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Inside the mechanical mind of Kalispell Glacier’s Hunter Nicholson

Posted at 1:05 PM, May 22, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-10 21:18:52-04

KALISPELL — While Kalispell Glacier senior Hunter Nicholson’s accomplishments in track and field are impressive, it’s his work inside the classroom that is truly a marvel.

As a freshman at Glacier, Nicholson chose the engineering track offered by the school. During his sophomore year, he and a team designed and built a robot that would go across the floor, pick up a pencil and turn around and bring it back.

That was just a glimpse into Nicholson’s academic prowess and the way his mind functions.

“Hunter, even before he knew what engineering was, of all our four kids, he was the one who did the Erector sets, did the Lego sets,” Hunter’s father, Bill, said. “If we bought something that needed assembled, like a barbecue, Hunter was always the one to put it together. The Erector sets and Lego sets we’ve had in our basement are mind boggling of what Hunter’s done.”

The robot design and Erector sets were just the beginning. Hunter and a team of classmates in his senior capstone class have spent the year designing a product focusing on solving a problem in the real world. The group focused on camping gear and ultimately narrowed its choice down to tent stakes — more precisely, tent stakes for soft, sandy soil.

After doing market research, Hunter and his group found there’s only one other competitor on the market that makes a tent stake for their application. After designing their own product and running tests on them, the group found that their product functions better than the competitor. The Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation has even agreed to field test the tent stakes for the group on guided pack trips during the summer.

Now, Hunter and his team are going to manufacture a couple different versions of their tent stake before ultimately getting them in the hands of the public and seeing how they perform.

It’s an amazing feat for Hunter to balance his time between a heavy academic workload and athletics, but he’s found a way. Hunter was a three-sport athlete for Glacier, but after his sophomore year he began to focus solely on track.

“He quit playing the winter sports and he started doing the indoor track season, very informal at best,” Bill said. “He started working with this jumping coach that was also the athletic trainer for Glacier High. He really started to focus on where he was athletically most gifted. He focused on track his junior year and it obviously paid off.”

It paid off in a big way. Hunter, after winning the Class AA triple jump title last year, is on his way to Montana State University in the fall to study biomechanical engineering and continue his track and field career. This season, however, hasn’t been the storybook season for Hunter to date.

At the Swede Dahlberg Invitational in late April, Hunter tweaked his hamstring in the long jump — the day’s opening event. In a field stacked with potential challengers to his throne atop Class AA, he couldn’t compete and solidify his status.

As the season has progressed, Hunter has gotten healthy. The defending triple jump champion owns the second-best leap in Montana this season and has only lost the event once — to teammate Mark Estes, who jumped a state-best 45 feet, 11 inches. Even in defeat, Hunter is cool, calm and collected.

“He doesn’t let anything rattle him,” Bill said. “I think it’s good that he got beat by Mark. The spotlight is on you, and you just got beat, so how are you going to respond to that? I want him to be wildly successful, but at the same time our family preaches being humble. I don’t think he mentally grasps that he could be potentially wildly successful at MSU. I don’t think he realizes that he might have a lot more potential left in him. … He’s just a good all-American boy.”

Hunter responded just how a champion should: quietly, letting his performance speak for him. Hunter won the Western AA divisional triple jump this past weekend, firmly placing his name as a favorite to repeat at the State AA meet in Great Falls.

The potential his father sees extends beyond the monster marks on the track. In the matter of a few years, Hunter’s name may no longer by synonymous with track and field.

“I remember watching the Olympics a couple of years ago and there was this runner, he had two prosthetic legs. Ever since then I just thought that was super cool and I wanted to head into (designing prosthetics). I think it would be great to help people,” Hunter said.

The possibilities for Hunter’s future are endless. From designing robots, tent stakes and prosthetics, to jumping for a Division I program, the mechanical mind of Hunter Nicholson is propelling him toward success.