May 15, 1997
Guilt made me do it.
When you lie to get a college scholarship, that sort of thing will stay with you for a while. You might even find that your whole life from that point forward becomes one giant attempt to make sure that you don’t get caught, and that is what happened to me.
The first scholarship that I received came a full 12 months after high school graduation; I was training in Trail BC with a track club and one morning I got this thought stuck in my head to research American Colleges and Universities in the Library. I was scanning through a book and came across a small school with a full athletic program only two hundred kilometers from my Parent’s home. I went back to my house and picked up the phone, and made a fateful call that would forever change my life…
The call I made was to North Idaho College and at the time, they had a young coach who was eager for athletes.In fact, this coach would go on to become the USA Olympic Coach in 2008, just ten years after I would walk through his office doors. However, there was a catch to my telephone call, and I made a split decision that would sit with me for a very long time. During an adrenaline filled moment, I was asked what my current personal best was. I froze because I had never once competed with the senior weights used in college, all my success was with the lighter high school implements from the season previous. In a moment of haste, I said a distance that was more of a goal than reality, 168 feet… A number that was not completely shitty, nor was it particularly far at that level. However, it was far enough to get their attention and an invitation to attend their College in the Fall.
When I arrived at school, everything was overwhelming from the athletic facilities to the deep passion that my coach Bud Rasmussen had for the sport. I had never been around Athletics at this level, and in the American system, this was the ground floor. The National Junior College system works as a feeder to the big NCAA institutions. It is an academic lifejacket for Blue Chip prospects that couldn’t make the grades out of high school and a transitional school for students that wanted to get started closer to home.
For me, it immediately became the opportunity of a lifetime that in my deepest of hearts felt like I had not earned honestly. I looked at the other athletes on my team and listened to the stories. Tales of what the competition would be like in the upcoming months and my pulse would jump. I was always reliving the thoughts of letting my coach down, having people find out I was just some small town dreamer and a kid that didn’t deserve the spot given.
Every morning I would get up, and I would outline what I was going to do that day to make sure that I was at my athletic best. I would begin the mental preparation for training that was 4 o’clock in the afternoon, going over the drills and coaching queues from the practices previous. From dawn till dusk I was an athlete, everything I did was in the vein of athletics. Regardless of Weather, rain or snow, I was the first at practice and the last to leave. If they needed someone to pack equipment or clean the facilities, I was the fist to raise my hand and the last to put down the broom. I had an appetite for work that was equal to my teammates in pairs, and I used the fear of failure and disappointment to fuel my fire.
As the training pushed on and the offseason turned into the season, I kept digging, working and fighting to be the best on my team. Within six months I had moved from team Rookie to National Qualifier in the Men’s Hammer throw. I had pushed past every personal record that I had previously achieved in the weight room with my squat climbing beyond 550lbs. By my 19th Birthday, my power clean had increased 55lbs from 220lbs to 275lbs; I spent hours replicating my best efforts in my mind and on the field; hands blistered and calloused beyond recognition.
When the team had gone home, and the sun was setting, I would stay out on the field, looking into the dusk, the crisp night air on my face. My faith and I would have a long conversation about the outcome that was playing in my head; I could hear what a crowd would sound like when I won. I could see the way my body moved when I took my effort, and how the disappointment filled the eyes of my competitors when I stole their winning fire. I would sit for so long on the grass staring into the abyss of my psyche that it was not until a streetlight flickered that I realized an hour or more had passed.
I was in the moment of my life completely, which fuelled the passion that I had for a sport and the fear that I had of not being good enough. In my mind, the entire thing was going to come to closure on the 15th of May 1997 in the vast state of Texas at the NJCAA National Championships.
I got out of bed and stared out the window of my hotel room, my roommate and best friend Jason Kessinger sat on the corner of his bed rubbing his face. I gazed for a long time at the Western Texas openness, a sight that was a million miles from my home in Canada and another million miles from where I stood 12 months earlier. I was just about to turn around when I heard Jason clear the air.
“Dude, I can’t believe you are a National Champion…”
“I can’t believe I threw 189ft…” I said before settling my eyes back towards the rising sun.
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