Benefield: SRJC athlete's one-man track meet provides much-needed stuck-at-home humor
On the first take, Jeff Morris broke his pole vault pole. Probably because his pole vault pole was a broom.
Cooped up in his downtown Santa Rosa house last week, the Santa Rosa Junior College track and field athlete decided to stage his own track meet. In his living room. With just one competitor: Jeff Morris.
“I was really bored,” said Morris, a redshirt sophomore high jumper and javelin thrower who graduated from Middletown High in 2018. “I had the idea that since I can't go outside and do all this, I'm just going to do it inside.”
Morris, like the rest of the Bear Cubs and the rest of most of the world, saw life put on hold when the coronavirus was declared a global pandemic. Gone, seemingly, was his spring semester, gone was his track and field season. So, itching to get out, itching for something - anything - to do, he decided to craft his own modified heptathlon. With only six events, let's call it an exi-athlon.
“It was definitely a distraction,” he said. “It was super fun to be able to get my mind off of everything.”
He posted the finished product to social media, first to TikTok, then to Instagram. The official SRJC team account shared it. Then it got shares and likes from ESPN and USA Track and Field, he said. Turns out we all need a little distraction where we can find it.
With Queen's “Don't Stop Me Now” as the soundtrack, Morris pole vaults over what looks like a Swiffer floor duster, using a broom as a pole. It was the second broom of the day. Morris snapped the first one.
And the high jump? That wasn't simple, either. Turns out it's not easy to replicate the bounce of legitimate high jump mats.
“My bed was so soft I would just sink in and I couldn't get up fast enough,” he said.
The javelin Morris used was a roll of holiday wrapping paper that was still laying around the house. And the 100-meter dash where he used what looked like sandals as starting blocks? That was all camera angle.
Morris is a college student who works part-time at Dick's Sporting Goods - his home isn't spacious enough for an official distance dash.
“It was more like a 10-feet kind of thing,” he said, adding that the distance included his dashing out the front door.
The podium shot at the end? Morris raises a six-pack of toilet paper as a prize. Good as gold.
But as he worked on it, he got more into it. More takes. More tweaks. Shelter in place will do that to you.
He got so Stanley Kubrick about it, his camera crew -AKA his roommate - went temporarily AWOL.
“We were going for perfection,” he said. “So if something was off with one of the videos, it was ‘We can do better, let's redo that.' My roommate kind of rebelled, she was like, ‘I don't want to do this anymore.' I had to do a little argument to get her and finally she caved.”
That attention to detail has served Morris well. As a high jumper, he had made huge strides this year after hitting a wall in his freshman campaign.
“I'd made big improvements. I was about to go to my first meet,” he said of a meet in San Diego where he was slated to compete unaffiliated with the JC team. “I got back to 6 feet and to 6-3 in a matter of a week. They were big improvements. I was still going, I was still working getting closer to 6-4, 6-5. Now I can't even work on doing that anymore. It's really tough.”
And Morris is in good company on his team, jumping with the likes of last year's state CCCAA champion Waisea Jikoiono and Southern Oregon University-bound Jacob Williams. It was bearing fruit.
“It's sad. Something I love is being take away,” he said. “I was just doing the best I have ever done.”
So now Morris is working out on his own. Just like everybody else. Alone.
“I go on a mile run on my street,” he said. “I get on the grass … I do plyometrics, a lot of jumping, bounding and really trying to keep the muscles in my legs strong and not lose it all. I do some sprints over there. Then I'll run back home and I'll do abs in my room.”
But he doesn't have a huge weight set at home. And the school grounds he used to run to? They are closed to the public now, too. And he certainly doesn't have a high jump set up.
“Actually high jumping? There is so much form you have to worry about, so in a matter of weeks, you've lost that little touch you had.”
Which all makes this layoff - however long it lasts - sting for Morris and all of his teammates.
“I went from being busy 24-7, having a strict schedule of class, practice, work, to just sitting at home doing nothing,” he said. “Being at home, cramped up, it just kills me.”
And the team piece - the practices, the meetings, the workouts - the loss of those have cut a hole in life, too.
“There's no contact with my friends, I just feel sad,” he said. “I want to be able to have fun and be with people that I love and enjoy.”
So Morris made a video - a sort of message in a social media bottle - that he's OK, he's still got his sense of humor and, like Freddie Mercury sings in the video, he's “having a good time.”
Plus, he apparently has an extra roll or two of TP.