Gig Harbor High senior Charles Walker doesn’t always come off as the most excited person at a track meet. So when the time came for him to ramp up his emotions before the long jump or triple jump events, it didn’t come naturally.
“He’d be so chill, I’d tell him not to sleepwalk through it,” Gig Harbor track coach Kevin Eager said. “It’s an event that requires him to be extremely explosive.”
So Walker, who is ranked in the top 10 in Class 3A in both the triple jump (fifth; 44 feet, 2 3/4 inches) and long jump (third; 21-5 3/4), had to learn how to artificially get himself in a higher emotional state. So he turned to a clap from the crowd.
In big meets, Walker will motion to the crowd to start the clap. It starts slowly and builds as the runner sprints down the lane before the jump.
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“It’s encouraging,” Walker said. “I only do that when I feel like I need it.”
The clap’s pace builds as the runner is sprinting, which creates something of a rhythm for the jumper as they build up to the jump.
It’s a weird thing, but it feels like it just pulls you down the runway.
Track coach Kevin Eager, on what role clapping plays for jumpers
“It’s a weird thing, but it feels like it just pulls you down the runway,” Eager said. “You kind of ride the emotion of the crowd. … It forces him to be more aggressive.”
For the introverted Walker, getting pumped up has been a big piece of the puzzle. But the talent has always been there. Walker has been one of the state’s better jumpers since his sophomore year. But he hasn’t yet made it to the state meet as a high school athlete.
His sophomore year, he had a poor showing at the district meet. In his junior season, a heel bruise hampered him late in the season.
“It’s difficult to explain how much that hurts,” Eager said. “He had to try to jump through that. It was frustrating. He probably should’ve been on the podium (at state).”
But Walker has been working harder than ever, and with his technique, things are clicking in his senior season. He’s learned not to pop too high off the board on the triple jump.
“We’ve been working a lot on my first phase,” Walker said. “Sprinting off the board, basically.”
It’s a technique that can be counter-intuitive to jumpers, according to Eager.
“The analogy that’s often made is skipping a rock,” Eager said. “You don’t throw it straight down into the water. Triple jump is like that. If you pop up on number one — well, what goes up must come down. … So it’s hard for kids to figure out. It’s a very awkward rhythm change. Kids don’t just come to it naturally, most of the time.”
If he can put it all together, Walker has a good shot of getting onto the state podium for the first time. And that would be special for everyone involved.
“I think it’d be a nice accomplishment,” Walker said. “I could show that I’ve completed something in my high school career. But if I don’t make it, I’ll be happy with where I end up.”
Folks can bet his coach will be rooting for Walker, all the way.
“I might get emotional about it at the end,” Eager said. “He’s always been a team guy. He’s a guy that should’ve been there before, but things just haven’t fallen right for him. Track is the culmination of a lot of hard work. For him, I think he’s well on track to do well at the end.”
And if he does make it to the state’s biggest stage, there might be a clap during the event, as he prepares for his jump. But for Walker, his friends, family and coaches, the applause after the event could be the most meaningful.