By Jonathan Okanes
Cal Bear Blog
BERKELEY – When Grace Upshaw shared some special news with her father recently, Monte Upshaw was in the middle of doing what he has always done for his daughter – helping, supporting and simply being there for her.
Indeed, Monte was putting a child seat in his car to take his granddaughter to preschool when Grace told him they would become the first Father-Daughter combination ever inducted into the Cal Athletic Hall of Fame.
“The first thing he asked is when he could start telling people,” Grace Upshaw said.
Grace Upshaw is part of the seven-member class of former athletes that were elected to the Cal Athletic Hall of Fame last month, meaning she will join Monte in the elite group of superior athletes that once called Berkeley home. Both Track & Field stars, Monte was inducted in 2007.
“It’s really a huge honor,” Grace said. “It’s a huge honor by itself, but to know I will be a part of this with my father – I just really take it to heart a lot more.”
Monte Upshaw was once one of the country’s promising young long-jumpers. As a senior at Piedmont High School in 1954, he broke Jesse Owens’ 21-year old national high school record with a leap of 25 feet, 4 ½ inches. He was ranked No. 5 in the world that year.
But injury problems curtailed his production at Cal and he eventually moved into his family roofing business. Grace, on the other hand, had the professional career her father never got a chance to try his luck at – she qualified for two Olympic games and is a three-time national champion in the long jump.
Grace’s story is significantly different than her father’s. She originally walked on at Oregon before transferring to Cal and didn’t peak until after she got out of college.
“Nobody knew who I was. I didn’t have my success until later,” Grace said. “Honestly, I think my dad was a little worried about me continuing on post-college. He was supportive, but he wanted to make sure I had something else lined up. His experience definitely helped me and my path.”
Monte has spent much of his adult life following Grace around the world to watch her compete. The two have a close relationship. While at Cal, Grace and her father would meet for weekly dinners to talk about life, school and track (the Upshaws are from nearby Lafayette).
"Havinb een an athlete myself, watching my daughter strive and succeed is an amazing gift," Monte said. "My athletic achievements were not nearly at the level as Grace's, but my memories of my moments still give me much satisfaction. I know Grace's track and field days and wonderful experiences will stay part of her life forever."
Grace has enjoyed sharing her accomplishments with her father, partly because she knows Monte had some unfinished business as an athlete himself.
“I sort of felt like I could finish some his story, too,” Grace said. “He never got a chance at the Olympics, which is crazy. There were some things he wasn’t able to do due to injury.”
Grace and her family will host a barbecue on this Father’s Day, where at some point the conversation may turn to the long jump or the Cal Athletic Hall of Fame. Monte will be there when his daughter is formally inducted at the annual banquet in Oakland on Oct. 17 – helping to welcome her to the elite club in which he already belongs.
“We’ve always been really close,” Grace said. “I just really appreciate his honesty. He’s always been as real as possible with me. Our athletic relationship has been really cool. He has traveled around the world to watch me compete. He said he now understands how excited his dad would get to watch him compete. It’s meant everything to me.”