Byline: Rebecca Taylor The Register-Guard
SPRINGFIELD - Destined from birth to be snake food, Athena the rat achieved unexpected glory Friday when she was named overall winner of Thurston High School's inaugural Iron Rat Competition.
After several days of fierce competition, Athena chewed contentedly on kibble as her trainer, Thurston senior Taylor Norman, revelled in the glory of Iron Rat victory, a golden wedge of ceramic Swiss cheese dangling from his neck. Norman stood atop a wooden box in the school's gymnasium having his photograph taken with the runners-up, other students in teacher Miriam Hickey's Animal Behavior 2 class.
The win did not come easily, Norman said. He and his training partner, Cody Roberts, faced a challenge early on when their first rat got sick and died. They had less than a month to train Athena and prepare her for battle.
"It was the last week that made all the difference," Norman said.
Of the five events - hurdles, tightrope, weight lifting, long jump and rope climb - Athena won only one, finishing the rope climb in a mere 7.3 seconds.
But tallied together, her scores in all five events trumped those of silver medalist Leonidas, whose trainers Devin Lewis and Patrick Gollmann looked like shoo-ins for the long-jump win until fat George, the biggest rat in the competition, shattered their record jump in the final minutes of the competition.
Before Friday, the farthest George had ever jumped was 73 centimeters, his trainers Blaise Millegan and Jon Taylor said. But he leaped a full 80 centimeters, securing the victory for his coaches, who seemed surprised by his performance.
"Usually he just sits there and doesn't do anything," Taylor said. "It took about 10 or 15 minutes to get him to jump."
Hickey has taught animal behavior at Thurston for three years. …