Cantwell: Making the jump
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Track and field was not the sport I had planned on playing, but I feel that it has proven to be the sport I was destined to play.
How it all began
I started playing soccer when I was 4 years old, and it was the sport I loved the most. My original dream was to play soccer in college. I started running long distance for the spring track team at Council Rock High School South (Holland, Pa.) to stay in shape during the soccer offseason.
Early into my first track season, I broke my wrist and started having back spasms, which prevented me from running. I am an athlete at heart, so I asked the coach if there were any field events I might be able to try.
The coach brought me over to the sand pit and showed me how to long jump and triple jump. After my first few tries, my coach and I could tell that this was where my natural ability was going to shine. On that day, I discovered my new love, jumping.
The early days
I started out jumping around 20 feet, which was not as long as I had wanted. I am a competitor, and I just kept trying harder. I ended up just barely qualifying for the District 1 Championships, where I finished 13th in the long jump and 15th in the triple jump.
That summer, I joined a summer track program, and within two months I had qualified for the Junior Olympics with a jump of 21 feet, 5 inches. I would have loved to compete in that meet, but I had to pass because of financial hardships.
Not being able to go to the Junior Olympics gave me even more desire and drive to be a state qualifier for my high school team in the upcoming winter season.
The indoor season presented a challenge. Council Rock South does not have an indoor jumping coach. I worked on my jumps independently with the help of head coach Len Spearing and college coaches I had met through my club team. In the last meet of the indoor season, I qualified for state with a jump of 22-¼, breaking a school record.
My seed at the state meet was second-to-last, but that didn't stop me from reaching for the top. I placed fourth with a personal record of 22-6½, which added to my indoor school record.
I knew this was impressive considering that I did not have much experience jumping, but I couldn't settle there. I registered for the Nike Indoor Nationals in Boston. Again, I had just barely qualified, but the important thing to me was that I was going to compete and not where I was seeded.
At this meet, I exceeded my own expectations and jumped a 22-04.5. I placed fifth with that jump and became a high school All-American. I never thought the accomplishment of becoming an All-American was possible for me the year before.
During my second spring season, I competed at the Penn Relays. It was an incredible atmosphere and by far the best meet I have competed in. There were competitors from countries such as Jamaica, the Bahamas and even Zimbabwe. I came in to the meet seeded No. 22 out of 25, and I ended up finishing 12th and setting another school record.
All of these meets and accomplishments led up to my final season and to my final meet for Council Rock South, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association State Championships on May 22-23.
I had prepared very hard all season for this one meet. The PIAA State meet took place on a beautiful weekend at Shippensburg University.
Of course, another challenge had presented itself. This season, I began to experience shin splints and I had to taper most of my practices. My drive and passion for the jumps helped me work through it -- I refuse to let roadblocks stop me from achieving my goals. The workouts were hard and I was in a lot of pain, but I kept my focus on my goal and continued to work as hard as I possibly could.
In the triple jump, I missed finals by 3 inches. It was a devastating blow for me and I finished in 12th place. Even though I was very disappointed, I couldn't let it get the best of me because the next day was my moment to shine in the long jump.
I spent my warm-up focusing on my technique, and I took extra care to tape my shin splints. My first jump was a 22-2½. I was unhappy, but it was just the start of my jumps. I started to overanalyze and think too much about what I was doing wrong, and I can say that is the reason why I did not finish as high in the standings as I would have liked. I once again had missed the final flight by 3 inches and finished 10th.
What jumping taught me
I may not have reached my goals at that meet, but I can confidently say that it was one of the best meets of my life. The other competitors really stepped up their games and finished with some impressive jumps.
My goal was to bring home two state medals for my team and I initially felt I had let my coaches down. But in the end I realized that it's not about where you finish, it's about what you put in to it.
I know that I gave it my all at the state meet, and that's all I can ask from myself. It's the finishes that disappoint that help you to gain more passion and respect for the sports that you play.
Track and field has many benefits, like so many of the sports I have played. I've made some of the best friends I'll ever have, and I've gained respect from other people and have learned to give respect to others.
I learned how to win, and more importantly to lose graciously.
Jumping can be frustrating at times. In one meet you can do so well and in the next you can have the worst meet of your career. But in the end, it's about the lessons you learn along the way, the people you meet who change your life, and the growth you experience as an individual.
I may not have had the ending I was hoping for, but I improved more than 3 feet in one year, made it to state twice, and finished fifth in the nation at one of the most prestigious meets in the country. I will continue my journey for excellence at the University of Miami (Ohio), where I plan to become a collegiate All-American.
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