Track and field is among the most ancient of athletic competitions. The Greeks are thought to have first introduced the pentathlon – roughly translated as “five feats” – during the Olympia games in 708 BCE.
Those events — long jump, discus throw, javelin throw, sprint and wrestling — were the most basic of disciplines and were linked to military training. This alignment has remained popular for contestants and spectators up until today (minus the wrestling aspect).
During the winter months, modern track and field events move indoors. For the men, the heptathlon has become the method for deciding the best all-around competitor.
The seven events are split over two days. The initial trials are the 60-meter dash, long jump, shot put and high jump. Next up are the 60-meter hurdles, pole vault and 1,000-meter run. Each contestant’s best effort is converted into points using a formula, with the winner having the most total points at the end of the meet.
Garrett Schumacher has come to know these events quite well. A senior on the University of South Alabama track team, Schumacher recently broke his own school record during a competition in Birmingham.
As the lone participant for USA, Schumacher increased his personal best by 53 points with a total of 5,084 points. This was good for second place at the meet hosted by Samford University, and currently marks the eighth best in the NCAA.“This is the second or third time I’ve broken my own school record in the heptathlon,” Schumacher told Lagniappe. “It always feels good to better your previous best, but overall my performance at the meet was very average. Out of the seven events, I only had a personal record in one, which isn’t bad, but I wouldn’t call it good either.”
Schumacher set his career-best effort in the shot put with a toss covering 11.89 meters, while tying his personal record in the 60-meter hurdles at 7.14 seconds. He finished the first day with marks of 6.46 meters in the long jump and 1.83 meters in the high jump.
On the second day, Schumacher cleared 4.64 meters in the pole vault and had times of 8.84 seconds in the 60-meter hurdles and 2:53.71 in the 1,000-meter run.
Schumacher was a multi-sport athlete at Spanish Fort High School, where he participated in cross-country, basketball and track. Before graduating in 2009, he helped the Toros win the Alabama state title in track and field.
This is quite remarkable, considering the facilities at the new Baldwin County school. “We didn’t get a track at Spanish Fort until my senior year in high school,” Schumacher said. “So track for my first three years of high school consisted of running laps around the parking lot and dodging school traffic.”
Since Alabama did not offer indoor track at the time, Schumacher first attempted the decathlon in the spring. Besides the running races, Schumacher said he had practiced the other events only once or twice. He still ended up fifth at the state meet.
Schumacher decided to continue his athletic career, by running cross-country at Spring Hill College. That next summer, his former prep coach — Chris Schmidt — asked if would help him prepare some of his other students for the yearly high school decathlon. While doing this, Schumacher realized this is what he really wanted to do, and arranged with USA coach Paul Brueske to transfer schools.
The move has worked out quite well, and Schumacher expects more to come.
“I definitely know I can achieve more points in this event,” he said. “I have a few events that are starting to come together, and I’m looking forward to taking advantage of those in my next heptathlon.”
Now entering his final year with the Jaguars, Schumacher said he will not hold anything back as indoor season draws to a close with the Sun Belt Conference championships set for Birmingham on Feb. 24-25.
“My ultimate goal for this sport would be to enjoy every last second of it, because this is the last year I’m able to do this,” said Schumacher, an Exercise Science major who plans to coach track teams one day. “Winning a gold medal at conference wouldn’t be a bad end, either.”
Healthy lifestyle race planned
In another type of athletic event, the inaugural Biggest Loser Run/Walk is scheduled for Mobile on Feb. 9. The lineup will include a half-marathon, a 5-kilometer race and a 1-mile children’s fun run.
The emphasis of this race is to encourage people to be healthy and fit. Gina McDonald, an Alabama native and Season 14 at-home winner of “The Biggest Loser” television show, will be present at the start line.
“The Mobile Sports Authority and Mobile are honored to have been selected as one of only a handful of cities nationally to host The Biggest Loser Run/Walk, a premier fitness event that is highly regarded as one that empowers individuals to lead healthy and active lifestyles,” said Danny Corte, executive director of the MSA. “We in Mobile are thrilled to have the opportunity to host The Biggest Loser Run/Walk, which strikes to provide individuals with an atmosphere that uplifts, encourages, and celebrates them, as they more toward their personal health and fitness goals.”
The half-marathon starts at 8 a.m, with the 5K following 30 minutes later. The fun run, for those ages 4 to 12, begins at noon. A post-race concert will feature former “The Biggest Loser” contestant and Nashville recording artist Dan Evans.
For more information or to register for the race, visit www.BiggestLoser.com/RunWalk.