The Rise and Fall, The Rise and Fall, and the RISE of a Track Star

For a brief moment, even I doubted him. When he went down at our conference Championships, I thought it was over. I had already been thinking about writing something about this man, sorry, this MAN. I say MAN because he keeps getting up. There was a scene in the movie Rocky (the first one in 1976)that reminds me of him. Apollo Creed was pretty much killing Rocky Balboa in a boxing match. Rocky went down(AGAIN) in a late round. The referee was counting Rocky out; it didn’t look good. Somehow, with wobbly legs Rocky got up. HE GOT UP! At 9 seconds into a 10 count of Jaevon Hardy’s Collegiate Track Career…HE GOT UP!

The Rise

I pride myself in finding Talent. Okay, let’s be honest here. Talent seems to find me, but I am pretty good at figuring out who can do what and what event they should do etc. I am a college track coach with a very high school mind set. As a high school coach I would walk the halls or lunch room and ask kids to try track out. It worked. In this case, Jaevon sought me out. “Okay Jaevon, you can join the team. What are you good at?”, I asked the young man during MARCH (yes after the indoor Season) of his freshmen year. Jaevon came to Westminster to play football, even though he had only played one year of high school football (and way out of position). So, we put him in High Jump. He had no spikes and NO FORM. He was athletic though and definitely not terrible. However, my attendance policy is loose (Some would say LAX), and he was trying to play spring football and was (at the time) a science major. We didn’t see him as much as we should have. We had a pretty good men’s team that year and finished 2nd in the conference. We had a good 4 x 100 relay team and had a ‘B’ relay team as well. Jaevon was on the ‘B’ relay one day and claimed he RAN DOWN the #2 leg of the ‘A’ team. Well, as usual, I have 5000 things going on around me, and I thought he looked good but couldn’t quite remember him running the 2nd leg down (he probably did though in hind sight). Problem was I was focused on the A team and wasn’t really watching Jaevon. It seemed he made up ground but since in a far away lane and I couldn’t really tell for sure. Anyway, I made the coaching BLUNDER of my life and only had him in the HIGH JUMP at our conference championship. He didn’t place. The season ended without fanfare and I moved to the next year.

That summer I was offered another position at another school. I was tempted. I went to three interviews. This decision was tough. I was just very confident about this group of Men I had returning (ironically at the time, Jaevon wasn’t the reason I stayed at Westminster College). I stayed at Westminster College.

That year, his sophomore year, Jaevon started to come to Indoor Workouts as soon as the season started. In early Feb he asked if he could run the 60 dash as well as the High Jump. I said yes and entered him in a fairly big Indoor Invitational that weekend. Well, don’t you know it, without any block work, sprint technique work, or conditioning he wins his heat and makes the FINAL of the 60 dash at this meet. He finishes 2nd to a National Qualifier. OH Boy….I AM AN IDIOT. This guy is GOOD!

Slight Fall

So Jaevon just missed Indoor Nationals in his Sophomore year, but he does make NCAA Nationals in Outdoor. Along the way he Leads our team to a HUGE conference title and almost making the NCAA in the 4x 100. It was such a fun ride. But as a Race Horse can be ‘OVER RACED” we (okay I) probably rode Jaevon too hard. He was in the 4 x 100, the 100, the 200, he Long Jumped, High Jumped, and ran the 4 x 400. He was SPENT. His shins were hurting. Oh and because I am a road tripper, we drove to the NCAA Meet in IOWA. We stopped in South Bend and stayed in Chicago on the way. He missed the NCAA final in the 100 meters by a few .100s of a second. We drive 12 hours back…empty handed.

Falling

During his Junior year, he was on FIRE. He sets records in the 60 and 200 Indoor. Our team is not great, but he puts us on his back and makes us decent as a team. He qualifies for the Nationals in indoor and then sinks to a Jaevon Hardy Low. We go to the NCAA banquet the night before the meet, and perhaps there wasn’t enough food for this man at the banquet. So after the banquet; the night before the NCAA Championship, he walks to Chipotle because he is still hungry.

The next morning I get a call. Its Jaevon. He’s sick. Throwing up, diarrhea, chills. OH NO!!!!! I go to pharmacy. I get everything I can to help him. We went to the meet, he heads to the warm up area, and he sat down. I walked out the warm up area and I knew…it was over.

Oh and I was going through a divorce at the time. I was desperately trying to save this marriage and things started to hit the fan on this trip. The NCAA National meet was the start of our spring break trip which we went to Chicago then flew to Myrtle Beach, SC for our Spring Break Outdoor Track Training Trip. I had three little kids and was trying to save a marriage. I was away for like 11 days straight. It was as low as I have ever been in my life. I think (at the time) Jaevon was at his lowest. But it was at this point, that we really formed a bond. He saw me HURTING like no one else ever had.

