GVSU’s Nesbitt sets school triple jump record

GVL / Kasey Garvelink - Samora Nesbitt practices his jump on Feb. 17, 2016 in Allendale.

Kasey Garvelink

GVL / Kasey Garvelink – Samora Nesbitt practices his jump on Feb. 17, 2016 in Allendale.

Jacob Arvidson

A spoonful of honey and a backward hat may just be the secret behind Grand Valley State junior Samora Nesbitt’s success in the triple jump.

Eating the sweet, golden spread before a jump has been a tradition since his high school days. The hat has been a more recent addition to the pre-jump ritual, but given Nesbitt’s recent success, he won’t be straying too far from this routine.

His 14.82-meter leap at the GVSU Big Meet on Feb. 12 was the farthest in school indoor track and field history.

“He told me that he broke Tendo’s school record and I went crazy,” Nesbitt’s teammate and best friend Brandon Bean said. “It was actually kind of bad, looking back, because I tackled him hard onto the pole vault runway just screaming and shouting. The whole building was looking, but when he told me he had the record I felt like we had just hit it big in the lottery. I think the tackle actually hurt him, too. I was that excited.”

Nesbitt’s record jump broke Tendo Lukwago’s 3-year-old record of 14.79 meters. To Nesbitt, Lukwago is more than just a name in the record books. The two were on the GVSU team for a year together and Lukwago was a big part of Nesbitt’s development as a freshman.

“He really helped me learn a lot about the triple jump in the year we were on this team together,” Nesbitt said. “When you get a new coach, it’s hard to learn what they mean when they say something. He really helped me learn what coach Steve (Jones) was saying whenever he’d tell me something. When coach Steve would tell me to do something, I’d go over Tendo and say, ‘Hey, coach Steve said this,’ and Tendo would tell me what that actually meant in terms of the jump.”

To some, breaking a school record might be near the culmination of athletic achievement, but for Nesbitt it only further ignites the internal motivation he has to make it to nationals and help the GVSU men’s track and field team claim its first national championship.

“I want to help the team win as much as I can,” he said. “Individually, anything that I want is for the betterment of the team. If I score points, it helps the team win at the end of the day, and then obviously I get to see the improvement that I want.”

He knows that to achieve the goal of making it to nationals, he at least needed to break the triple jump record, because anything less wasn’t going to be enough to earn a trip.

“Going into this year I knew I’d have to break the record in order to go,” he said. “But I wasn’t thinking about breaking the record. I was thinking about going to nationals and being able to help the team.”

Though his jump was the farthest in GVSU history, Nesbitt still isn’t guaranteed a spot at nationals. If he does manage to make it, Jones, GVSU’s jumps coach, knows Nesbitt will exceed expectations.

“He will help our team win because he is a proven leader,” he said. “He’s vocal, supportive and buys into the team element. Additionally, with how he is improving this year, if given the opportunity to compete at the national championship, I would be shocked if he did not walk away with an All-American trophy.”

Nesbitt may be just as important as a teammate as he is as a scorer for the GVSU team as it drives toward a championship.

“He has taken the time to be invested in all of his teammates’ lives,” Bean said. “He knows their name, their events, their personal bests, everything. And we have a huge team. Just watch him at track meets.

“Out of everyone in the entire building, you can easily pick his voice out because he’s always cheering for his teammates the loudest. Even when he’s jumping himself, he still screams at the top of his lungs to cheer on a teammate. The guy is so loved it’s crazy. He’s close with every event group. He really is the ultimate teammate.”

Nesbitt didn’t come to GVSU as a star triple jumper. He had to learn from people like Lukwago and Jones before he would be ready to shine.

Nesbitt is, however, from Illinois, a state that offers the triple jump in high school track and field. Other states, such as Michigan and Ohio, don’t offer that luxury, so Nesbitt already had a head start on most Midwest opponents as soon as he arrived at GVSU.

“It is nice to have someone who has the technical components already in place when they come to GVSU,” Jones said. “I believe Samora has a higher upside because we did not need to spend two years teaching him how to do the event. It is a very large advantage in our conference because neither Michigan nor Ohio schools have triple jump outdoors, so getting someone to come in who knows the event is helpful.”

Even with his experience, he didn’t jump as well as he had hoped as a freshman.

“My freshman year I was really tense when I was jumping,” he said. “That did not help me. So, I just learned to relax and have fun.”

There was one teammate in particular who helped teach Nesbitt to enjoy himself while competing: Bean.

“He taught me how to have fun with jumping,” Nesbitt said. “He loves jumping and he taught me how to enjoy it.

“I love being on the same team with him. He went to nationals last year and that’s the place that I want to get to. It’s inspiring to me because I’ve seen how he’s improved. We’re in the same year, so I’m not going to let this guy do better than I’m doing in terms of my event and his event, even though we do different events.”

The relationship is far from one-sided. Nesbitt and Bean push each other to be great as both friends and teammates.

“We are both so outrageously competitive that we have no choice but to push each other,” Bean said. “I know I always make Samora my lifting partner because he will always hold me accountable. We push each other to put an extra 20 pounds on and finish one more rep when you wouldn’t think you had it in you.

“We motivate each other so much it’s nearly impossible for either of us to have an off day. However, he never can beat me at any Smash Bros. game. There’s no competition there.”

Nesbitt’s newfound enjoyment for the triple jump has fueled his rise in skill level, but there are other factors as well. His dedication to the small details of each individual jump should not be understated.

“Samora’s understanding of the triple jump comes from his research of the event,” Jones said. “He is a true student of the sport. He is constantly watching videos of himself and other high-level competitors.”

Nesbitt’s goal is to reach a jump of 52 feet, which would be equivalent to 15.85 meters. This would mean his recent record-breaking performance was only a teaser of what is to come.

“There is more in him,” Jones said. “I fully believe in two weeks at the conference meet he will jump around 15.05 meters.”