“Stay off of high jump competing and rest for six months or go ahead with surgery.”
No athlete wants to hear these words — especially one who is training for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials.
After a month of resting, the training resumed and the pain returned. By December 2015, JaCorian Duffield could no longer jump or run and had to completely quit training. After going in for an MRI, his fear was confirmed: 10 stress fractures found in his right tibia.
So, the former Texas Tech Track & Field standout continued to rest.
“I thought it was something small that you had to let your body push through and recover from,” he said.
By February, the pain only worsened. Duffield visited St. Vincent Sports Performance in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he was placed in a boot, given a bone simulator and told to sit out for four to six weeks.
In May 2016, Duffield realized no improvements were made. He now faced two options: compete on an injury in the U.S. Olympic Trials with the chance of making the team or have surgery and be out for the next six months.
Duffield decided to go through with the surgery four weeks before the start of the trials.
The Road Back
Throughout his time as a Red Raider, Duffield was dominant.
Duffield said he struggled with discipline his freshman and sophomore year at Texas Tech, but the passing of his grandfather was a reality check for him. His breakout meet, which occurred at outdoor nationals, was dedicated to his late grandfather. Here, he received All-American honors.
From there, Duffield flourished.
In February 2015, he set a new personal best of 7-6 in indoor. In the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships, he added another centimeter to that jump on his first attempt to win his first collegiate title. His teammate, Bradley Adkins, cleared it on his third. Duffield and Adkins made this the first time in over 40 years when a university had two athletes finishing first and second at that competition.
His personal record continued to improve. In June 2015, Duffield qualified for the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships held at the University of Oregon, where he achieved his overall personal best of 7-8. He said the atmosphere was nothing like he had ever witnessed before.
“The fans are crazy and the ones that come there know track and field,” he said. “And they know who you are and what season you’ve had, indoors and outdoors.”
Adkins, a close friend and teammate of Duffield, became the first Red Raider to compete at the 2016 Olympic Games in high jump. He says jumping 7-8 is something very few people in this world have ever accomplished.
To put it in perspective, Adkins said coming out of high school, clearing 7 foot is an elite standard and jumping 7-2 ½ at a national meet earns All-American status.
“As far as wanting to be competitive on a world stage,” he said, “you have to jump around 7-6 plus height and do that at a consistent level.”
Duffield then won a Diamond League meeting in Stockholm, Sweden and went to the IAAF World Outdoor Championships in Beijing.
After Beijing, Duffield’s injury became apparent. The issue came to light when it started affecting his workouts.
“I was in so much pain that tears were coming down,” Duffield said. “Not from crying, but because I was so frustrated and fighting through this pain. What I had to do [in training to] be at 100 percent was causing me that much pain.”
Duffield said once he made the decision to have the surgery, the Olympics did not matter. All he was focused on was his health.
“The risk and reward,” Duffield says, “it wasn’t worth it. As long as I’m healthy by the next World Championships and the next Olympics, that [was] the big thing for me. I tried to look for the blessings within the storms.”
Duffield was cleared to jog when Olympic trials started. He says he would hop on the treadmill, watch the competitions and just keep on running.
“The doctor was like, ‘when I said you could jog, I didn’t think you were going to run for 45 minutes. I meant you could jog for like 10,”’ he joked.
Adkins says it is Duffield’s character that stands out to him the most. While Adkins was in Rio de Janeiro competing in the Olympic Games, Duffield was always there for support – pushing, encouraging and providing feedback for him in anyway he could.
“To really see that character, that is something that is so humbling,” Adkins says, “and you don’t find that these days. That is something that is hard to do because he should have been there with me. It’s something that I hope to achieve one day – to have that same attitude. “
Family was huge in Duffield’s recovery process. He says his parents were completely supportive of his decision, like they have been with every decision his entire life.
Duffield’s dad, one of his biggest supporters, is in the Air Force and was stationed in Iraq for six months during Duffield’s freshman year of high school.
“It was kind of hard, him leaving,” he said. “Because you never know. My dad did a great job of shielding us of things that were happening, even though they were things that were not happening to him.”
To keep the family from moving around often like recommended for military personnel, Duffield’s father moved back and forth between two air force bases located in San Antonio. When he returned from Iraq, it solidified the fact the family would stay in San Antonio.
Because of Coach Austin
Sports were always a huge part of his life growing up.
He said he started basketball at 4 years old and continued throughout high school, where he received small Division I offers, before realizing he had greater potential with a collegiate career in high jump.
The first time Duffield attempted high jump in high school, he cleared 5-2 inches and admitted he was much better at hurdling.
“I didn’t even make the district team in high jump,” he said. “If you would have told me freshman year I would have gone track, I would have thought you were crazy.”
When it came to college, Duffield’s mother told him he could either find a way to have 75 percent of college paid for through loans or scholarships, or he would go to community college before transferring to a university.
Duffield had always wanted to go to Texas Tech. One of the main reasons behind this is contributed to Charles Austin, Duffield’s high school coach. Austin is the American high jump record holder and was trained by a track coach at Texas Tech.
“I was like, if [Charles Austin] jumped the American record a year after college,” Duffield said, “I’m going to Tech. There were no ifs, ands or buts on where I was going, since he was there and that coach was there.”
He ended up choosing Texas Tech over Kansas State, Louisville, University of Texas at Austin and more.
Now, a Texas Tech graduate with a master’s degree in sports development, Duffield has one thing on his mind: competing at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London starting Aug. 4.
Duffield, now jumping for Nike and serving as a volunteer assistant for the Texas Tech Track & Field team, Duffield wants to prove that he still has the magic jump and can be even better then he was before.
“Me as a competitor,” he says, “if you give me a set back, I’ll take the setback and I’ll do whatever I need to do to deal with it. But once I’m okay, then it’s on me to prove myself.”
On Feb. 11, Duffield competed in his first competition since surgery at the Tyson Invitational in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where he cleared 7-6 ½ to win the invitational division. The jump was an indoor personal record for Duffield.
Duffield trains weekly with Adkins, Trey Culver, Charles Brown and Justin Hall. James Thomas, associate head men’s coach, puts the athletes through the workouts.
Duffield says his training includes a great amount of running, weights, plyometrics, also known as “jump training” and having a healthy diet and nutrition balance. For breakfast, this includes a protein shake or bar, while lunch and dinner involve cooking chicken breasts and Smoothie King.
“For me, [nutrition] is the most important part,” he says. “You can set yourself apart with nutrition, eating right and maintaining a certain body weight and percentage. If you’re able to discipline yourself and not cheat for five days in a row, then you should be able to do anything you want in training as far as being discipline and sound in what you’re doing.”
The first step in making it to London is qualifying in the top three or within the IAAF entry standards at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in Sacramento, California on June 22. Entry standard for IAAF World Championships in men’s high jump is 2.30, which means clearing the bar at 7-6 ½.
“He’s hungry,” Adkins said. “He wants it bad and that’s what I love about him. That’s something that I see and feed off of.”
IAAF World Championship entry standard in men’s high jump is 2.30, which means clearing the bar at 7-6 ½.
“It’s the comeback season – but it’s kind of like the ‘just make it through it [season],” Duffield said. “Lets just get through this season healthy, make the team, compete at the world championships and get ready to shut it down.”