August 22, 2014

Elyria
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Leap of faith pays off in national title for local man

A track athlete most of his life, 35-year-old Mike Lugar likely never experienced the range of emotions he felt at last weekend’s USA Masters Indoor Track and Field Championships in Landover, Md.

Lugar

Lugar turned in a highly disappointing long jump performance Saturday night which left him kicking himself. The 1996 Amherst graduate jumped 19 feet, 10¾ inches as he struggled throughout the competition to find his steps, finishing second in the men’s 35-39 age category. The winner, Edward Wheeler, jumped 20-5.

Sixteen hours later, Lugar couldn’t have been much happier.

The Amherst track assistant cleared 1.95 meters (6-4¾) in the high jump on his third and final attempt to win the national championship for his age group at the Prince George Sports and Learning Complex.

“I really thought I was ready to go 22 feet for the long jump,” Lugar said. “I’d been over 21 feet this year and thought with my training that I could do it. I just couldn’t figure out the last couple of steps. It was very frustrating.

“I got no sleep Saturday night because I was so angry. I thought I should have done so much better. When I got to the track Sunday morning I was feeling a bit sore. I thought I’d clear 5-10 or 6-0. I’ll be done, I’ll be happy and just go home.”

A text message from training partner Amber Slavik made Lugar think twice about taking the easy road.

“She told me to forget about Saturday and show everyone who I am,” Lugar said. “The crowd was amazing. The bleachers were packed.”

Lugar cleared 1.70 meters (5-7), 1.75 meters (5-8¾) and 1.80 meters (5-10¾) on his initial attempts. He then cleared 1.85 meters (6-0½) and 1.90 meters (6-2¾) on his second attempts.

His first two attempts at his winning height weren’t pretty.

“The announcer had the entire place going,” Lugar said. “The adrenaline rush was something. I’ve never had a competition like this before where the adrenaline took over like this. It was neat. I don’t know how I did it. I just did a lot of things right.”

And this was after he bruised his planting foot (left) in warm-ups.

“I took a lot of jumps (11),” Lugar said of the competition. “I usually don’t like to take more than seven. I was really beat up. Just the adrenaline and the crowd, it was nuts.”

Lugar now has two national high jump championships. He cleared 1.75 meters to win the 30-34 age category at Boston in 2008.

“I cleared 6-7 a couple years back,” said Lugar, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 170 pounds. “Today was higher than my best mark in high school (6-4). I’m stronger and faster than I’ve ever been in my entire life. You think that as you get older you’re supposed to regress, but I’m faster and stronger than ever. I watch my diet. I lost 15 pounds over the last four months when I decided that I was committed to this meet. I lost the weight because I decided to start eating right and practicing what I preach. I was in with both feet.”

Lugar formed the Lake Erie Jumps Club in 2009. He not only helps Amherst athletes, but those from 11 Lorain and Erie county high schools.

“Our high jumpers train together,” Lugar said. “I’m doing the exact same workouts the kids are doing. It’s not me coaching them. I don’t consider myself a coach. I consider myself an athlete. I’m just doing what they’re doing.”

Lugar was a standout in track at Amherst. He was a junior national All-American (top eight) in young men’s decathlon in 1996, finishing eighth in Houston. Lugar also finished 12th at junior nationals in the decathlon in 1995.

He was a 1996 Division I state qualifier in pole vault in high school and a regional qualifier in long jump. Lugar also won the 1996 Southwestern Conference titles for pole vault (14-10) and the 110 high hurdles (15.0).

He served in the U.S. Navy for three years from 1996-99 before returning to Lorain County. Lugar served as an assistant coach for Elyria High from 2000-03 before going back to Amherst in 2004 as a volunteer assistant in pole vault. Since 2007, he’s been a full-time volunteer with Amherst varsity track team.

Lugar picked up training tips for the high jump by working with Lorain native Henry Patterson for five years. A 1993 Admiral King graduate, Patterson qualified to the Olympic Trials in the high jump three times between 1996 and 2004.

Contact Paul Heyse at 440-329-7135 or ctsports@chroniclet.com.