Rise up

That season was miserable for me. I was empty. I don’t know another word to describe it. I remember going to bed hoping that I could sleep and that the next day I would actually FEEL something. I had nothing. I didn’t care. I went through the motions. I entered people into meets, I made travel arrangements. I had practice. BUT I DIDN’T CARE. I knew my marriage was over and that I couldn’t save it. I had three little kids that I was trying to shield from this and I just floated through the entire season. I am pretty sure April and May of 2017 I had hit rock bottom.

Jaevon Hardy Saved me. He had a super hero team though. 2017 Westminster Track and Field may have been my worst coaching year ever, but it might go down as one of the most successful season of my career (NO THANKS TO ME). We had four unbelievable Pole Vault Women that made the NCAA Meet that year. In fact my Assistant Coach Bradi Rhoades was named Assistant Coach of the year in our Region for this. We get to the hotel and I had two to a room. But there was only one bed and the rooms were tiny. OH and it was a 1950s/1960s Resort town on Lake Erie. Plan B…GO. So I sort of pride myself on figuring out problems on the go. Plan A never seems to work so you’ve got to adjust. (One of my current problem is that I am beat down by never using Plan A that I just don’t plan at all. I need to get out of that habit). Geneva on the Lake is still a popular place but I was able to get everyone their own room. I write this now because at the moment I am staying in the exact same place. I try not to be superstitious….but I will take a bit of luck if it is there to be had.

Geneva on the Lake is just dead. Nothing like I remember. Places were boarded up and only a few things were open. The team and my assisntant coach looked at me like I was crazy. It was Scenic though. There were benches overlooking the lake at the park across the street. Beautiful. EXCEPT IT WAS RAINING…and that really helped us.



The NCAA committee moved the Women’s Pole Vault indoors. The two time defending National Champion was in this event. We have four women in this event and one of which was a 7 (YES SEVEN) time NCAA All-American. On paper, our girl is 3rd at best. In a stunning turn of events and a very fortunate bounce of a pole 14′ feet in the air, OUR Girl wins the NCAA POLE VAULT. Westminster College’s First ever individual National Champion. I didn’t coach this woman, but I had seen her grow up. My assisstant Coach had already strapped me on his back to carry me over the finish line of the season, and now he motivated this woman to do the impossible. AND SHE DID IT.

The next day it was Hardy’s turn. He didn’t run a great race and finished third in his heat. But it was enough to get the 7th spot. He qualifies for the Final of the 100 meter Dash. Our last night in Geneva on the Lake is memorable. Bradi and I walk to a Bar owned by an Irish woman. She was a pretty blond, mid forties, divorced. And just like in those dramatic DOCTOR Shows on tv… the paddles go on the patient, the doctor yells “CLEAR”, a pause….pause…ba bup!!!! It worked. My heart worked again! I never got her number or asked her out. BUT MY HEART WORKED!!!

The next day Jaevon Hardy shocks the NCAA. He runs an amazing race. He finishes 3rd in the Nation. We celebrated like he was first. I had a bit of that high the day before with Kalsey’s Championship. But I had a small hand in that. I definitely felt like I played a part in this one. We were on cloud nine and on top of the world. Three years of track…yeah maybe olympics…right?

That summer was up-and-down for me. There were still some low points for me (mood wise) but I was trending up. I was excited for the cross country season as we had many pretty good returners on the women’s side coming back. Jaevon was killing it in his preparation for the upcoming football season as many thought that he might even have a chance to go to the next level in that sport because of his size and speed.

Bottom!

I was so excited about the 1st game of the football season. I brought my kids to the game. We were playing a nationally ranked team. And through the 2nd quarter the game was close. With about 4 minutes to go in the 1st half Westminster begins a drive. On a critical down the Westminster quarterback launched a long pass down the left sideline that is a bit underthrown to one of the fastest people on the planet. Jaevon has his guy beat badly but has to slow down as the ball is underthrown. But in doing so allows the guy covering him to catch up. The guy dove at his legs and takes Jaevon down from behind. the crowd hears a scream. It is Jaevon; he’s writhing in pain. The Trainers ru out, coach runs out, it doesn’t look good.

It turned out that he broke his leg. And required surgery. It was going to be a long recovery. And we were told he may not ever be the same.

One of the problems of not caring about the job from November until the next school year is that basically I didn’t do any recruiting. We had lost a lot of people from the season before in cross country and track-and-field and we were reaping what we sowed. We weren’t very good at all.

To make matters even worse for me was that during XC we had a solid Women’s team. A sophomore woman almost made the NCAA meet. And a day after the Regional he mom dies. Then we found out she was tranfering to a

However we do find a few people that we did not expect to do what they did. The Titan women actually win the indoor conference championships in a major upset. All of a sudden we were on upward trajectory. Then at the same time as our Women are winning the PAC conference Indoor Meet, Jaevon, who wasn’t himself during his return, runs the fastest time in the nation in the 60 dash.

