CHARLESTON, W.Va. (EYT/D9) — Just hours before another big meet, Hayden Smith fell ill.
(Above, Hayden Smith clears 6 feet, 10 inches at the AAU Junior Olympic Region 4 competition Friday/photo by Marcus Constantino)
It was an uneasy feeling for Smith, who less than a month before had won a PIAA Class 2A gold medal in the high jump.
Smith took a short nap, then settled in for a five-hour car ride from Rimersburg to the University of Charleston on Friday to compete at an AAU Junior Olympic regional competition.
“(Friday) was honestly pretty rough,” said Smith, who just completed his sophomore season on the Union/A-C Valley track and field team. “I don’t know what was going on, but I was pretty sick. It wasn’t really anxiety, it was just stomach issues. We finally got on the road and we got down there just in time for me to sign in, get my bib and jump.”
Smith’s ailment didn’t affect him once the jumping began. Smith was his usual self, clearing height after height until finally getting over the bar at a career-best 6 feet, 10 inches to win the gold in Region 4.
The victory secured Smith a spot in the AAU Junior Olympic Games, which will be held in Greensboro, N.C., from July 30-Aug. 6.
Winning a regional is no small feat. Region 4 encompasses Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Western New York. Some of the best athletes in the nation compete in AAU Junior Olympic qualifiers in the 25 regions across the United States.
Smith competed in the 17-18 age group. He won the event by eight inches.
“It felt great,” Smith said. “It means a lot to me. I’m really excited for nationals. Hopefully I can go down there and do something good, maybe even get 7-foot, then I’ll be happy.”
Smith took a crack at that longtime goal in Charleston. He nearly cleared 7 feet, but just clipped the bar on his three attempts.
Still, it was encouraging for Smith, who believes he’s very close to breaking through.
“All three of my attempts were pretty good,” Smith said. “I got my back over, I just couldn’t get my butt up and over it.”
Not bad considering his jumping coach was 300 miles away.
Dave Sherman, though, was still watching and coaching — thanks to modern technology.
Smith’s mother, Tressa, live-streamed Hayden’s jumps. Sherman watched from home and offered some tips along the way.
“It was pretty neat,” Tressa said. “I hollered out what (Sherman) said he needed to do.”
Smith also received some guidance from an unlikely source.
“They guy who was running it told me he used to hold the record here, and he was telling me some things to do,” Smith said. “He was telling me, ‘Just hold your form for one more split second and you’re definitely gonna get over it.’ So, I did and I got over (6-10).”
Smith, who is a stickler for keeping a precise routine, prepared for the regional like he had for the state meet.
He plans to mostly stick to that plan from now until the Junior Olympic Games in early August.
One of the things Smith does help to hone his jumping skills is record all of his jumps in practice to critique later.
“I make my mom go to the track and take videos of me so I can just see what I can do to tweak and get better,” Smith said. “I watch those videos all the time, Every single day.”
Tressa doesn’t exactly need to be dragged to the track, she said. She enjoys recording her son jump.
He’ll have lots more recordings to break down in the next six weeks.
Smith plans on adjusting his approach in the hopes of giving himself a better chance to clear 7 feet.
“We’re going to tweak my runway,” Smith said. “I need to extend it about 10 to 15 feet. I need to get a little faster on the turn.”
Smith has another goal in mind for nationals.
Best his older sister, Sierra.
When Sierra was a gymnast, she finished sixth in a national competition.
“That’s something he wants to do,” Tressa said, chuckling. “He wants to beat her.”
Hayden Smith, though, ultimately just wants to prove he belongs among the best in the country.
He believes he has a shot at doing some big things in Greensboro.
“Now I have to go down to North Carolina and go against the big dogs,” Smith said. “We’ll see how I do there.”