Canada's Jared Kerr soaring to new heights under Carl Lewis's tutelage
Brampton, Ont., native 1st Canadian long jumper to break 8-metre mark in 16 years
The future is bright for the Brampton, Ont., native despite finishing in eighth place after a jump of 7.58 metres in the men's long jump final at the NACAC (North America, Central America and the Caribbean) track and field championships in Toronto on Sunday afternoon.
This past May, Kerr soared to a new personal best of 8.14 metres becoming the first Canadian to crack the eight-metre barrier in 16 years — just six centimetres shy of the mark set by Edrick Floreal in 2001.
Lewis is in his second season coaching Kerr at the University of Houston and believes in the 23-year-old because of the adversity he has already faced.
"He's been through a struggle. He went to a college, got injured, came home, and now he appreciates it [more]. He's old enough to say, 'Hey, I'm thankful I had a second chance,'" says the nine-time Olympic gold medallist.
A torn meniscus had Kerr questioning his future in track as he missed the entire 2015-16 season, including the Rio Olympics.
"That kind of derailed me mentally and took me off my game because since I was young, I always wanted to be in an Olympics … a big goal in my life was just stripped from me," Kerr says.
More injuries followed and Kerr credits his inner circle for believing in him and preventing those doubts from creeping in further.
"It really kept me sane," Kerr says.
'The sky's the limit'
Fortunately for Kerr, his luck was about to turn around.
After two years of college at Maryland Eastern Shore, Kerr had a falling out with his coach and was in search of a new school.
Lewis caught wind of this and gave Kerr a phone call. The rest is history. Just from that initial conversation, Kerr could already tell that things were going to be different.
As they talked about their respective visions, Kerr felt a "symbiotic" relationship that he feels is essential in any successful coach-athlete partnership that wasn't present with his old coach.
"With Carl, the sky's the limit," Kerr says. "Having someone in my corner that has done such things telling me that I can be great or even greater — that really is a confident booster."
Lewis believes Kerr has what it takes to be a consistent jumper at 8.50 metres and beyond. As a 19-year-old, Lewis says he wasn't much faster than Kerr is right now but could routinely jump that distance.
The eight-time world champion describes long jump as "the most difficult event in track and field" because everything is done in one second and teaching someone to do something in such a period means there's "no thought process" — it's 100 per cent muscle memory and repetition.
However, communication was initially difficult with Lewis, who in their first year together was only in his third year of coaching overall.
"He had to learn that I'm not him and he's not me. We work on two different wavelengths," Kerr says. "He had to find a way to bridge that. I always told him [that] as soon as I comprehend something, I can do it. But if I don't understand it, I can't replicate it."
Under Lewis, Kerr learned to be more efficient on the runway where top-end speed should be reached when contact is made with the board. When he's barrelling down the runway, Kerr compares it to an airplane. It doesn't instantly take off from the ground — it progressively builds up speed first.
Like his mentor, Kerr has also adopted the hitch kick as opposed to the hang technique he initially used.
"The hitch is just running in the air. When you hang, you're bringing and moving your weight around and it affects how far you can get," Kerr says. "With the hitch, it's fluid motions and keeps your momentum forward and that's how you maximize the amount of distance you can get out of it."
Kerr notes that he needs to do a better job with his body positioning. When he plants his foot down on the board, Kerr's body is sometimes slightly tilted back as opposed to being vertically aligned with his foot — something that can cause ankle and knee problems.
But Lewis already believes the young Canadian is on the edge of greatness.
"To jump far, you have to want to fly," Lewis says. "It sounds funny but genetically you're predisposed to not want to fly because you're afraid you're gonna fall.
"Once you get over the fear of flying, then obviously you can go [far] and right now Jared is right on the edge of that."
With files from Scott Russell & David Giddens