Aarik Wilson's Story
Can you jump? The answer, more than likely, is yes.
OK, then, can you jump far? How far?
No matter how far you might be able to jump, it is a mere hop compared to the marks IU sophomore All-American, Big Ten Champion and defending national runner-up Aarik Wilson can hit.
Wilson can jump 25-4 1/2 or 7.73 meters - at least that was the distance it took to win the 2003 Big Ten long jump title. In the triple jump, he can hit 54-6 or 16.61 meters - that was the distance it took to win the 2003 Big Ten triple jump title too.
"I'm not happy with what I've done," Aarik states, to start the conversation.
Wait a minute, what? You're the Big Ten Champion in not one, but two events and you're not happy?
Aren't you the same guy who finished fourth in the NCAA Indoor Championships and was named the Big Ten's Outdoor Freshman of the Year and finished second in the nation in the triple jump in 2002? Weren't you second in the nation in the triple jump at the indoor national championships. Didn't you win two Big Ten Championships just a few weeks ago.
"I'm happy to a certain extent, but I've placed second twice at nationals. I feel that at indoor nationals this year I was ready to win and I should have won. I don't have a Big Ten record yet and I don't have an outdoor record. I haven't had that big jump that I know is coming," he tenses up as he says this, fingers curled into his palms, knuckles white from stress. "I've fouled it six billion times, I just haven't got it on the board yet. I'm just waiting, waiting to do everything I know I can do."
The scary thing is, he's still a sophomore.
"But when I'm on the track, I don't feel like a sophomore," he says. "I feel like I'm a veteran, like I've been out there since I was 15, which I guess I have been. It's going too slow for me," he says.
Ironic that the veterans of most teams preach patience, though.
"I've had patience," he says, shaking his head. "I feel like I learned enough last year to where I should be doing more this year. I feel like I should be jumping far enough to be ranked first on every list and right now I'm ranked third in the triple jump and third in the long jump on Trackwire. I feel like I should be able to put myself in a position to be named as the country's number one triple jumper. I don't want to wait any longer. I need to go out and show that I am what I believe I am."
And if the champion in him hadn't come out in full force, it did when he said, "It's a matter of showing up and doing it. It's putting everything that Coach (Wayne) Pate has taught me, and everything I have learned, and putting it together these next two meets. At Midwest Regionals, in the triple jump at least, it's going to basically be nationals with the exception of two jumpers. From here on out, I have two chances to really show and prove what I believe that I am. I'm going in to regionals and nationals with something to prove."
And what do you do besides jump...really far?
"I haven't jumped really far, yet. It's coming."
From Aarik's perspective, this is what happened earlier this year at the NCAA Indoor Championships: He didn't win. It doesn't matter that he shattered a long-standing record. It doesn't matter that it was only his second indoor championships.
He came into the finals prepared to win and was the second to last competitor to jump. He hit a mark of 55-9 (16.99m), which led the event. Then, feeding off the adrenaline rush after watching Wilson's record-breaking jump, Allen Simms of USC hit a mark of 56-7 1/2 to take the lead and the national triple jump title.
At Churchill County High School in Fallon, Nev., he began jumping as a way to stay in shape and get better - stronger, faster - for football and basketball. Then he won his first meet at the freshman/sophomore division with a mark of 37-00.
He had consistently placed high in the triple jump, but at his high school, one of the older guys was injured, leaving an opportunity for Aarik to compete in the long jump. He jumped 19-2 and finished second.
But track and the triple jump and long jump continued to be a source of training for basketball season. Track was always the third of three options - football and basketball were more important.
Then he won the 1999 Nevada state triple jump title his sophomore year of high school with a mark of 48-5.
"Until that time I didn't think of track as anything more than just a way to condition. Then I got my first recruiting letter from Penn. It was a whole other world," says Wilson.
In his junior year, he lost the state high school title by a quarter inch after his mark of 50-1 3/4 saw him finish just shy of top honors. In his final season, he couldn't imagine not winning the championship.
"I wanted the state record my senior year, I wanted to blow that guy away that beat me the year before," said Wilson. "I wanted to win states all three years, and I never could."
He hasn't spent much time looking back after jumping into track. After football shooed him away with a broken shoulder blade, he continued with both basketball and track.
"When I broke my shoulder blade, I took that as a sign that I wasn't supposed to play football. My dad broke his neck playing football, so when I got hurt, I thought, `My family is NOT supposed to play football.'
Admittedly, he never really liked track in high school and he was determined to play basketball as often as he could. As a result, he was named the state of Nevada's high school Co-MVP in basketball.
"I would be late to track practice because I was in the gym, playing basketball," says Wilson. "As soon as we got home from a track meet, I was back in the gym."
But then he had to make a decision. He was good enough to be offered college scholarships to play both basketball and to jump. He sat down and looked through all of the materials from all of the prospective schools.
"I almost thought about not doing track because of basketball. I talked to Coach Pate and I sat down one night and was looking at the schools that were recruiting me for basketball and track. For basketball it was decent schools, but for track it was the top schools - Big Ten schools, SEC schools. They didn't really compare athletically or academically. Talking to Coach Pate on the phone, I knew I didn't want to run track anywhere else. If I didn't run track at IU I was going to go to school to play basketball. When I decided track was my best route, the decision to come to Indiana was easy."
So, Indiana it was and Indiana it's been. He heads to Regionals May 30th in search of the record, in search of a national title, waiting for that big jump to be posted up on the board.
Far from his Nevada home, a three-time All-American, a Big Ten champion, one of this country's most promising jumpers with the 2004 Olympics on the horizon, Aarik Wilson doesn't think he has jumped very far.
Check back soon