Coming to a Close
June 8, 2009
By Larry Watts
Just when his collegiate days are coming to a close, Patrick Woods' track career is taking off.
Such is life as a decathlete for Ohio State's fifth-year senior. Competing in a specialty where late bloomers are common, Woods nearly waited too long to finally get his game on track so speak.
"Coming into Ohio State primarily as a high jumper and hurdler, I knew the world of collegiate track was going to be a big challenge for me," says the former prep high jump champion out of East Liverpool, Ohio. "I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to get into combined events, but I never really got serious about it until my sophomore year."
A veteran of three Big Ten Championship meets as a heptathlete (seven events), Woods was a known commodity after twice placing eighth in the conference indoor meets. But outdoors in the decathlon, where the running distances are longer and the discus and javelin are added into the field event mix, he was a virtual unknown. For three seasons he competed mainly as a high jumper and hurdler and only attempted the decathlon once.
According to Woods, the turnaround in his track career started as the Buckeyes went into spring break of the 2007 season.
"I sat down with the coaches and we decided if I was going to become a decathlete that I would take a redshirt during the outdoor season so I could take more time to learn the events and develop," he says. "It might take two years, but I could still help the team score points in the high jump in the meantime."
The only trouble with the plan was Woods found himself in a situation where he was bouncing from one coach to another during his training.
"Each coach was great for their individual events, but I don't think they truly understood what it was like to deal with someone in combined events," he says.
But that problem was erased last summer when Tim Walters came on board as a volunteer coach. The veteran Ohio high school and collegiate coach not only had a history of training hurdlers and jumpers for international competition, but he also ranked as one of the top decathletes at the USATF Masters level. A veteran of three World Masters Championships, he set the world record in the 100-meter hurdles (13.49) in 2004 and was the top U.S. long jumper in 2005.
"Coach Walters came in at the right point for me," Woods says. "He knew more about combined events than anyone I know. Early in the summer he was out there doing the workouts with us and keeping up with us on those long runs, which is kind of scary. Some of the other guys would be falling off, but he'd still keep going strong. That guy is a beast at his age!"
When Walters took over, the 6-foot-3 Woods checked in at "220-225" pounds. But after cutting his fat intake to 40-50 grams per day, he is now tipping the scale under 200 pounds.
"He taught me to eat right and not eat huge meals like I was doing before," he says. "After practice I would have a chocolate drink and a power bar, which took the edge off my hunger so I wouldn't go home and binge."
At his first decathlon attempt of the 2009 season, and only the second of his career, Woods placed second at the Sea Ray Relays in Knoxville during the first week of April. He posted a score of 6,909 points while taking firsts in the high jump, discus and shot put and seconds in the 110 hurdles and javelin.
With no more decathlons on the docket until the Big Ten Outdoor Championships, Woods kept himself busy in multiple events during the Buckeyes' spring schedule.
"Every meet I would do a run, jump and throw," he says. "Coach Walters and I mapped out a schedule where it would benefit me the most or where I needed the most work in meet situations.
"The weight events, high jump and hurdles are usually pretty strong for me although my throws have been pretty inconsistent. Some of my biggest throws have been in practice, so now I have to transfer them to the meets. I've become an 800-plus vaulter (15-3 scores 804 points) because of coach Walters' work. Javelin is usually pretty tough for me to score in and I feel like I'm just starting to get comfortable in the 400."
Although he only had one decathlon under his belt, Woods was still ranked second coming into the Big Ten meet. However, Minnesota's R.J. McGinnis, who had a top score of 7,626 this spring, was the odds-on favorite to rule the field.
"I saw that score he (McGinnis) posted at Drake and I knew I had to come out strong and stay close to him on that first day," Woods says. "He's a real power guy and his strongest events are the long jump, shot and hurdles. My objective was to stay in the top four or five in those events."
As it turned out, Woods won the shot to go along with his first in the discus, took second in the hurdles and placed third in the long jump. And he finally broke away in the pole vault, where he tied for second with a height of 14-7.25. After placing 11th in the javelin, it came down to the 1500.
"I thought I had a big cushion, but then coach Walters told me I couldn't finish more than 12 seconds behind McGinnis," he says. "Then when I got to the starting line, one of my teammates told me it was 14 seconds or I was going to be second.
"When I saw McGinnis' head dip at the finish line (third, 4:34.10), I started counting the seconds off in my head down the stretch until I got to 14. I was a couple of feet away, put my head down and dove. Not only did I run a personal best by 30 seconds (4:46.24), but it also turned out I actually had a 29-second cushion. I'm glad they lied to me about the time difference because it made me run faster and my total (7.405) qualified me for the NCAA Championships.
"My only regret was I didn't do better in the javelin (136-6). If I had just thrown a normal throw, I would have scored another 100 points and I would have broken the school record (7,456 by Ray Hupp in 1971). But I've been working on it in practice since and it's coming around."
The celebration was an emotional one for Woods, who was joined by his mother, sister and brother-in-law as well as friends from his church in Liverpool and Ohio State. Missing in body were his father Robert, who died of a blood clot in his lung when Patrick was 13, and an aunt ("she was like a second mother to me"), who passed away when he was a senior in high school.
"My father died on a Sunday morning while my mother and sister were at church," he says. "I was the only one home with him. I called the ambulance and went to a neighbor's house for help. I told him I loved him. He winked at me and that was it.
"There were a lot of tears during that celebration and I'm sure our family members upstairs were looking down on us. At age 13, I guess I grew up pretty fast because suddenly I was the man in the house. But that's part of life and I wasn't mad at God nor did I lose my faith. You don't understand, but it made me stronger and brought our family close together and you have to appreciate what you have."
Woods will be gunning for the school decathlon record and a berth in the USA Championships when the NCAA Championships open in Eugene, Ore. He needs a score of 7,550 to qualify for the USA Championships, which begin June 25. On June 14, he will receive his degree in family financial planning, but he doesn't plan on leaving Ohio State for at least another year.
"The textbook says it really takes 6-8 years to develop a decathlete so he can fully grasp the events," he says. "I kind of feel like this is my first year, so I'm going to stick around, train with coach Walters, help the younger guys, work part-time as a personal trainer and take this thing as far as I can.
"What I'm really looking forward to doing right now is sitting down and having a big meal. But if things go according to plan, that probably won't happen until July."