Recently, I competed in the Masters World Championships in Sacramento, California. It was held on the campus of Sacramento State University. Last year I competed in a similar event on the same track. Last year I finished with two silver medals, in the high jump and the long jump. I was entered in the triple but injured my hamstring in the long jump and couldn’t jump.
This year I finished second in the high jump with a result that was a bit disappointing because I usually make the winning height without a problem, must be my age…. Anyway, I felt pretty good going into the triple jump. I warmed-up well and had a great warm up jump over forty-two feet. When I hopped out of the pit I was excited because that would certainly win the competition. In fact, I jokingly told the officials to mark it. Little did I know that would be my last good jump of the evening.
I walked back to the end of the runway and felt a sting in my hamstring. I thought I had been stung by something. Unfortunately, it was the first sign of a tear in my hamstring, the same place as the year before. I was shocked and devastated. I didn’t know what to do and almost panicked. I was the first jumper and the event was about to start. I calmed down and began to think back through my years of experiences to see if there was a way to continue on. First, I had to bide some time so I called for the trainers to come and wrap it. I hoped the compression would help keep it from preventing me from running. The judge allowed me to get wrapped before jumping.
On my first attempt, I ran about 6 strides slowly and knew I was in trouble because the leg started to really hurt. I jumped anyway and didn’t make the pit, big problem! I went back and sat down, depressed and confused. Fortunately, my competitors, friends and family came to my rescue. First, all the guys competing with me came over and gave me words of encouragement. Second, the Masters Public Relations Director, Bob Weiner, suggested that I continue to jump from a short run. At first I thought he was saying that to keep me around for the media but after a second I thought he was right, I need to compete!
My best friend John came all the way from Los Angeles to see my jump. My friend, Andre Phillips, the 1988 Olympic 400 meter hurdle champion came 2.5 hours as well. Many people in the stands had come out to see me jump and I couldn’t let them down. My wife, poor thing, was sitting in the stands with a look of concern on her face because she knew I was in trouble. At that moment, Al Joyner, the 1984 Olympic triple jump champion came from the stands and gave me some advice on how to get through the jump. He saw that I was able to move my hips but I wasn’t getting in the right position to move the hips forward. He also started doing what Al is famous for, getting me enjoying myself. With Al there, it made it fun, regardless of the pain or the pressure. I started to get a little confidence back.
So, I started my comeback. I needed to get to the finals so I shortened my run to eight strides and finally got a jump long enough to make the finals; three more jumps. My fourth jump was not as painful but I didn’t improve much. If I was going to get in contention I needed to jump over 39 feet, something I felt confident I could do from a short run. Al noticed that I was jumping fine on my opposite leg. We came up with the great idea of me jumping with the opposite leg, yeah! On my fifth jump I decided to try it. I ran down and took a big hop, bigger step, but then I kept hopping into the pit…I forgot to put the right foot down for the jump…foul! That was stupid, but funny!
On the sixth and last jump I had decided to go all out regardless of the pain. Al was great, keeping me laughing, the crowded started the “clap” and my wife sweetly sent me a smile from the stands. I lined up and my competitors joined in the clap. I ran down the runway took a hop, step and jump to land over 40 feet (12m31, 40’4-3/4”) to move into first place by about a foot! It was a great moment for me but I knew others waiting in line behind me could jump that far. Many fouled or were too tired to jump further.
On his last jump, Georg Werthner, from Austria jumped further (12m48, 40’ 11-1/2”) to win the event; leaving me with a silver medal. However, I can’t complain when I thought for sure I would quit before we even started. I guess I learned something at the ripe old age of 55…never quit, trust your friends to help, and ALWAYS enjoy the blessing of jumping!