Ex-Thetford Star Leaps High at UConn
Former Thetford Academy athlete Jesse Chapman won the Big East decathlon title this spring for UConn. (University of Connecticut photograph)
Former Thetford Academy standout Jesse Chapman, who didn’t take track and field seriously until his senior year of high school, has made up for lost time. Now at the University of Connecticut, Chapman recently won the Big East decathlon championship. (University of Connecticut photograph)
The spring semester recently ended at the University of Connecticut, but junior track and field athlete Jesse Chapman is still hard at work.
Handpicked by kinesiology professor Jeff Volek to assist with an on-campus lab study, Chapman, an exercise science major, is in the midst of testing how various sugar alcohols react to human blood markers in low-carbohydrate protein bars.
All the while, Chapman is determining how to react to his own success on the track.
An East Thetford native and former Thetford Academy track standout, Chapman shocked even himself while winning the Big East decathlon championship earlier this month at Rutgers University.
With personal bests in six events — including a 60.37-meter javelin heave that shattered his previous mark by 30 feet — Chapman’s aggregate 7,437 points were 20th best at any league decathlon championship in NCAA Division I. With the top 24 qualifying for the collegiate national championships, Chapman’s showing punched his ticket to the NCAA meet at the University of Oregon, where he’ll compete against the nation’s top college track athletes beginning June 5.
“I didn’t expect to still be going at it in June,” Chapman said in a phone interview yesterday, between lab-work duties and training with the Huskies’ coaching staff. “I’m absolutely shocked, to be honest. I’m still processing it. You don’t get a 30-foot PR very often.”
Chapman’s previous best Big East decathlon finish had come two years ago, when he placed second with 6,643 points. He redshirted last spring before placing fourth among heptathletes in the Big East indoor championships last winter and second at IC4As.
Chapman followed that with a solid spring, regularly placing in the top 10 in the 110-meter hurdles, discus, shot put and javelin and finishing second at the UConn decathlon in early April. Yet none of his regular-season results could have prepared the former Panther for his outing in New Jersey on May 4-5.
“Something juts clicked, and everything was working for me,” said Chapman, a former three-event Vermont high school record holder and 2008 TA graduate. “I’d recently just dropped a class so that I wouldn’t be eligible to graduate and knew I’d be coming back for another year, so to be honest, I was kind of already thinking about next year and what I would be doing for training over the summer. So I was really just thinking to go have fun. I certainly wasn’t expecting to score as well as I did.”
On day one at Rutgers, Chapman set personal records in the 100-meter dash (sixth; 11.47 seconds), long jump (third; 6.71 meters) and shot put (first; 15.29 meters) and was a centimeter off his personal best in the high jump (second; 1.94 meters) while running a season-best 53.47 seconds in the 400 (10th).
Day two began with a win in the discus (44.62 meters), a sixth-place finish in the 1,500 (4:54.84) and PRs for third in the pole vault (4.55 meters) and second in the 110 hurdles (15.03 seconds). Cheered on by friends and family, Chapman was loose and relaxed heading into the javelin, the penultimate event of the weekend.
“I was basically just having a blast,” he recalled.
On his first javelin throw, the spear soared farther than he realized he was capable of heaving it — 60.37 meters (198 feet).
“I’ve been throwing the javelin for seven years now and never had it all come together like it did on that throw,” Chapman said. “Again, something just clicked.”
Never taking track seriously until his senior year at Thetford, Chapman formed a strong relationship with former Panthers coach Joel Breakstone that season and set VPA D-III records in the javelin, discus and shot put, breaking his own previous shot put mark with a heave of 47 feet, 4 inches at the 2008 state meet. A perennial contender as much then as it is today, Thetford placed second to South Royalton at the state meet as Chapman began pondering a future in track.
“Thetford was a great place to start,” he said. “It’s small, but you’ve got a lot of kids there who love to compete and Joel was a great motivator. It was really that senior year when I started to realize track could be something I continued with.”
After a postgraduate year at Connecticut’s Loomis-Chaffee High School, Chapman enrolled at Maine’s Bates College, where he qualified for the Division III nationals in multiple indoor and outdoor events in 2010, missing the latter competition because of a torn pectoral muscle sustained while practicing discus.
“That kind of gave me time to look at Bates outside of track and from the standpoint of academics,” said Chapman. “It’s a great liberal arts school, but it wasn’t necessarily right for me.”
Chapman joined a Loomis-Chaffee friend for a visit to the UConn campus that summer and, after reading up on the school’s sports nutrition program, decided to transfer.
Walking on to the Huskies’ track team, it didn’t take Chapman long to make an impact. He placed fourth in the heptathlon at the Big East indoor championships and fifth at IC4As before earning his runner-up finish in the outdoor Big East decathlon in 2011.
With a semester of eligibility remaining at UConn, which he’ll use next spring, Chapman isn’t ruling out a career in track after college. It’s not something he’d ever really pondered before his recent performance at the Big East championships.
“Realistically, if you’re scoring in the 6,600s (in the decathlon), you’re probably going to be done with track once college is over,” he said. “To score (7,437), to me, kind of legitimizes what I’m doing and makes me think about qualifying for the USA National Championships after college, making a name for myself and eventually going for the Olympic trials.
“But we’ll see how I do next year and we’ll see how everything comes together. ... The most important thing is to enjoy what you’re doing. If you’re not competing for the love of it and you’re competing because you want a certain score or a certain place, you’re not going to enjoy the journey.”
Jared Pendak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3306.