When Aarik Wilson limped out of Sacramento State's Hornet Stadium during the NCAA Division I Track and Field Championships last month, he had more than a sore foot on his mind.
"I'm never going to be embarrassed like I was at the NCAAs," shrugged Wilson, a product of Fallon who just completed his sophomore year at Indiana University.
Most athletes would simply be satisfied to be at the NCAA Championships. Wilson, the grandson of long-time Carson City residents Grant and Nisha Kremers, always competes with the highest of expectations.
"I hate to lose, period. I can't stand losing. I try to be a good loser, but I still can't stand it," Wilson said.
He doesn't take a backseat to many horizontal jumpers in the world of track and field, being ranked among the top 12 triple jumpers in the world. He was a runner-up in the triple jump at the NCAA outdoor nationals in 2002 and again at the indoor nationals earlier this year.
Wilson definitely expected to contend for gold in Sacramento. Instead, hobbled by stress fracture in his left foot that had plagued him since late in the indoor season, Wilson posted his worst marks of the year and didn't even make the finals in either event.
"What happened in Sacramento, we tried something different leading up to the meet," Wilson said. "I spent two weeks in a boot, I just rode a bike and did some swimming, and it kind of threw everything off. My jumps were good, but I was jumping 4, 4-1/2 feet behind the board."
The 6-foot-3 Wilson, a state champion triple jumper and Northern 4A co-player of the year in basketball as a senior at Churchill County High in 2001, rebounded a week later to place fourth at the USATF nationals held June 22 at Stanford. And now he is set for the Pan American Games, which begin next Tuesday in Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic.
"I'm looking forward to the Pan Am Games. It's going to be fun. It'll be my first time jumping internationally, my first time leaving the country," Wilson said.
His triple jump teammate on the U.S. squad is a familiar rival Allen Simms of USC, who waged a stirring duel at the NCAA Indoor Championships this year. Wilson placed second with a lifetime best 55-9 effort, only to lose when Simms flew 56-7 1/2 on the last jump of the competition.
"That was a good jump and it was a good competition," Wilson said. "He'd see me jump and then he'd know what he had to do to take the lead back from me. It was real fun, it just didn't turn out the way I wanted."
Wilson never came within a foot of his best best indoor mark during the outdoor season. He won both the long and triple jump titles at the Big Ten Conference Championships, but then came his disappointment at the NCAA meet. He was pleased with the 54-7-1/4 jump that ranked No. 1 among all collegiate jumpers.
"It was the only jump I had in me, really. It was my first jump and it was a decent jump, but I was still hurting," he said. "I look at it as a learning experience. It showed me what I've got to do. It put up a target for me to shoot for."
Remember, Wilson hates to lose. But this was a competition he couldn't help but appreciate. Kenta Bell won at 57-8-1/2, Walter Davis was second (57-7) and Tim Rusan was third at 56-4-3/4.
"I could've just sat and watched that. Three people jumped over 56 feet, I've never seen anything like that," Wilson said. "It was incredible to watch those guys, but at the same time frustrating to not be up there with them."
Wilson intends to be back in Sacramento next July for the U.S. Olympic Trials, where a top-three finish will send him to the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.
Wilson says he is looking forward to next year. He is going to take it one day at a time, one step at a time.
"Next year is going to be a good year," he said. "I'm going to be healthy and I'm going to be able to run. I'm looking at everything. The triple jump takes you time to get the technique down. I want to stay strong and put all the pieces together, step by step."
With an Olympic berth on the line, does he have any intentions to redshirt at Indiana in 2004?
"I doubt it's going to happen," Wilson said. "Our team is going to do well in the Big 10 and I want to be there to help. I'll just try to stay healthy and strong. Coach (Wayne Pate) has always emphasized that you have to know how to make good use of your jumps ... to make your first jump a good one to put yourself in a good position so you don't have to jump again. I never seemed to do that; until you get injured and realize it's from jumping too much, then you get to thinking about things like that."
Bumps and bruises are part of the sport, Wilson pointed out.
"Everybody has their bumps and bruises, but things happen for a reason. I have some good jumps still left in me," he said. "I love the triple jump. People don't know a lot about it, Indiana doesn't even have it as a high school event, but it's a fun and exciting event."
Dave Price is a sports writer for the Nevada Appeal