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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

Grandparents encircle Troy shotputter Naomi Grant

After enduring her mother's death and her father's legal troubles, Grant's grandparents took over. The result is a spunky teen who won champions meet and wants to become a pediatrician.

April 22, 2012|Eric Sondheimer

They are the unsung heroes for countless high school athletes. They show up to games day or night. They offer unconditional support in good and bad times. When mom or dad is angry, they are the ones called upon to be arbitrators of common sense.

Yes, grandparents make invaluable contributions, so let me tell the story of shotputter Naomi Grant of Fullerton Troy.

When Grant was 5 months old, her mother, Vida Owens, died after suffering an infection.

Her grandparents, David and Claudette Owens, took over as parents.

David had just retired, so he was the one staying at home changing diapers, watching Naomi when she was learning to walk, putting her down for a nap.

"It wasn't hard," David said. "I grew up with eight boys and four girls. It was something that had to be done."

They were mom and dad for Grant. But her real father came back into her life when she was 3, taking her away. He got into trouble with the law, resulting in her returning to the Owens family a couple of years later. And when she was 10, on Jan. 7, 2005, her grandmother became her court-ordered legal guardian.

She's now a senior in high school, has a 3.4 grade-point average and is set to attend the University of La Verne with the hope of becoming a pediatrician. She finished second last season in the girls' shotput in the Freeway League and won the Orange County Meet of Champions on Saturday with an effort of 35 feet 9 inches.

She has much determination and spunk and understands how her life could have been different if not for her grandparents.

"They can change your whole life," she said. "I could have been in a foster home. I could have been in a group home. They took me in, and it's changed everything."

Growing up without a mother, Grant remembers her father telling her that "mom was on the moon."

"Every night, I would look up to the moon," she said. "When I was 6 or 7, my grandmother gave me the talk."

Her grandfather was one of the leading high school hurdlers in the nation at Fullerton High in 1956, a national-record holder. David Owens was favored to win a CIF championship in the 120-yard hurdles. But he said he fell during the championship race.

The Owens family is well known in Orange County. Seven of the eight brothers were sports stars, including Brig, who played defensive back for the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys.

David and his wife raised three grown children and have been involved in numerous nonprofit organizations. And then there's taking care of Naomi.

"When she's not being reprimanded, I'm mom," Claudette said. "If she's not happy with me, she calls me, 'Grandma.' She's never given us any trouble. She stays focused with her studies."

Grant said competing in the shotput helped her get rid of anger from her father's troubles.

"When my dad went back to jail, I took out all my anger with throwing," she said. "Whenever I was mad, I would go and throw and throw, and my coach takes advantage of that. Say somebody's beating me, he'll get me so angry that I'll beat her."

Grant said she understands it will take at least 10 more years of schooling to become a doctor.

"I'm up for the challenge," she said. "I want to help kids find their problems before they grow up."

And she makes it clear that her grandparents are the reason she has a chance to pursue a future.

"They've helped me with everything I could think of," she said. "I tell them I appreciate them whenever I can."

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATSondheimer

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