Wilson reflects on 2008 Summer Olympics
No one worked the runway better than Aarik Wilson.
The 2001 Fallon grad became one of the best triple jumpers to come out of the Silver State when he donned the green and white, landing a full-ride scholarship to Indiana where he was a 10-time All-American. Many championships, accolades and records later, Wilson saved his best for 2008 when he qualified for the Summer Olympics in Beijing.
“The Olympic year and year prior are probably some of the best memories of my life,” said Wilson, who missed qualifying for the London Games four years later. “The travel and experiences are something I will cherish forever. The U.S. Trials themselves were the hardest and most testing day in my athletic life. Trying to find a rhythm with the injury and everything that went along with that on that stage at the biggest meet of my life was the single most challenging event in my career.”
That injury, including multiple stress fractures, eventually prevented Wilson from competing at his full strength in China. Nonetheless, Wilson won the U.S. Trials at the University of Oregon in June 2008 to represent the country overseas. But once he arrived at the Olympics, the fractures didn’t let up, forcing him to miss out on the possibility of medaling.
“Stress fractures are overuse injuries and that is exactly what happened to me,” he said. “While 2007 was an amazing year traveling and competing, I forgot to take care of myself and listen to my body during all the fun of that season.”
There was nothing the Greenwave and Hoosier champ could do to remedy the injury, though. To win the US Trials not at 100 percent confirmed what everyone knows about Wilson. He doesn’t quit and is competitive in anything he does.
“I have no regrets at all,” said Wilson, who learned to jump from Fallon track coach Paul Orong and Wayne Pate, who helped him break through the professional scene. “I think my mistakes were made in 2007 and by the time 2008 came around, I was in survival mode. I gave every effort to be as fit and ready as I could be.”
Wilson broke the stadium record and won the trials on his final leap of 17.43 meters (57 feet, 2.25 inches). Despite the setback of his injuries in the Olympics, Wilson managed to finish ranked No. 1 in the country for the first and only time of his career.
“If he didn’t have those injuries, I think he would have won a gold medal,” Orong said. “He went into Beijing hurt. He deserved everything he did. People forget he’s a 10-time All American. Granted, we’ve had NFL football players but to me, he’s the greatest athlete we’ve had in Fallon.”
In 2007, he was ranked No. 4 in the world after notching the three best marks for an American in the triple jump. Wilson also competed in the long jump and finished as one of the country’s best combination jumpers.
Being in China, though, gave Wilson the opportunity to explore and still enjoy the Olympic experience with his family.
“It was honestly beyond words,” he said. “And having my family there made it, aside from the injury, perfect. The honor and feelings of pride and accomplishment are something that I still carry today.”
Four years later, Wilson came back to the scene in top shape. But one thing was missing when Wilson arrived on the runway during the U.S. Trials. Wilson was lost and couldn’t find that mental drive to push him. Wilson missed out on London as he saw his professional jumping career start its descent into retirement.
“2012 was tough for me to figure out how to compete again mentally,” Wilson said of his condition at the time. “I think I was pretty fit physically. I just mentally choked. I felt lost on the runway and struggled figuring out how to get in the right mind state.”
But in the eight years since that once-in-a-lifetime trip, Wilson has grown to appreciate and listen to his body. As an instructor at Functional Athletic Sports Training (FAST) in Reno, he helps others reach their goal.
“To have a guy like Aarik Wilson here at FAST nothing but benefits us from all angles,” FAST co-owner Carlos Madrid said. “I can always depend on him if I need to. He’s a great guy to have at the facility.”
Giving back through coaching was important to Wilson, even if he’s helped a few jumpers compete against his alma mater.
“I believe that it is invaluable,” Wilson said about helping others. “I more feel like it is a responsibility to be as involved as I can be to try and help other experience as much of what I was blessed to be a part of as possible.”
And don’t rule out coaching the next Olympian as Orong and Pate did last decade.
“I love the jumps and definitely want to stay involved,” Wilson said. “Whether that’s from a private coaching scenario or and actually collegiate or high school position, only the future holds.”
The competitive attitude and unmatchable work ethic helped separate Wilson from the rest. From being ultra-competitive in an arcade basketball game to helping out underclassmen while in Fallon, Orong said Wilson set the bar.
“He went in there and he has the best ‘I want it more than you’ attitude than anybody I’ve met,” Orong said. “He works hard. I was very blessed to get a dream athlete and I’ve had more than one. He’s the best I’ve ever had.”
With the many accomplishments of competing for the Greenwave and Hoosiers and then traveling the world and jumping professionally, Wilson will never forget the support he received from not just his family and friends, but from the community. The city of Fallon rooted on its only Olympian while welcoming him back with a key to the city and even proclaimed a day in Wilson’s honor.
“Fallon and Nevada as a whole blew me away with their support and continue to every time I am home,” Wilson said. “Coach Paul has always been an incredible motivator, mentor and friend. Nothing changed and I can’t imagine it ever changing. He is an amazing human. Coach Pate was basically a father to my through college and ever since. And my family aside from the two family members I just mentioned is unreal. A dream family with the love, support and strength they give me every day.”