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At 4 o’clock this morning, the NCAA’s 2012 national men’s outdoor discus champion was on his computer studying for an 11:30 a.m. communications test when he heard a ping, letting him know that someone was communicating with him on Facebook. “NCAA champion! How do you feel?” asked his high school coach from Kingston, Jamaica. “Same ‘ol, same ‘ol,” replied the champion, providing the perfect transition to the only conversation that mattered to either of them – what lies ahead instead of day-old news that both were ready to leave behind.
Chad Wright, the 6-foot-2, 250-pound Nebraska sophomore and newly anointed NCAA discus champion, assured Julian Robinson, his coach at Calabar High School, that his mind was already set on Jamaica’s Olympic Trials beginning June 28 in Kingston. He also knows how well he needs to perform in that meet, so he can wear his country’s colors in this summer’s Olympic Games in London. “I need 65 meters to meet the A-standard and 63 meters to hit the B-standard,” Wright said, acknowledging that his NCAA-winning throw of 206-0 is only .21 of a meter short of the 63-meter B-standard that’s provisional for Olympic qualification. He’s more than 7 feet short of the A-standard guaranteeing automatic qualification.
Robinson’s timing to reach Wright was ideal, even if it was before the sun came up. By then, Nebraska’s newest NCAA champion had time to process his journey that included two coaches after Robinson, who has a reputation for helping high school athletes meet international standards. For those who don’t know, Wright’s first college coach was Mark Colligan, who never showed up for the NCAA opening-day discus last year in Des Moines. Nebraska’s ultra-popular throws coach died in his hotel room, leaving his student-athletes, fellow coaches and Husker fans absolutely stunned. “I remember looking up in the same stadium last year and not seeing him in the stands,” Wright said. “This year, after I won the discus, I looked up to where he would have been and said: ‘I hope I made you proud, Coose!’ I’m not about tears, really, but that moment did humble me.”
Carrie Lane Finds the Key to Gold Medal Throw
Even if this national championship was for Coose Colligan and his memory, Wright was equally influenced by Robinson, his prep coach, and Carrie Lane,the former Virginia throws coach who replaced Colligan and has helped Husker athletes continue to flourish. Wright found a certain irony in what Lane has been preaching and teaching, and he considers her advice as pivotal to his winning the national title. “The first thing she said to me three weeks ago and the last thing she said to me yesterday was to push the discus,” Wright said. “You have to push it to get the first orbit and keep pushing through to get the second orbit. Coach Colligan tried to teach me the same thing, but I was too stubborn. But, oh man, it does help when your technique comes together.”
Lane spent most of the season helping Wright get to the point where he could understand how magical pushing the discus can be when he does everything else right. “The discus is all about setting up and implementing in the proper plane, so you can chuck it with a lot of force,” she said. “I spent most of the year fixing Chad’s body position, so he could set the discus up in the right orbits. Once his body’s in the right position, the last piece of the puzzle is putting the discus in the right place to throw. It’s centrifugal force. You want to keep a big radius and keep that discus flat, so that it cuts through the air and then kind of finds both orbits.”
Talk about flying high. Wright was there for a few fleeting moments, but he came back down to earth, especially when he realized how far he’s come in such a short time. “When I was 15 years old, the only sports I’d ever done was in phys ed class,” he said. “Then one day, one of my teachers gave us some advice. She said we should join a sports club because it would be an important part of a resume when we go to college.”
Teacher’s Advice Pays Off in NU Scholarship
Wright followed his teacher’s advice and followed his brother into athletics, and sooner than he ever imagined, he was throwing the shot put and discus for Coach Robinson at Calabar High School. He listened, learned and fell in love with the discus because he believed what Robinson was telling him. “He told me I was built for the discus because I had such long arms,” Wright said. “He’s the one who got me started. Without Coach Robinson, I wouldn’t have gotten a scholarship. Without Coach Colligan and Coach (Matt) Martin (who recruited Wright over LSU, among others), I wouldn’t have ended up at Nebraska. I pay my respect to every coach, including Coach Lane. She’s been a great teacher.”
Lane appreciates the praise, but believes Wright is the product of a nurturing environment. “He’s a good athlete, but he’s had good guidance, too,” she said. “He’s where he wants to be because of a lot of good people around him, including his brother, his mother and his high school coach. They molded him. He soaked all of that in, and he doesn’t take any of it for granted. They instilled a lot of confidence in him, and Mark continued that when Chad got here. What I’ve done is help him take a little step back in a language he understands. There was a little gap there for a while. When he finally got to the point where he got everything straightened out, he was ready to take that next step.”
Now, of course, Wright has his sights set on the Olympic Trials in Kingston and the Summer Games in London. Even though he’s the third-ranked discus thrower in his native country, “I think I have a good chance to make it,” he said. “We have one (thrower) who’s broken the national record three times this year, and another who went to my high school and was taught by Coach Robinson. He’s the No. 2 thrower in Jamaica.”
No One Can Tell Wright That He’s Not There
Lane will help train Wright for the Trials and will be in Kingston coaching him. “Jamaica can take one B-standard qualifier if they only have two athletes that make the A-standard,” she said. “It all depends on whether the country wants to pay for that. We’ve gotten a lot done and come a long ways, but we still have some work to do.”
Carrie Lane sounds like Julian Robinson and the late Mark Colligan when it comes to bringing out the best in Chad Dimitri Wright, Nebraska’s 18th men’s outdoor national champion. They know that it’s better to look forward at an even bigger goal than back at one already achieved. For Wright, it’s the best way to honor the coaches who have helped him carve a place in NCAA history, especially the one who wasn’t there. “I think he’d be proud,” Wright said.
Actually, he knows how proud his late coach would be because even though he wasn’t there, he really was there, and always will be.
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