La PORTE — For Evan Nelson, it's been a long, arduous road to state.
The La Porte senior high jumper has been suffering from a nagging injury most of this season to his left knee, his jump leg.
Still, remarkably, he's been able to overcome the odds and qualify for the state meet, something that didn't seem realistic at times this year. Nelson also set a personal record in the regional and achieved it by a whopping two-and-a-half inches, adding to the drama by advancing on his third and final attempt at the regional.
“It's hard, but it's something I have to get through,” Nelson said of his injury, which also includes tendinitis. “It's gotten better. At the regional, it felt fine. It's been feeling fine these past couple of weeks.”
In the Valparaiso Regional last Thursday, Nelson automatically qualified iby clearing 6-4 1/2 to claim fourth while crushing his previous PR. That punched his ticket to Friday's state event at Indiana University.
A week earlier in the Portage Sectional, Nelson finished third (6-2).
At the Duneland Athletic Conference meet May 8, Nelson struggled as his knee flared up.
“At the DAC (meet), my injury was killer,” he said. “My knee just wasn't there that day. But going into the sectional, getting third, going into the regional, getting fourth, it helps. It helps a lot mentally to be able to go out and perform even though I'm battling injuries.”
Nelson's postseason finishes crested last week when he excelled in the regional.
“Really what he did on Thursday was so clutch,” La Porte boys coach Corbin Slater said. “Coming into this season, he only had a PR of 6-0. And then, there was only one other time this season when he jumped 6-2, so for him to do 6-4 1/2 at unquestionably the most high-pressure day... He was able to do that, which was so impressive. He really just blew my mind with that.”
Nelson's injury is extremely common for jumpers, especially high jumpers. That doesn't make it any less painful. It's also been challenging to frequently monitor it as well as dealing with the symptoms.
“It's tough sometimes,” he said. “I've gotten to the point where I'm able to cut myself off in a practice if I'm taking too many jumps to stop. It's tough sometimes. I want to be out here. I want to be jumping. But there are days where it's not possible. I don't want to risk an injury and be out.”
“Really we went with the whole concept of less is more with him,” Slater said. “The more we seemed to kind of give him more rest, the more he was able to pop off. That was probably the coolest thing, seeing that happen and come to fruition.”
Slater added they had Nelson do isometric lunge holds to aid with his knee pain, an exercise that almost entirely alleviated his knee pain coming into the regional.
"It was really cool to see and watch him," Slater said, "and to be a part of it, too."
Assistant coach Dan Jeffers, who works solely with jumpers, has witnessed first-hand how Nelson has toughed out his pain and acted like another mentor for the squad.
“In many ways, he's been the extra coach,” Jeffers said. “While I'm over at long jump, he's there at high jump and vice versa. In many ways, he's helped himself by helping others all season long, where he gets to see the different parts of what other kids are doing right and wrong. He's grown a lot as a result of it.”
Considering everything he's been through, Nelson was overwhelmed with emotion when he realized what he has done at the regional.
"It was make or break it," he said. "It could have been my last jump of the season and I wasn't ready to go home yet.”
Nelson follows Slicers high jumper Jacob Marsh, who advanced to state last year and is now jumping at Bethel College.
"We learn some things the hard way with high jump and kind of not overdoing it," Slater said. "The last few years and last year I didn't know anything about high jump, but I just knew how to keep Marsh healthy and feeling good at the right time. And then this year, we brought in Dan and he's had so much success with jumpers."
In order to possibly do well at state, Nelson recognizes the significance of staying calm and confident.
“I can't let the stage get to me,” he said. “I've got to go down there and do what I know I'm capable of. I had a really good jump of 6-4 1/2 in the regional. I just haven't been up there all season. I've been around 6-2. Six-four has really been my plateau.”
At the same time, Nelson is relishing competing in Indiana's premier track event to close his prep career.
"I couldn't write a better ending," he said. "There's no better ending to a high school track career. To go from somebody who your freshman year wasn't being looked at, to now, I'm going down to state, it's really something."
Boys Track State Finals
When: 2 p.m., Friday
Where: Robert C. Haugh Track & Field Complex, Indiana University, Bloomington