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College track and field

Hebert jumps at chance to show his mettle in throws

Due to injury, Camden Hills graduate has adapted from top jumper to standout thrower
By Mark Haskell | Jun 19, 2020
Courtesy of: Sam Hebert Sam Hebert

Rockport — When it comes to athletics, Susquehanna University of Selinsgrove, Pa. sophomore Sam Hebert knows how to give little else than a star effort.

Hebert, a 2019 Camden Hills Regional High School graduate, competed in multiple sports during his years as a Windjammer and, as a member of the school’s indoor and outdoor track-and-field teams thrived in a multitude of events and disciplines — due, in part, to injury.

But the 19-year-old’s uncanny ability to turn a negative into a positive has served him well as his trek down the road of athletics has changed directions multiple times, as the most recent course correction will see him look to a career as a collegiate javelin and discus thrower.

Initially, Hebert gravitated to baseball in second grade and played the sport into his teen years before aging out at 15 in the Midcoast Babe Ruth League. He also took up basketball and football in fifth grade, playing hoops through his freshman year at CHRHS and football all four years for the Windjammers.

He still enjoys basketball and baseball, but ultimately transitioned out of those sports to focus more on track and field. He said he had "coaches and teachers imploring me to try it out as they recognized my ability to get off the ground."

“I assembled a group to play pickup [basket]ball regularly throughout high school to get my cardio in during the offseason of track,” he said. “I really loved baseball and basketball, but my mentors and I always knew I could utilize my jumping abilities at a greater capacity as a member of the track team, so I dropped both sports to commit to track and field.”

And commit he did.

Hebert had four combined seasons on the indoor and outdoor track teams as a jumper and five overall. He participated in outdoor track his sophomore year, indoor and outdoor his junior year and indoor senior year as a jumper before an injury forced him to switch to throwing events.

Standout jumper

His sophomore year, Hebert collected Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B titles in the high jump (5-10) and long jump (19-11.5) in addition to a seventh-place finish in the triple jump (40-8). He matched his height in the high jump — which also set a school record — at the state championship meet and improved on his performance in the long and triple jumps.

He was named rookie of the year by his coaches, which helped him sharpen his focus on honing his craft.

“I definitely feel as though a lot of my drive for jumping came purely from the success I found in my first year,” he said. “It meant a lot for me to do all that in my first season.”

During his junior and senior years of football, “I would get up at 5 a.m. to work on my jumps at the track before the first bell despite having football practices every afternoon directly after the last bell.”

Despite his football coaches not being overjoyed that track and field seemed to be his first priority, “I was a captain on the football field and wished to inspire my teammates with my determination.”

He was a standout running back for the Windjammers.

“But, if football season was over on the sixth of November, track season began on the seventh,” he said. “I would never take a week off unless my body told me to, and I would be answering the same 5 a.m. track calls the same way, just more often. I would do rigorous home workouts in my small bedroom as often as I would go to the track.”

His hard work paid off as he broke his school high jump record by one inch in a regular-season indoor meet and finished second in the KVAC Class A championships and made the podium (top-7) in all three events in the KVAC and state meets as a junior.

In the spring he made the podium in all three events in the KVAC Class B championship and in two of three events in the state meet, including fourth- and fifth-place finishes in the triple jump (41-6.25) and high jump (5-10), respectively.

Change of class

Between the fall of 2017 and the spring of 2019, Camden Hills was a Class A sport in indoor track and Class B in outdoor track. Windjammer track-and-field teams now compete in Class A.

Hebert continued to build on that success out of the gate for his senior year, following an identical training regimen from the previous year. He opened the season with a high jump of 6-2 “seemingly out of nowhere, and it was the most incredible moment I can recall in my entire career of sports.”

That height broke his school record.

After narrowly missing out on 6-4 the following week, “I didn’t even care about long or triple jump anymore, it felt like high jump was the only thing I ever wanted to do anymore.”

The next week’s meet, however, “is where the pain in my knee began.”

