Track and field high jumper Hunter Weeks eyeing national championship
Weeks is one of three Division II athletes to clear 7 feet this indoor season
High jumping is an art. Some are naturally gifted and others work hard at perfecting their craft to turn raw talent into greatness.
Grand Valley State’s Hunter Weeks is the perfect combination of both.
“The word I would use is beautiful,” said fellow GVSU high jumper Brandon Bean. “Everything from the walk-in to the actual attempt is so beautiful and flawless. It’s to the point now where you can count way more bars that he has made effortlessly than he has missed. You know you’re special when you miss a bar and everyone’s shocked.”
The sophomore has reached the brink of greatness, jumping 7 feet for the first time in his career Saturday, Jan. 28 at the Mike Lints Alumni Meet, joining what GVSU jumps coach Steve Jones calls “an exclusive club.”
“Since the first person hit 7 feet, that’s always the number you want to hit,” said Jones, who joined the 7-foot club during his collegiate days at the University of Wisconsin in 2003. “Six-eleven and three quarters doesn’t cut it. You have to jump 7 feet to be a part of that club. Whether you jumped it in the 70s, the 80s or the 90s, it doesn’t matter; it’s still 7 feet.”
Weeks is one of three Division II athletes to clear 7 feet this indoor season, and though the mark isn’t an automatic qualifier to the national meet, it would take a career performance from 15 other jumpers in order to knock him out, something that will not happen.
Although clearing the 7-foot bar is not a feat to be overlooked, Weeks has bigger and better things in mind.
First on the chopping block is the GVSU indoor record. The mark to beat is 2.15 meters (7 feet 1/2 inches), set by Jeremy Pearson in 2000. Pearson also holds the outdoor record at 2.18 meters.
Weeks has had multiple opportunities to cement his name in the indoor record books, most recently at the GVSU Big Meet when he just missed clearing the bar at 2.16 meters (7 feet-1 inch).
“It has been frustrating,” Weeks said. “I’ve been so close on all of the attempts I’ve taken at those bars, so it’s kind of getting to me, but I don’t need it now, I need it at the nationals meet.
“I’d love to have my name on those record boards. I have my name on my high school boards, so it would be cool to see that up there.”
If anything is holding him back, it would be the frustration of not clearing bars when he knows he can, Jones said.
“Physically, he has all the tools to be successful,” Jones said. “I just try to help him remember our cues. We usually use one or two words that help him to remember what he’s supposed to focus on for that day. Before he jumps I’ll shout it out to him and put him in a good attitude moving forward.”
The best way to combat mental roadblocks is confidence. Nothing would give Weeks more confidence than a national championship. He already has the title of high school state champion and NCAA Division II All-American. Adding “national champion” to that resume is not far out of the question.
“It always comes down to the day,” Jones said. “From what I saw at the Big Meet, he showed me that he’s ready to win a national championship. He took each jump like it was going to be his last and had a great mental attitude and I think that is what’s going to separate him from the rest of them next month.”
Being able to join Weeks at the national meet to participate alongside him and encourage him on the biggest stage would mean a lot to Bean, who at this point is a few inches short of qualifying for the upcoming indoor national meet.
“Hunter isn’t just a teammate, he’s a really close friend,” Bean said. “We get hype, we get excited, and I feel like that motivates both of us. I have fun just watching him, so it’s even more fun to compete side by side with him.”
Including both the indoor and outdoor seasons, Weeks will have six more chances to win that coveted national championship before he graduates.
“It’d mean the world to me,” he said. “I could never dream of something like that when I was in high school, I didn’t think I’d be here. I have the opportunity and I’m going to do my best to take advantage of that.”
Weeks is easily recognizable during a meet. His tall frame stands out even amongst the above average height of most high jumpers. His approach is the same jump after jump. After a short sprint to get warmed up, Weeks begins several feet back from his starting point, gathers himself, steps up to his starting mark, gathers himself again by leaning back, then takes off.
“When he does his walk-in, you can just see it in his eyes that he’s going to clear the bar,” Bean said. “He’s going to do everything perfectly. He’s going to stay focused on everything from the walk-in to the plant, and he’s going to clear it.
“It’s really special. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s really something to marvel at.”
Jones and Weeks decided to tweak the approach slightly at the beginning of this year, adjusting from a six-step run up to an eight-step. At first, Weeks’ results suffered from the change, but gradually the success started to come and the reason for the switch became evident.
“I think it’s going to get me places,” Weeks said. “I was bringing in too much speed, so I would just push myself through the bar each time. I couldn’t plant right. I would always plant and my foot would roll.”
In high jump, it’s ultimately about getting over the bar. The feeling of crashing into the landing pad and looking back to see the bar still in place is what it’s all about, Weeks said.
“If the bar is high I’ll get really excited to the point where I don’t know what to do,” he said. “A lot of times I can tell while I’m still in the air if I’ve cleared it. It’s all exciting for me. It’s a rush. I love this and that’s why I’m here to do it.”