I take a group of athletes to a meet, the week before nationals in New York City and it was amazing. I showed them all around New York and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had as a coach and we perform really well. The only drawback is that I probably should not have brought the fastest man in the nation.

He wins the meet in New York City but it may have been a pyrrhic victory. I ran him in that meet in the hope that he could qualify in the 200 meters as well. Well we never even ran that race-, because in winning the 60 m he said his leg didn’t feel right. So we definitely shut him down as NCAA Nationals was the following week.

We had a bad draw for lane assignment as Jaevon was way out in the outside lane. There was also a strange warm up time and I did a bad job of prepping him to stay ready. He ran an okay race, but Okay is not quite what we needed. He did not make the final. He was pretty motivated to come back strong for the outdoor season.

CAN WE GO LOWER?

We faced bad weather early in the outdoor season and for sprinters to run fast times there really needs to be some HEAT. Finally in our Home Meet with great competition and good weather Jaevon pulled up lame in the 100. There was just too much stress on his body and we were pressed for time. He is able to come back two weeks later in our Conference Championships. He wins the 100 at looks good However, the weather was BAD. Windy, rainy, and cool. NOT IDEAL. His 100 was so good though in ugly weather. We had no chance to win, and I probably should have just told him not to run the 200. But the guy was on his way to be a legendary PAC performer. Winning the 200 would give him 6 gold medals in individual events for his career. He looks good for 150 and is winning, but then you can see that the lack of training was taking its toll, and he was tightening. Then 10 meters before the finish his muscle strains and he pulls up lame. He Crossed the finish, but he didn’t win. No 200 Title and he leaves the meet on Crutches. Its over.

We don’t even go to a meet the next weekend. He says he wants to give it another go. Therapy has been good. He is sitting at like 35 in Nation (they take 20). OKAY, I am game…let’s give it the old college try. BUT in typical Jaevon Hardy weather luck, the next meet is in Cleveland and it is mid to low 50s. NOT GOOD SPRINT WEATHER. He runs an okay semifinal round…makes the final. When I say okay, I really mean he looked strained, hurt, tired. BUT him at that level is still better than most of the world. He makes the final.

RISE UP Part (I lost count)

He wins the Final at This race. He looked a little like his old self. It put him 20th in the nation. Later that evening, when other results pour in, he is back to 23….Not going to make it. So we have to run again. This is troubling to me because I know his body can’t handle the rigors of THREE HARD RACES IN like 18 days. We go to Ohio Wesleyan in Columbus, OH the next week and it is PERFECT Sprint Weather, HOT with a Slight Tail Wind. Same situation, it was an okay Semi…but it gets him to the Finals where there are 5 guys ranked ahead of him in the Nation that also make the final. This was the perfect opportunity. We both felt that he could beat them all. He does that and he is IN.

I was so nervous. The final was like 3 hours later. I took a walk; I walked all over. I thought about this man’s journey. I thought about my journey and how I had came to be at this moment. I thought about all the times together and how I didn’t want them to end. I prayed to the Track GODS.

Back at the Track, Jaevon gets ready for his race. And man if there was ever a guy that gets bad heat draws or bad lane assignments it is certainly Jaevon. Only two other guys show up for the heat besides Jaevon. The other five fast guys felt pretty good about their National Standing that they didn’t check in for this race. The only guys in the race were guys that Jaevon was clearly faster than.

If he was going to do it, if he was going to make the NCAA NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS, he would have to do it ON HIS OWN.

Just as in previous Championships, when we all got onto his back (FIGURATIVELY) and he carried us, THIS MAN, does it again. He ran the 2nd fastest time of his career and jumps into the top 10 of the Nation. WE WERE GOING TO THE NCAA MEET! WHEW!

So this is probably an anti-climatic finish…but Jaevon does not make the finals of the 100 meter dash. In many track events, there is time to make up for mistakes or to get loose during a race or to recover from a bad step. In the 100 dash…when many are all similar in talent, every 100th of a second is CRITICAL. The amount of FORCE each step generates would injure a majority of the population who couldn’t handle that much force. Jaevon was applying that force with pins in his leg (from the surgery which were never taken out. An X-Ray earlier in the year indicated that he had actually slightly BENT those screws that put his bones back togther). This man made it back up the mountain on One Freaking Leg. This last effort was not a Fall at all. Getting to that NCAA Meet was his last RISE on which he finished his collegiate career. There is a song by Andra Day called Rise Up. In it she says, ” I’ll rise up, I’ll rise unafraid, I’ Rise Up, And I’ll do it a thousand times again.” This is why I love Jaevon Hardy….because he will Rise UP!