Track and Field

How Syracuse alumnus Jarret Eaton overcame obstacles to earn spot at US Olympic qualifying

Courtesy of Jarret Eaton

After a fall in a 2014 track and field event, Jarret Eaton has overcome having no job, coach or sponsor. A substitute teaching job helped Eaton fund his running career.

Jarret Eaton found himself without a coach, sponsorship or agent last October. In 2012, he was crowned the NCAA Indoor Champion in the 60-meter hurdles. The Syracuse track alum was now forced to train alone in his pursuit to succeed professionally.

Since graduating, Eaton supported himself primarily by working various odd jobs. At the front desk at a gym. As a sales associate at a local Express, a clothing store. Tutoring college students. Eaton couldn’t afford to purchase healthy brands of food. Massage treatments, heating pads and various proper recovery methods were out of the question. Every dollar had to be spent wisely.

That’s kind of the culture for track and field until you get sponsored. Up until then, you have to survive.
Jarret Eaton

Eaton, who graduated from Syracuse in 2012, remains the program’s only national champion to date. He has used substitute teaching to fund a professional track career that was once on life support.

But now, with a strong showing at the IAFF World Championships in Portland, Oregon, on March 20, Eaton has shown the potential to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics for the United States. That race, however, was indoors. When Eaton goes to the United States Olympic trials in July, he will need to finish in the top 3 in the 110-meter hurdles.

“It honestly took me a while to get established to where I am now,” Eaton said. “It was almost four years ago since I won my first NCAA Indoor Title and now here I stand winning the USA indoor national title almost in the exact same fashion. I had to mature as a runner and a human being before I was going to be successful.”

After graduating in 2012, Eaton continued training with Syracuse for a year and a half while racing professionally on his own. The adjustment did not go smoothly. As he was forced to find ways to provide for himself, track began to feel like a “labor-intensive job.”

“In college, you’re not immediately stressed about money or food,” Eaton said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself every meet because I knew it was the only way to make it big. I felt like if I didn’t do well, I would be taking a step backwards.”

Eaton’s father, Rodney, noticed his son frequently stressed about his financial situation.

“I told him to relax, concentrate on track, and everything will come together,” Rodney said. “I always told him that if you make $100 a week, live like you only make $70. You’ll be able to save that way and you won’t live above your means.”

In 2014, Eaton needed a change in scenery in order to piece his life together. He moved to Clemson, South Carolina, and discovered a new coach who was affiliated with Nike, which provided him a sponsorship. However, five months later, Eaton’s coach bolted for California and his sponsorship was gone.

Eaton moved to Columbia, South Carolina, to find a new coach. While in South Carolina, he frequently switched apartments while searching for a stable living situation. In a two-year span, Eaton had moved homes a total of five times.

​“You get to see how important possessions are to you,” Eaton said. “Whenever you move you think, ‘How much of my life can I put in my car?’ You leave a lot behind. That instability takes so much away from my focus that it harmed my performance.”

By October 2015, with no coach, money or resources, Eaton had to stabilize his life.

He had previously worked in an organization titled “Spark the Wave” for seven years, where he educated disadvantaged teenagers. He discovered his teaching passion through the program and found a job as a high school substitute teacher at Richland Northeast (South Carolina) High School, which allowed him to train while financially supporting himself. The newfound stability helped Eaton eliminate outside stress and focus on track.

​Lawrence Terry, Eaton’s new coach, had originally tried to recruit him out of college. After learning Eaton was training alone in South Carolina, Terry was astonished to discover Eaton was looking for a new coach. Terry trains his runners at Richland’s athletic facilities, where he told Eaton, “You might not believe me now, but you will break your personal record indoors and outdoors with us in flats.”

Eaton signed with Terry’s “Basics Track Club” and still volunteers to train high school athletes that attend the school he is a substitute teacher at. Terry’s program focuses on the fundamentals of hurdling with efficiency. The athletes rarely wear spikes in training. Eaton said athletes want to run faster when wearing spikes. By taking them out of the equation, athletes can focus solely on their technique.

Terry immediately went over technical adjustments that Eaton had to make. Eaton had to lower his hips while projecting into the hurdles, stay tall and use arm placement and tight leg rotation in and out of the hurdle.

“It is a challenge to tell an athlete that some of the things they have been doing are not as efficient as they can be,” Terry said.

Eventually, Eaton had a breakthrough at the Millrose Games in February. The technical adjustments had become natural. He finished in third with a time of 7.58 seconds.

After excelling in multiple races throughout Europe in February, Eaton felt confident heading into his main objective — the U.S.Track and Field Indoor Championships. In 2014, he was favored to win the 60-meter hurdles. He led nearly the entire race but fell at the last hurdle and finished dead last.

I was in disbelief. I was sitting on the ground and I kept thinking … 'this can’t be real, when am I going to wake up from this dream?'
Jarret Eaton

Eaton was devastated. Falling robbed him of qualifying for the national championship. He contemplated what he had already been through. This would get better, he told himself. The next morning, Eaton was over his disbelief and looked to the future.

Eaton suffered a scar on his right shoulder from the fall. He views it as a symbol of the pain he’s been through the last few years. It always inspires him to work harder.

Two years later, Eaton was the favorite to win the 60-meter hurdles. This time around, he made no mistakes. He won the event in 7.52 seconds.

“I was elated when I finally crossed the line with the banner around my waist in first place,” Eaton said. “A huge rock had been lifted off my shoulders and I had finally achieved something that had been on my list.”

With the victory, Eaton had qualified for the IAFF World Indoor Championships. Two weeks later, Eaton took fourth with a time of 7.50 seconds, his personal record in the 60-meter hurdles.

Eaton heads into the outdoor season hoping to establish a solid race rhythm early on. He will compete at the U.S. Olympic Trials in early July, hoping to make the Olympic team for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Syracuse head coach Chris Fox said it typically takes a pro hurdler until he is 24 to reach his full potential. Eaton is now 26 years old. He has a coach and a job. Together they’ve given Eaton the ability to reach his potential two years past when Fox estimates he could have.

But even so, he’s finally reached where he should be, just in time for the Olympics.

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