CHATHAM, NJ - Thomas Walsh literally keeps raising the bar on his personal high jump goals.
The Chatham High senior entered the current indoor season with a goal of clearing 6 feet and then planned on chasing 6 feet, 2 inches for the rest of the season.
All that went out the window on Dec. 20 when Walsh competed in his first meet of the season and placed second at the Gardiner Invitational held at Ocean Breeze on Staten Island. Walsh placed second in the meet with a personal-best jump of 6-2.
Walsh followed that by taking the gold medal at the Racine Invitational with a jump of 6 feet.
Thomas Walsh is the Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week.
"The exciting part is that there is still a lot of room for improvement because I haven't really tapped into all the stuff I can achieve while I'm in flight," Walsh said. "I haven't maximized my arch technique."
Walsh has put more emphasis on technique this season and he proved that he is a real student of the sport after a one-day session with coach Jim Rutzler, who Chatham coach Patrick Barry brought in to give jumping tips.
"He and I both coached years ago together in Butler and he's coached some excellent high jumpers," Barry said of Rutzler. "Thomas already was technically sound. He just needed a few touches. His background in gymnastics is a big plus. His father told me that in gymnastics you had to be a listener and follow directions. He picked it up quickly and absorbs it like a sponge. He soaks up the information and retains it. He can be in the 6-4 range."
Three days after his tutoring session with Rutzler, the 5-11, 140-pound Walsh was clearing 6 feet, 2 inches at Ocean Breeze.
"He helped me with my approach technique," Walsh said. "Now I have better positioning on the takeoff. It's really technical. Physical training can improve your jumps a lot but there is big, big mental side to it."
The 18-year-old has the discipline to excel on the mental side in the high jump after 10 years of three-hour training a day in gymnastics. He was good enough to place second nationally in the pommel horse at the age of 14.
In order to jump higher, Walsh has done plyometric training and has played a lot of basketball over the past year.
"I've been playing more intramural basketball over the last six months," Walsh said. "That kind of exercise can help my high jump significantly. The plyometrics improves your explosiveness."
Walsh recalls watching Scott McCullough, the Chatham record-holder in the high jump, which may have piqued his interest in the event. McCullough set Chatham school records of 6 feet, 5 inches indoor and 6 feet, 6 inches outdoor, both in 2007.
"I used to watch him," Walsh said. "The knowledge on high jumping was sort of passed down from high jumpers each year. Now that I'm used to everything, I don't think about it as much and I can focus on specific things in my jump to improve on. The angle on my approach is something that made a big difference.
"It's a pressure-focused type of sport because you only get one shot at it. That type of pressure competition transfers well from gymnastics."
Competing in track runs in the family. Walsh inherited his athletic genes from his father, Bill, who was a cross-country runner and his mother, Nita. His older siblings also made their mark in track and continued in college. Older brother, John, ran for Villanova and his sister, Laura, competes for Columbia.
"The same day I did 6-0 (at Ocean Breeze), I had to make it on my last attempt to stay in the meet," Walsh said. "The 6-2 jump came out of nowhere. I was feeling good that day. Now my goal is to qualify for the state group meet and the state meet."
Editor's note: The Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week is sponsored by the John Hawk Agency. John and his team have been protecting local families and business owners for over 12 years. Call them at 973-635-9494 for a new auto, home, life and business insurance quote this week and if you mention the Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week they will make a $20 contribution to the Chatham Booster Club! To learn more, visit the agency website.