The road to Rio

Five years after graduating, Jared Schuurmans is throwing himself toward a spot on Team USA and the 2016 Olympics.

By REBECCA SVEC

 

It took a while to sink in.

IMG_0201300-crop.jpgA little time had to pass before Jared Schuurmans ’10 could step back far enough to see what he’d achieved beyond his monumental win.

The Norfolk native and Doane graduate won the discus at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in June, becoming the 2015 USA Champion and qualifying for the World Championships in Beijing two months later.

Jared had arrived at the championships at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, as the favorite after recording the ninth-best throw in the world earlier this year. His second throw of the day (212 feet, 1 inch) put him in first place. At the competition’s end, he remembers one of his best friends and college competitors giving him a hug. Hearing congratulations from the steadying voice of his longtime mentor David Dunnigan, Doane Track and Field’s throws coach. And then, as Schuurmans puts it, “doing some sort of stupid jump things and waving to my parents.”

The enormity of the victory came later, in little realizations.

“I started to comprehend how important that was to my career. That was the real first leap forward.”

Jared, 28, had competed internationally for more than two years, but this win was different.

“(It) gave me credibility on the international stage and was about really becoming the face of USA discus throwing,” he said. “It was very validating.”

Not many day jobs require flipping 500-pound tractor tires or running series of sprints, but years of that kind of hard, physical work and patient progression, in a single moment, suddenly seemed to reach a destination.

“It has been five years since I’ve left college, so there were five years of emotion and work behind that title,” Jared said from his home south of San Diego at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California.

Few people have road-mapped their life like Jared and managed to stay on the path. He picked up the discus for the first time in fourth grade and liked its weight in his hand. In a home with three older track athlete siblings and a track coach father, Jared naturally tagged along to practices, raking the sandpits and taking in the events.

He’s pretty sure he won his first discus event. He definitely won a state title. From his pick of colleges, he chose Doane, where he earned a history degree, set records in Tiger Athletics and became a seven-time NAIA All-American, discus national champion, Drake Relays champion and two-time USATF national qualifier.

After graduation, he chose to pursue his dream to become an Olympian, knowing it would take years to build the targeted strength needed in a sport where athletes typically peak between 29 and 32.

Jared first trained at Oklahoma State with John Baumann ’89, a fellow Doane alumnus and Norfolk native who has worked with numerous Olympic team members. With an assistant coach offering training without recompense, Jared adjusted to a world that requires a flow of money to meet training, travel and entry expenses.

By 2012, Jared was living in Modesto, California, training for the Olympic trials. Based on his performance and promise, the Olympic Training Center offered him a spot as a resident in 2014, which he considers one of the biggest breaks of his athletic career.

“I joke that it’s like a college for athletes…with different Olympic sports in training,” Jared said. “It’s just its own little city.”

He has access to personnel including medical staff and, thankfully, a nutritionist. His least favorite part of training in Oklahoma was weighing and recording every piece of food; it’s no small task logging your 6,800-calorie diet when you’re 6-foot-4, 280 pounds and eating between seven and nine meals a day.

Jared knows few professional athletes get the chance to train full time. It’s a lucky break he’s thankful for on a list that wouldn’t be complete without his family, he said. They were there at Norfolk Middle School when he was throwing 79 feet, and they’re still there.

“They come to almost all of the U.S. Championships,” Jared said.

He also has loyal sponsors in Nelco Sport and former employers Julie and Al Rajee of Cornhusker Auto Center in Norfolk.

“It’s amazing to have people there in the beginning who are still there,” Jared said. “They stayed through the ups and downs when it would have been so easy for them to duck out.”

And there’s another constant in Jared’s journey: Coach Dunnigan.IMG_0839300dpi-crop.jpg

“Dunnigan is a huge part of my support system,” Jared said of his former coach, who still travels to each of his U.S Championship events. “Having him at the championships is a great mental relief for me. He started out as my coach, but it’s turned into a great friendship.”

Dunnigan stood a few feet from the podium at Hayward Field when officials presented Jared’s medal, and he feels privileged to watch the moment. To see this gifted athlete he once crossed the country with in a minivan, chasing qualifying marks for the USATF, a student turned professional athlete he watched mature and chase a dream.  

“Jared gives everything he has and he is long on character,” Dunnigan said.

Jared is so close to the Olympics now he can almost touch it. He’s already hit the Olympic “A” qualifying standard. If he finishes in the top three at the 2016 Olympic Team Trials this July, he will compete in the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

It’d be the culmination of so many things—work, sacrifices and all of his waking thoughts—for the last five years. While his Olympic dream hasn’t wavered, his focus has broadened to see all his career has given him already: The past Olympians who have offered encouragement and advice. The opportunity to train with Gold Medal-winner Mac Wilkins and now with Greg Garza of San Diego State University.

The places and cultures the sport has introduced to his life.

It’s all of those things that have taken him from Norfolk to Doane and beyond.

“I’ve competed in Paris, Madrid, the Pan Am Games, Tokyo, Beijing,” Jared said. “It’s the things outside of the ring that are the most surreal. I got to walk the Great Wall, go to the festivals in Brazil, stand under the Eiffel Tower—and all because I throw the discus.”

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