“It didn’t really feel like much,” he said, “And I didn’t think I had any reason not to push through it since I was so close to 6-4 already. I felt like if I took a break to rest I wouldn’t be as good when I came back, but that wasn’t the case. The pain got in my head, and it affected my jumping ability. I never cleared 6-2 again, and ended up turning a thir-place seeding at states into a seventh-place finish as I pushed through the worst of the knee pain yet to barely get over a six-foot bar.”

In the offseason, Hebert researched and saw his symptoms matched that of patellar tendonitis, or jumper’s knee, which is an inflamed patellar tendon.

With little recourse — and with leaving the team not being an option for Hebert — “I joined the throwers” and “I gave throwing everything I had.”

Hebert, never one to do something halfway, began powerlifting and used that newly-found upper body strength to trade in his three jumping events for the javelin, discus and shot put.

Switching gears

His ability to turn the negative of losing out on jumping events into a positive by gravitating to throwing helped him find powerlifting, which is a sport he said he hopes to continue with after college.

“I never really expected it to amount to anything after having my heart broken knowing that everything I ever put into jumping was gone,” he said. “All the 5 a.m. mornings on the track, the two-hour workouts all but one day of the week, everything accumulated to one almost 6-4 jump and then nothing. That’s what it seemed like, anyway.”

He finished his final track season — as a thrower — breaking the school records in the javelin and discus and, after third- (147-2) and 11th-place (97-8) finishes in the KVAC Class B championships in those events, qualified for the state championships in both, finishing on the podium by virtue of his sixth-place performance (137-4) in the javelin.

Hebert, who was voted team most valuable player that season, said “the company on the throwing side of track was great and it was a fun season nonetheless.”

His track prowess helped him find Susquehanna University. He was recruited by the River Hawks “pretty hard for my jumping ability,” so “it was certainly an interesting meeting” when he sat down with coach Ethan Senecal a few weeks before the indoor track season began his freshman year.

"I met him in his office and he immediately commented on my size as I was a bit muscular for a jumper after having put on 20 pounds of muscle from powerlifting throughout the summer and the first month of my freshman year of college,” he said.

Where discus and javelin are outdoor throwing events, the 195-pound Hebert had no intentions of being on the indoor track team. But after Senecal informed him “people aren’t allowed to skip the indoor season in his program,” he suddenly found himself training for the shot put and weight throw, “both of which are more geared toward 230-pound gents on the men’s side of things.”

However, a wrist injury during the season — which came “from overuse in shot put along with heavy bench pressing” — put Hebert on the shelf. Then, in the midst of rehabbing his wrist, collegiate sports — and, by in large, sports across the board — were canceled for the spring season due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

“You can imagine my disappointment when the outdoor season was cancelled so that this sacrifice would amount to precisely nothing considering how its resultant injuries and time commitment really slowed down my powerlifting progress,” he said. “And I got the team zero points in shot put and weight throw because they are just not my events. However, getting to bench press more than every member of the team besides one senior mountain of a thrower while being personally spotted by the head coach of the program as a freshman was rather surreal, so there was one good thing.”

He has been continuing to rehab his wrist injury, but being without the SU training staff has slowed that progress.

Hebert plans to be back with the team — as long as the coronavirus is being contained enough for sports to resume — in the fall. But strictly as a thrower.

“I have continued rehabbing my knee for the sake of getting it more manageable when I am forced to apply impact to it, but I am officially willing to state that I will not be able to competitively jump off of one leg again, which means all jumping events in track are off the table,” he said. “I rehab it now for the sake of pain-free squatting in the name of my newfound powerlifting career; I have been squatting pain-free most of the time for months, but its definitely something I still have to keep an eye on.”

He added he feels “I need one outdoor season to be certain where javelin and discus will be able to take me,” but “everything points towards me excelling at javelin in the future.

As a youth, Hebert said it was tough to move away from basketball and baseball after having committed so much time to both. But, by sophomore year, he said “I just really felt like it [track] was my best shot to be truly exceptional at a sport.”

The young man, who said his goals now are to be a “national-caliber javelin thrower,” could be well on his way.

“I would love more than anything to call myself All-American for javelin and I am willing to do everything it takes to make it happen," he said.

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