SAN MATEO, Calif. — Jeremy Campbell has a new philosophy for his 2014 season: Let ’er rip.
The only Paralympic athlete to throw the discus 60 meters — he holds the F44 record of 63.46 meters — Campbell is gunning for August’s grand prix event in Birmingham, England, with several issues resolved.
“Everything’s been going really well,” Campbell said at the U.S. Paralympics Track & Field National Championships on Saturday at College of San Mateo. “We kind of approached this season’s paradigm just really to get healthy again — I was dealing with some lower back issues last season — and just set up training a little bit slower this season.
“Also, this year has been really annoying in one way because I’ve been having a lot of prosthetic issues. That’s been an experimentation. But I think we have that solved for the most part and I’m feeling very comfortable in the new prosthesis I have. … Feeling great and everything’s starting to come together.”
Campbell successfully defended his F44 (which designates a below the knee disability) national title Saturday with a throw of 55.68 meters (182 feet, 8 inches), far short of his world record, but he was pleased nonetheless. His winning toss came on his fourth attempt after a couple of lackluster throws to begin the competition.
“The conditions were perfect today, but I struggled with my timing,” said Campbell, who is also the defending Paralympic and world champion. “I was thinking too much and analyzing too much, and I don’t need to because I’ve trained my body to do this. My first throw that I did get, I went back to a drill start. It was nice to be able to gain my composure and win another national championship.”
Like many of the athletes competing over the weekend, Campbell is now focusing his training regimen toward the International Paralympic Committee Athletic Grand Prix 2014, which is perhaps the biggest international meet of the year with no world championships this season.
“I look at each meet like this as an opportunity to hone in on my skills and what I want to accomplish at Birmingham that day,” he said. “Each year I become a more seasoned athlete and a more knowledgeable athlete in my event. I can really start working on fine-tuning the elite stuff — the things I wasn’t capable of working on the year before (because of the lower back problem) I can now work on. You can’t sell the truth — and the truth is it’s a daily grind of hard work.”
Campbell, 26, who trains and is a student at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, which is an official U.S. Paralympic training site, says he and his coaches there have shifted into what he calls “the quadrennial plan” — in other words, looking ahead to the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, where he hopes to win a third straight discus gold. By then he should be threatening another world record, so the plan goes, after he adds some more muscle and corrects a nagging mechanical problem on his throws, which most likely affected his throwing at nationals.
“Well, we’ve been working on me finding my focus in the middle of the ring and keeping my head back in the ring,” Campbell, who also won the pentathlon at the 2008 Paralympic Games, explained. “I’m quick with my head, and that’s what we’ve been trying to eliminate to give me more time on the orbit for more distance.”
Campbell was born in Perryton, Texas, without a right fibula and had his leg amputated when he was 16 months old. But he inherited his family’s strength — both of body and mind. Older brother Jacob was once a professional bullfighter, and his other older brother, Caleb, served in the military and had brief stint in the NFL as a linebacker.
By tapping into that strength, Jeremy feels he can push the boundaries of his sport.
“I’ve always been extremely powerful,” he said. “Overall strength levels. I don’t push a ton of weight. But I’d say I’m one of the strongest athletes in Paralympic track and field. But to get as far as I want to, I need to get a lot stronger.
“You want to feel like you’re doing something big and that you’re changing your sport. I love my sport and I want to advance it any way I can. Raising the level of my performance does that.”
G. Allen Johnson is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Johnson is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.