Imagine, for a moment, a champion surfer who doesn’t like water.
Or the world’s best geologist who isn’t that fond of rocks.
It doesn’t make much sense, right? How could you spend your life doing something, hour after hour, around something you don’t much care for?
Well, don’t ask Manhasset High School senior Paul Park, because for the past five years he’s been dealing with a similar conundrum.
Park hates sand. Hates it. Doesn’t like going to the beach, because the sand gets everywhere and into everything. We’ve all been there and experienced that.
And yet, ever since eighth grade, Park has spent thousands and thousands of hours mired in the grainy white stuff, because that’s what long jumpers and triple jumpers like him land on after soaring through the air like Carl Lewis or Michael Powell did decades before.
“I know it’s strange,” he said with a laugh. “I just really don’t like shaking my shoes out all the time after practice.”
Well, despite his loathing of sand, all those hours of practice have paid off big-time, culminating in a magical moment for Park on March 4 at the New York State Indoor Track and Field Championships, on Staten Island.
Soaring farther than he ever had, Park landed a triple jump of 46 feet, 11 inches to claim his first state title. Improving his past personal best of 45-1, Park did it on his first jump Saturday, and on an injured left heel he’d hurt the week before.
“I feel like the higher the stakes of the meet, the more adrenaline I had, so when I was doing that first jump I wasn’t feeling any pain,” Park said. “I couldn’t believe it when I saw (how far) it was. I didn’t think it was anything that special, but then they put up the number and I was shocked, just shocked.”
After his record leap, Park and his coaches, Steve Steiner, Kevin Kearney and Justin Renna, had to wait for more than hour to see if Park’s mark would hold up and give him what’s believed to be Manhasset’s first indoor track and field state title since 1984.
Finally, when the last competitor failed to reach 46-11, Park could celebrate, though he said he was so surprised he won that he didn’t know how to celebrate
Manhasset head coach Steve Steiner said he was stunned, too, but couldn’t be happier for his star, who oh-by-the-way has a 4.0 GPA and looks to be headed to University of Pennsylvania next year.
“What he did, improving by that much and winning a state title when he was the No. 7 seed, that just doesn’t happen,” Steiner said. “But Paul is such a hard worker, and loves to achieve in everything he does, and we’re so proud of him. He absolutely earned this.”
“This is a kid who doesn’t miss a practice, doesn’t take days off, and always has a great attitude,” Renna added. “To see his hard work pay off was so awesome.”
Park wasn’t finished after winning the triple jump; despite the pain in his heel “getting worse and worse every jump,” he competed in the long jump and finished fifth, with a top leap of 22 feet, 5 inches.
“That probably wasn’t the best idea, to keep jumping in the long jump,” he said. “By the end I could barely walk.”
Park’s journey into jumping started in seventh grade, when he first joined the middle school track team. Beginning with the high jump, which he said he liked, he was asked to try the triple jump and long jump by Steiner when he joined the high school team in eighth grade.
Park said one of his first-ever triple jumps was “like in the top 3 for middle schoolers in the state” that year, so he immediately knew he had a talent for it.
As he progressed over the years, Park said he began to love jumping, the challenges and the joys of it. Last spring he finished in fifth in the triple jump (42’7″) and eighth in long jump (20’10.5″) in the outdoor states.
Now, he’s a champion, and he’s headed to Boston for New Balance National championships on March 11 to try to keep on winning.
“I’m hella motivated to do well at Nationals,” Park said. “If I can get Top 6 and become all-American, that would be awesome.”
One day, he may even grow to like sand.