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TRACK AND FIELD: Lincoln Park's Atwater's towering achievements earn state title
Atwater announced his presence with a 6-foot, 10-inch winning jump at the News-Herald Track & Field Championships in May and then went on to win the Division 1 state high jump title
The story of Lincoln Park state champion high jumper Robert Atwater is an entertaining one.
Anyone lucky enough to watch the junior attempt and clear unnatural heights is always entertained. Having a conversation with the athletic Railsplitter will undoubtedly entertain.
But it’s the story of Atwater’s growth – both literally and figuratively – that is perhaps the most entertaining aspect of his record-breaking spring season.
Heading into the 2013 track season, Atwater was viewed as a solid point scorer in the field after finishing fourth in the pole vault and fifth in the high jump as a sophomore in the 2012 News-Herald Track & Field Championships.
While improvement is to be expected from year-to-year, no one could have predicted what happened 12 short months later.
Lincoln Park Coach Tommy Nuttall saw the writing on the wall for a big year when Atwater opened the spring with a jump of 6-feet, 2-inches.
“We kind of knew it was going to happen like this because he started getting into the high jump in the middle of the season last year and he started to progress near the end,” Nuttall said. “When the season started, we did a meet against Livonia and he jumped 6-2 and I knew he had a lot of potential.”
From that first meet on, Atwater consistently jumped higher and higher.
“If you look at his numbers throughout the year, he progressed from 6-2, 6-3, 6-4, 6-5 and so on,” Nuttall said. “He never came down. He just stayed consistently going up the whole season.
“I think it’s just his hard work. He’s always the first to practice and the last to leave and I think it’s that he’s trying to win practice.”
Records began to be threatened early on when Atwater tied the school and league record of 6-5 in the Railsplitters’ third dual meet of the season against Anderson.
Atwater’s performance came to the forefront at The News-Herald Track & Field Championships.
After the Walk of Champions ceremony that opened the track events, everyone stopped to watch Atwater, who already dispatched his competition, clear 6-9 before valiantly attempting jumps of 7-0.
“It happened many of the weekends we went out,” Nuttall said. “It’s just a huge honor for everybody to stop and look at that and it makes you feel like you really went out and did something. All of his hard work really paid off.”
After cruising to league and regional championships, Atwater received his first, and only, scare of the season at the Division 1 state finals.
Atwater was engaged in a competitive battle with Grand Blanc’s Robin Plummer and the duo matched each other’s jumps all the way up to 6-7.
After Plummer cleared the bar on his first attempt, Atwater missed on his first two tries.
“It was very scary,” Atwater said. “I thought I was out. The first two misses were pretty bad and I couldn’t even get over it.
“I had a little conversation with a few jumpers from other schools and they were egging me on to do it. They knew I could do it and I believed I could, too.”
After successfully clearing 6-7, the duo matched each other on the next two heights before Atwater claimed the championship by clearing 6-10 on his final attempt.
The support from his fellow high jumpers was a season-long occurrence for Atwater.
“That happened a lot this year,” Atwater said. “Sometimes your coaches weren’t allowed to talk to you during the meet, so other jumpers will tell you what you could be doing better.”
The sportsmanship and support shown in this event was also acknowledged by Nuttall.
“Everybody there was supporting Robert,” Nuttall said. “All the local coaches – the Southgate coach, Wyandotte coach, Woodhaven coach – were all there supporting. The other teams behind us were very supportive. Even Robby and Robin were supporting each other.”
Atwater’s prolific season is made even more memorable when you consider that his career-best jump entering the season was 5-10.
So how did he do it? How did he make so much progress in one year? How does someone add a foot to their high jump in 12 months?
Well, for starters, he got a lot of rest.
“I was once told that sleeping helps you grow, so all summer I slept,” joked Atwater, who now stands just over 6-foot tall. “I had grown a foot over the summer, so that was a plus.”
When he wasn’t outgrowing his bed, Atwater spent his time running, playing basketball and lifting weights over the summer.
“My mom bought me a weight bench which helped me work out over the summer and get my legs stronger and my body stronger.”
Once the season started, the junior began breaking down some tape and came up with a new technique that sparked some dramatic improvement.
“I was looking at videos from last year and of professionals and I noticed an arm technique once you get over the bar that really looked like it could help and it did,” Atwater said.
The funny thing about his incredible performance is that Atwater was not very concerned with high jump entering the season.
“When the season first started, I really focused on pole vault because that’s what I was good at last year,” Atwater said. “I like pole vault. The thrill of coming down from 12 feet in the air is awesome.”
Atwater’s next admission is even more surprising.
“I don’t really practice high jump at practice,” Atwater said. “I do pole vault most of the time and that little bitty runway actually helps with my high jump approach.”
While Atwater is no slouch at the pole vault (runner-up at N-H and DRL meets and third at regionals), his goal heading forward is to improve on his historic season.
“I want to repeat,” Atwater said. “That’s the main goal is to go another undefeated year and to take home another championship.”
An elusive height is also in his sights heading into his senior season.
“At leagues, after everybody was out, I went for 6-7 and 6-10 and I cleared all of them on my first try,” Atwater said. “When they said I was going for 7-0, I couldn’t do it. That’s a major goal, too.”
If this offseason is anything like his last, Atwater will likely entertain all of us once again next spring by soaring to even greater heights.
And when he does, he will be well-rested.
Last Updated: 7/12/2013 11:07:30 AM EST