I was the old man among the kids. It must have been the great weather, the competition, or adrenelain going against BYU players. It got me going. —Dave Hoffman
Dave Hoffman is 38 years told. To say he’s in pretty good shape undersells the man.
Over the weekend, Hoffman, who lives in Logan, went out on a lark and high jumped 7 feet, 1 inch to win the event at the Clarence Robison Invitational in Provo.
Folks, that is a very big deal. At 38, most humans are anxiously engaged in fighting the effects of age.
In track and field, you cannot cheat the tape or the clock. The times and measurements have been the same for as long as man has tried to figure distance and put a clock to movement.
When you’re 38, closing in on 40, it’s a time in life you have kids and they’re probably entering their teens. It’s a time you are mired hip deep in a mortgage, a job and your body has gone through a transformation of sorts. Scientists say when you turn 25, you begin to permanently lose some muscle tissue. If you believe those supplement commercials on TV, you can lose 8 to 12 percent of muscle a year in your 40s and 50s.
In other words, it’s a time you either stop — or think to stop — playing basketball, or you retire from those community league softball teams to save your knees for golfing, hiking or riding bikes. You definitely begin to feel you are on your way to fossil-hood.
That’s why it is so inspirational to hear what Hoffman did.
He is the father of five children ages 13,12,11,7 and 5. He weighs 20 more pounds then he did as a collegian.
A former Utah Valley and Utah State track star, Hoffman hadn’t competed in years until he fooled around a little at meets this spring at USU and Weber State, jumping 6-4 and 6-7. At a high school meet, a former coach challenged him to jump and show kids how to do it. He leaped 6-3 and suddenly "got the bug again, "is how he described it.
“What Dave did was absolutely phenomenal,” said Dave Cherrington, the head official for the high jump, a job he’s had at track events at BYU for 20 years.
Hoffman just happened to be in town doing some training for his job with Comcast. He had been climbing poles and scratched his shin, which had a few scabs. He thought he’d enter the track meet on a whim to see how he would do since he was in the area.
"I was awkward," he said. "You are supposed to have your steps down and not stutter step. I ran my approach and adjusted as I went," he said.
"I was the old man among the kids. It must have been the great weather, the competition, or adrenelain going against BYU players. It got me going."
Cherrington believes his warm-up during Saturday’s meet was the first serious training for the event Hoffman has done in years. He practiced his approaches, got his timing down and made his marks on the approach.
In case you need a little perspective, 7-foot high jumpers are very rare. If you stand under the bar and look at how high it is above you, the vantage point is intimidating. You wonder how in the world a human being could launch himself that high to clear that bar.
Hoffman's lifetime best high jump was 7-6 1/2 in 2001.
Hoffman, said Cherrington, has the most unique approach he’s ever seen. It is the longest he’s ever seen. Women high jumpers start their run at the bar 25 yards away, and males begin some 10 to 12 yards behind that. Hoffman starts his approach out another 25 yards. He begins at the edge of the track where a chain link fence prevents him from getting any farther away. He runs across all nine lanes of the rubberized track and when he approaches the pit, he leaves his feet at a full sprint — a good foot to a foot and half farther away than others.
Hoffman uses the Fosbury Flop in that he twists his body in the air and goes over the bar with his back to the ground and his face to the sky. He lands 1 to 2 feet farther in the cushion than others.
On Saturday, Hoffman’s nearest competitor was BYU freshman Sam Rockwood. Rockwood was still in the competition at 7-1 and was winning. If I would have missed my third attempt Rockwood would have won. After making the height I declined to raise the bar because there's one more meet I wanted to jump at and knew I had already bitten off more than I could chew, as far as my body was concerned," said Hoffman.
“To still have that much spring in his legs is really quite spectacular,” said Cherrington. It was fascinating to see him come out. He was excellent.”
Said Hoffman: I was like a little kid jumping around going crazy. It reminded me of old times again. I was really surprised. My body is so beat up after those jumps at Weber State and USU that I can't practice, I only jump at meets."
Hoffman was part of one of the very best high jump competitions Cherrington had ever seen some 16 years ago in Provo. At the time he was competing for the Aggies and was caught in a three-way duel with Weber State’s Charles Clinger and Mark Chen of BYU. These guys all cleared 7-2 and when the bar was raised to 7-4, they all missed. They had a jump off that day and Chen won.
"Those guys pushed me to go 7-6 back then. If I hadn't competited against them at nationals, I'd never have gone that high."
Hoffman said he has always been a believer that if someone enjoys doing something they should keep doing it, even if they're past their prime or afraid of making a fool of them self. To me it's not always about the results but just doing something you enjoy.
"I try to encourage young athletes to get past others expectations of success and to just do what they enjoy, regardless of their current skill level, and they'll improve from their work and joy.
"I should have never ended up jumping in college, in high school I believe my best was 6'-3", which doesn't get you on a team. When I returned home from a lds mission in 1996 I enrolled at UVSC and happened to see a flyer that they were starting a track team and to attend a meeting if interested.
"I showed up and after the meeting approached the then coach, Jed Gibson, and told him I wasn't very good but that I really liked high jump and he said that was okay that they were accepting everyone that year as it was the first time they were doing track and field.
"It took me four or five months just to get to 6 feet again but Jed was patient and never made me feel unwelcome. After that things just seemed to click and little by little I kept improving, earned a scholarship and competed with some of the best in the world, something I never thought possible when I started out.
"I've had lots of setbacks, with 5 ankle surgeries and a torn acl, financial problems and a bout with depression but I'll never regret at least giving it a shot. All the setbacks brought my wife and I closer together and helped me to appreciate the more important things in life, family."
Hoffman was once an All-American at USU, but is into the second decade since those days of daily training, competing and getting coached and prepared with everything from a regular regiment to diet.
But on this day he sailed off the earth better than anyone around him.
Good job, Dave.
Maybe we can all take a more determined leap today.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at [email protected].