the sport of track and field, breaking and owning countless school records that rival those of Barbara Nwaba, a former UCSB student and current Olympian.
Two weeks ago Bender competed in the Big West Multi Championships and retained her crown as the heptathlon champion, winning the title back-to-back. She continued her dominance last weekend during the Conference Championships and proceeded to place a new record in the long jump with a whopping distance of 6.29 meters, to go alongside her mind-boggling 400-meter hurdle time of 56.64 seconds that destroyed both the school record and conference record. Bender’s performance was unlike any other, and her continued excellence in the sport earned her a second consecutive Big West Women’s Athlete of the Meet honor.
LP: Hi Hope! On behalf of the Nexus, thank you again for granting us an interview. Do you mind telling the readers your full name, age, year and major?
HB: Not a problem! My name is Hope Bender, I’m a 22-year-old senior at UCSB and I’m a biology major.
LP: How did you decide to do track, and how long have you been involved in the sport?
HP: I started track my freshman year of high school, but I started taking it seriously my junior year so it’s been about six years. My mom did track, which was the reason as to why I started. In high school, I started out in the 200-meter and 400 -meter sprints, but focused more on the 100-meter and 300 -meter hurdles my senior year.
LP: Did it feel like it came naturally to you?
HB: Events like the hurdles, running events and shot put came pretty naturally, but the jumps — especially the high jump — and the javelin I’m still trying to get the hang of.
LP: Why the heptathlon?
HB: I chose it because I wanted to do a bit of everything. I didn’t want to focus on just one event, because I thought that might get old after a little while. I had a club coach that encouraged me to look into the heptathlon, and he taught me how to do hurdles and the other events.
LP: How different is it to train for the heptathlon?
HB: The amount of time it takes is the biggest difference. We spend more hours on the track because we have so many different things to focus on. We only have so much time with each of the events. We can’t spend hours on a single event, so we have to spread our time out evenly.
LP: Given that you only started participating in the heptathlon your freshman year at UCSB, how does it feel to become a back-to-back champion?
HB: It’s pretty cool! My first two years were definitely my big learning years, and just learning how to get comfortable, grow and getting a good foundation in the events. The past two years have been fun and not have to focus on just getting a mark on an event, but getting to challenge each event — making sure I’m competitive and getting good results across the board. Being back-to-back champ has been a ton of fun, and it means more that I got to finish out at home and that the last conference meet was here.
LP: So … congratulations on being a back-to-back champ, and also congratulations on breaking even more school records this past weekend. With that in mind, what record do you want to break next and why?
HB: Thank you! The next one I want is the heptathlon school record. It’s currently held by Barbara Nwaba. She went to the Olympics in 2016 and finished second in the NCAA championships her senior year. She’s incredible and has been a friend and a mentor to me, so I’m looking forward to giving it one more shot in the NCAAs.
LP: How intense has training and nutrition gotten now that you’re prepping for nationals?
HB: Everything is about being strong and fast, and more about peaking. We’re making sure my eating and nutrition is dialed in. Practices are shorter, but more intense. Everything is about making sure we’re mentally, emotionally and physically ready for Austin.
LP: What are your goals for the year, and what results would you be happy with?
HB: I brought up the heptathlon school record, and I want to achieve 6,000 points in it. It’s kind of a barrier that separates good from great. I would hate to put a number or place on what I’d be happy with, but just going out and not having a bad event, being consistent across the board and maybe getting a couple individual event PRs to boost my scores to where I want to be.
LP: As a senior, this would be your final year as a student-athlete. Where would you want to go after your graduation?
HB: Just looking forward one year, I want to compete in the 2020 Olympic trials next June, so I’m planning to give track at least one more year and give it a good run. I’ll never be able to do it again, so I might as well. After that, I’d love to get my MBA and work on the business side of the biotech industry.
LP: Any final words, messages or shoutouts to our readers?
HB: Shoutout to Coach Horn, Coach Marlow and Coach Schmitt. Shoutout to my teammates. I was so impressed by every single one of them and how they carried themselves during the races. Everyone did better than expected. As a final message, the biggest thing I learned from track and field is that there’s always going to be good times and hard times, but it’s important to have people who believe in you even when you don’t. That support pushed me to be who I am today.
LP: Thank you again for the interview, and good luck in nationals!
Staff writer and photographer. Fitness enthusiast.