Track and field is a mental sport. Anyone who says differently either doesn’t understand the sport, or isn’t very good at it.
Even though he’s only a freshman, Lance Hamilton of St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy understands this fact just as well as anyone. Perhaps this understanding is what makes him one of the top jumpers heading into the District 6 Class AA Track and Field Championships on Tuesday at Mansion Park in Altoona.
“I believe that jumping is pretty much all mental,” Hamilton said. “You have to be totally, 100 percent in it if you want to be good.”
The freshman enters the meet with a personal best of 19 feet, 10 inches in the long jump and 41-9 in the triple jump.
St. Joseph’s coach Jayson Jackson isn’t surprised by the freshman’s success or his mental toughness.
“I think it’s his dedication to the craft, and his willingness to put more work in to be better, “Jackson said. “I think that having that work ethic, even as a freshman, has helped him and has propelled him to be one of the best jumpers in the district.”
At last week’s West Central Coaches Invitational, Hamilton was fourth in the triple jump and seventh in the long jump. He was able to secure this feat while also battling strong winds and rain. Both jumps were also over a foot short of his personal records.
“I feel like I definitely could have done more, especially with the long jump,” Hamilton said. “I wasn’t really satisfied with that.”
Even though that meet didn’t go as planned, Hamilton has plenty to be satisfied with, no matter the outcome Tuesday.
Hamilton started track in seventh grade thanks to a push from his father. The push started a love affair with soaring through the air.
At first, Hamilton joined the track and field team to get in shape, but soon moved away from running and went to experiment with other events. While experimenting, he threw discus and eventually found his way to the jumping pits.
When beginning his jumping career, he had the same worries many younger jumpers face — fear of making the pit.
“I just didn’t have the height, and even though I loved doing it, I wasn’t very good,” Hamilton said.
By overcoming the fear, Hamilton got his first taste of the sport’s needed mental toughness.
The determined mindset was brought into full force when he chose to attend St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy, where he would be the only male jumper.
“I definitely know that I have to pull some weight as far as jumps are concerned because I’m kind of the only one out there,” said Hamilton, who follows the athletic footsteps of his father (Edwin) and uncle (Lance), who were members of the 1982 national championship-winning Penn State football team.
It gave him extra motivation to succeed. He is also lucky enough to have a brother who long jumps at State College.
“We train together a good amount, we’re always pushing each other just to try and make each other better,” he said. “We compete and practice together just like if we were teammates.”
The training system has been successful thus far, however at the big meets, Hamilton usually finds himself alone and that’s when the nerves kick in.
Hamilton said he was surprised by the high level of competition in the bigger meets, especially early early in the season as he was still transitioning from middle school track.
He explained that if he notices another jumper perform well, he knows he still has some room for improvement, but during the meet he tries to block it all out or else he worries.
“I worry about scratching,” he said, “or what if I miss the mark or what if I don’t take off, or what I have a really big first phase, or what if my leg buckles, those are things going through my head before I jump.”
However, he has also taught himself to stay calm and stay mentally tough when worries start to bubble up.
“I try and take a deep breath, I think about how I have three jumps,” he said, “I think about how thankful and how grateful I am for the opportunity to go out there and jump and know that not all people are blessed like I am.”
With this in mind, the jumping comes easy.
With districts on the horizon, Hamilton is excited about both the district meet and what’s yet to come.
“I don’t really have any expectations for districts,” he said. “I just want to go out like a I do every meet; try and make myself better and help the team.”
District 6 Track & Field Championships
When: 3:30 p.m. Tuesday (Class AA); 3:30 p.m. Thursday (Class AAA)
Where: Mansion Park, Altoona
Note: For the first time, admission will be charged for the meet — $5 adults, $2 students with ID