Zion Gurney lifts weights at the start of track practice recently. Gurney is a senior and does a variety of jumping events at Edward Little.
Zion Gurney has a clear goal heading into the outdoor track and field season.
Six feet. Whatever else happens, however he does at meets and in the postseason, the Edward Little senior has to clear 6 feet on the high jump.
Track and field, in a lot of ways, is more about outdoing yourself than beating your competitors.
But Gurney found out in a very difficult way last year that sometimes an athlete needs to settle for beating everyone else.
In the final meet before the 2016 postseason, Gurney out-jumped all other jumpers at the River City Rivals meet at Edward Little High School. He won the event fairly quickly with a 5-foot, 8-inch jump.
With his remaining jumps, he cleared 5-10 and then tried to finally reach 6 feet, the goal he’d been chasing all season.
“Every meet, I was consistent at 5-10,” Gurney said. “So I really wanted 6 feet.
“I missed it my first try. My second try was really close, and my third was even closer, I just nicked it with my wrist.”
After the meet, Gurney stubbornly tried for 6 feet again.
“I knew I could get it,” he said. “I was excited. Everyone was around me. I went to go jump and my knee hyper-extended.
“I ended up tearing my ACL.”
Then came regret.
“Ten minutes later, I was like, ‘Why did I do that?’” Gurney said.
The injury happened on a Saturday. The following Monday, Gurney had an MRI. His ACL was partially torn. With the Kennebec Valley Conference championships only a few days away, and the state meet soon after, Gurney’s junior season was over.
“It was right before the KVAC championship meet. It was really tough timing,” Edward Little coach Rebecca Hefty said. “And he felt terrible for his teammates, because he felt like he was letting them down.”
After his MRI, went to the Red Eddies’ practice to tell Hefty, and then the team.
“I kind of broke down in front of coach and stuff,” Gurney said. “Just because I worked so hard.”
Gurney got lucky
Early last week, as the track at Edward Little high school was finally starting to thaw, Gurney was back to working hard, this time lifting in the weight room.
The location had more to do with the outdoor conditions than the condition of Gurney’s knee, because other than having to miss the postseason, Gurney got lucky. There was still a strand of his ACL hanging on. Either it was going to tear all the way or it was going to heal. Gurney’s did the latter.
“I took it really easy. I just wanted it to get better,” Gurney said. “I lucked out. About three weeks later, I could walk and everything, and I had an MRI, and it was all good. I healed good.”
Gurney soon started doing physical therapy four days a week to rehabilitate the knee. By the end of the summer, as he had the year before, he attended the Dick Fosbury camp — fully healed, but full of trepidation.
“I was scared,” Gurney said. “I didn’t high jump until the third day there, that’s how scared I was.
“My first jump, I was skeptical, but it ended up being fine.”
Gurney was soon back to his usual height.
He hasn’t jumped since. That means his ACL has had several more months to heal, but it also means it hasn’t been tested.
“If I think about it, my knee’s, like, weak. I don’t know why — mental thing,” Gurney said. “It feels good, it feels strong.
“I try not to (worry), but I definitely am. I’m worried to see the first meet, I probably won’t go all out my first meet just so I don’t hurt myself.”
What made last year’s injury so devastating was the timing combined with Gurney’s performances up to that point.
“My stats were looking good. I was placed very high,” he said. “I was looking forward to going to states, and maybe New Englands. I wanted it really bad. To see it just go all away …”
One of the things that kept him motivated throughout his recovery was getting ready for his senior season. It’s here, and Gurney’s ready.
“I’m really excited. I think it will be a great year for (me) and my team,” he said.
“I hope to go to states, and maybe be a state champion, but we’ll see how that goes.”
“As a senior,” Hefty said, “he’s got a pretty big goal to reach in high jump, so I think that he has unfinished business.”
Gurney also competes in the long and triple jumps, but the high jump is his favorite. He’s still chasing 6 feet — a height he has only reached in practice — but he’ll be smarter about that pursuit this year.
“I know what not to do,” he said. “Like, I’m not going to push myself to the limit until I’m at those meets where I can.”
Zion Gurney deadlifts weights at the start of track practice recently. Gurney is a senior and does a variety of jumping events at Edward Little.