Field event training (high jump, long jump, shot put, discus, javelin …) isn’t like training to run. Running you can do almost anywhere. Field events, on the other hand, generally require certain, key equipment. And most apartments in Philadelphia just don’t come equipped with that sort of thing. So, after that last high jump competition for Penn during my senior year, I assumed that this part of my life was over.
Enter my former Team Captains, Ruthlyn Greenfield-Webster, Nu’92 and Deirdre Morris-Abrahamsson, C’93, GEd’94, who have been slowly brainwashing me into considering Masters level competition, for athletes 35 and over.
If you’ve seen this, you know I was a walk-on to Penn Varsity Women’s Track & Field, and spent four years competing as a high jump specialist. Even years later, I could easily visualize every moment of my high jump approach. It’s something I did repeatedly, for months in a row, every year from 7th grade through college. Nothing you’ve done that many times in your life ever really leaves you. However, what my mind can do and what my body can do are two different things. How different? After nearly 17 years, I was curious.
Late this past fall, when I ran into Assistant Coach Tony Tenisci (who was coaching here when I was on the team), I mentioned the evil influence of Ruthie and Dee and I asked whether I could access the high jump pit some time to see what I could still do. He surprised me by inviting me to come practice with the current crop of high jumpers.
I have been physically active via an intriguing array of activities since my student days, but I haven’t done anything remotely close to high jumping since the spring semester of 1995. I did take 3rd place in a limbo contest last year. At least I knew that my back was still flexible. Still, shimmying under a bar is far less taxing than throwing yourself over one.
When the day came, I called my Mom before practice since I wanted her to hear from me while I was yet uninjured. I popped into the Training Room to get my ankles taped, and then crossed over into The Bubble, our indoor training annex (which looks and smells exactly as you remember it, former teammates).
Once inside The Bubble again, I spent a few minutes just walking around, taking it in. I spent so much time in here, so long ago. My very first high jump practice at Penn took place in this room; first the coaches laughed, then they proceeded to spend the next four years fixing me. After my trip down memory lane, I threw down my bag and leapt onto the pit. Ahh.
There were other athletes in the room, and that’s when it hit me. Other athletes. When I’m in here, I’m reminded that I, too, am an athlete. Whatever my body does over time, that status will never change because I earned it. I will always be proud of that.
I warmed up and stretched, and then saw Tony walk in. When he saw me, both of us broke out into enormous smiles. This was going to be fun. After a big hug, he introduced me to several members of the team. I could tell he was really proud. “This is Nicole Maloy, school record holder in the High Jump,” he said to each one. “I bet you were BORN in 1995! Ha ha ha!” he said to one of the hurdlers.
She was defiant. “No I wasn’t!”
“OK, when were you born?”
She hung her head. “1992.” Oy.
After more warming up, Tony had me find my mark, a.k.a. identify my starting spot. Then he asked me to try my approach – no jump, just the run and the takeoff. It’s a strange mix of speed and direction changes, different for every jumper. I revved up, ran my “J,” did my takeoff, then looked at Coach. He was smiling. He looked at the other jumpers and said, “See? It’s always in your body.” Well, now. That was encouraging. Then he looked back at me and cocked his head. “You used to do this,” he said, as he put his arms out in front of him.
I laughed. “You remember.”
I had decided to actively tone down the pre-jump ritual for my return since I was sure it was not entirely necessary (frankly, though, the urge to let my arms go up was almost overwhelming). Next up: five-step drills, where we would actually jump, but without the speed of a full approach. Rather than put up the bar, Tony tied a rubber cord between the standards. I realized how brilliant this was later, as it kept us from having to reset the bar every 30 seconds like we had to do way back in my day. These kids today, they don’t know how good they have it!
After a few five-step approaches, it was time to jump. I felt myself getting nervous, then stuffing it away and focusing, the way you do. It was time. I felt like I should have brought theme music for this moment.
I had no idea what to expect on this day, but what meant the most to me was that Tony took it seriously. He was very thoughtful and deliberate about what I should do, how much I should do, and when I should stop, given how long I’d been away. It felt great that he treated me not like a visitor, but like an athlete who had earned his respect. Thanks for that, Coach.
Q&A With Tony, The Day After
What was it like to work with a former team member again after so many years?
When I looked up and saw Nicole on her mark and approaching the high jump bar…it was like no time had passed. She looked the same and ran the same way she did as a 19 year old student athlete! It was like the past had come back to me.
What did the experience mean to you as a Coach?
That when you have an athlete like Nicole, even after 17 years away, she still loves to high jump and treasures her experience as a student-athlete enough to recreate it again at the Master’s Level.
Anything to add?
Only that Nicole will be really sore this morning and that she will have touched muscles in her body that have been dormant for 17 years. That will be interesting for her!