Archive » April 7, 2011
HURDLING TOWARD SUCCESS
By SaraLloyd Truax, Staff Writer
Maybe not when alone with his friends, but otherwise you’ll find him to be quiet, perhaps even a bit shy, at least until the starter pistol triggers his adrenalin.
Erik Sheldon is as fast out of the blocks as he is over the hurdles with his steady one-two-three leap repeated to the finish. “He is, perhaps, the best hurdler in the league,” says coach Charlie Urigh. “Really?” Erik asks, stunned. Teammates groan in response to being assigned 50 leg swings per side as their warm up. Without complaint, Erik begins his, carefully making sure that his foot position is correct, even though just practicing.
Erik is the only Pirate to do both the 110 low hurdles and the 300 high hurdles, often winning both events at meets. “To me, a hurdler is someone who does the high hurdles. It’s a very technical race, which is what I appreciate about the event,” says Urigh. He says Erik is the best hurdler the team has had in the last three years, maybe more.
But for Erik, improvement is the name of the game. He has improved his times by more than a second just since last year, no small feat for so early in the season, his coach says. When asked about Erik’s work ethic, both laugh. Perhaps his mother put it most succinctly. “He doesn’t put as much into things as he could,” she says, in the same breath that she expresses a great deal of pride in his accomplishments.
“It’s not that easy to challenge him,” says Urigh. But Erik has taken up the challenge this season, which is likely why he has improved so much.”
The challenge, says Erik, is to tune out everyone else on the track and focus only on yourself, your technique, your race. It is one of the unique factors of track and field that he likes: It’s a team sport but with individual emphasis.
For the 110 hurdles, speed is a big factor. Building that speed requires the ability to keep the rhythm of three steps and a jump. When the wind is coming at the competitor, his or her body becomes a sail over the hurdle, pushing the runner back. The athlete has to be able to either take a forth step and lead off both sides, or take five steps, which slows them down even further. “I can’t switch feet,” Erik says, but his long legs give him a slight advantage. He can compensate for the wind better than someone of shorter stature.
The 300 hurdles is all about technique, says Urigh. Each hurdle is set at 39 inches. At the college level, it goes up to 42. Swinging his leg in even circles over the hurdles as he speaks, Erik makes them seem manageable, if not small. For a moment, the interview is forgotten, and coach and competitor rehash strategy from past races.
Then Erik laughs, crystal blues catch the light, as he recounts a recent race. “I’m always second at the start, always catching up. But it was 100 meters into the race and no one was ahead of me, so I didn’t know what to do. Everyone was yelling to hurry up, they’re catching up to you,” he said. He won despite efforts of others to take him.
He’s still getting used to being in the lead, but he thrives on it, be it the hurdles, long jump or his favorite, the triple jump. When not on the track, or otherwise with friends, Erik is drawn to local Louis Rybicki, an antiquarian horologist, who sometimes gives the athlete an old watch to tinker with. And while Erik doesn’t know yet where or what his college studies will be, he admits to a love of fiddling with mechanics and suspects that ultimately it is the field of engineering he’ll hear calling.
But for now, it is the starter’s pistol that catches his ear, the wind in his hair gets his attention and that first-place finish remains the object of his desires.