Chloe Gardner was, without question, one of the most pure athletes Chad Parson had ever seen.
Parson, the girls' wrestling coach at Nooksack Valley, had the pleasure of watching Gardner become a state champion. She did so with the poise and guile of a veteran, unwilling to concede despite finding herself vulnerable early on against Enumclaw's Danielle Cormier in the 145-pound state championship match.
In just a flash, though, Gardner secured a reversal and wore down Cormier, eventually earning a pin and a state title.
"That's something I will be able to tell my grandkids about and I can have forever," Gardner said in a phone interview. "It meant so much. You have to pour 100 percent of your being into wrestling. I was so glad my last year to finally grasp that. I had no words. I was crying and I was smiling. It was so many different emotions, but just the best feeling."
Parson went seven years without a state champion. Some had gotten close, real close, losing in title bouts. Gardner provided him his greatest moment as a coach, one he shared with a girl who stepped on to his mat as a sophomore without a single minute of wrestling experience.
"That was our last moment together," Parson said in a phone interview. "We had worked so hard to get to it, and that was a very emotional time for me and her."
Gardner's excellence wasn't confined just to a wrestling mat, earning a trip to the state cross country meet in the fall and lifting Nooksack Valley to a fifth-place finish at the Class 1A state softball tournament in the spring.
With that Gardner has been selected The Bellingham Herald's All-Whatcom County Female Athlete of the Year.
"I can look back and be thankful for all the blood, sweat and many, many hours," Gardner said.
Admittedly, despite finally grasping the state title that had eluded her for the two long years in wrestling, Gardner is a "softball girl" at heart and will play at Skagit Valley Community College next year.
Her numbers the past two seasons suggest softball is where her future might be the brightest.
Gardner was a back-to-back All-Whatcom County first-team selection in softball, this past season hitting .382, driving in 31 RBI and accounting for five home runs and eight doubles. Her junior season she hit .440 with nine home runs and 40 RBI.
"Elite. There's just once in a while you'll get an athlete that comes along and it doesn't matter what sport she's in, she'll excel," Parson said about Gardner's unique athletic ability. "That just speaks volumes for her parents. Their relationship - they instill in her a top-notch work ethic to always strive for perfection."
Cross country was considered a slight afterthought - something Gardner enjoyed doing but using it more as a sport that got her in shape for the winter and spring seasons than anything else.
Most wouldn't earn a 75th-place finish at state in a sport they casually competed in, though, bookending a year in which the senior competed in three state tournaments, illustrating the diverse athlete she had become.
"Overall, I made a lot of friends in every single sport," she said. "I had lots of opportunities to grow as a leader and be able to help younger girls with what it's like to work hard."
Reach Alex Bigelow at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.