Jacobs grad talks about Olympic career, his love of high school
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Olympic silver medalist Evan Jager came home to a hero's welcome Friday, garnering thunderous applause from a packed auditorium at Jacobs High School.
The Algonquin native returned to his former school for the first time since winning a silver medal in the men's 3,000-meter steeplechase at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
"For me, it's funny ... having like a very big deal made about me," said Jager, overwhelmed by the attention. "I'm just not used to it."
Jager said that while winning the medal was great, "being able to share it with all you guys really makes it special."
Jager, 28, a 2007 Jacobs graduate, spoke to students about his journey from running track in high school to medaling in the Olympics, and how he overcame obstacles to get there.
"It's taken a long time progressing as an athlete," he said.
Jager won four state titles at Jacobs, finished third in the 5,000-meter run at the USATF Outdoor Championship in 2009, and represented the U.S. at the 2009 IAAF World Championships in Berlin.
Leaving college at the start of his sophomore year at the University of Wisconsin to turn pro for Nike at 18 was "one of the biggest decisions of my life," said Jager, who lives in Oregon as a professional athlete for Nike's Portland-based Bowerman Track Club.
While he enjoyed successes early on, Jager suffered a setback when he fractured a foot bone during a race in June 2010. He had surgery and two screws put in and was forced to take six months off running.
"It was probably the darkest, worst time of my life," he said. "I didn't even know if I was ever again going to be competitive. I was in a really sad place at the time. That was a big thing for me, realizing things aren't always going to go perfectly."
It took roughly nine months for Jager to regain his full running capacity. He said his teammates and coach helped him get through the tough times, and he worked even harder to achieve his dream of making the U.S. Olympic Team.
In 2012, Jager took up the steeplechase, a race in which runners must clear hurdles and water jumps. He finished sixth in the 2012 London Olympic Games.
After his 2016 Olympic silver medal, Jager ranked second in the world in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. In August he took third place in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the IAAF World Championships at the Olympic Stadium in London.
The crowd watched a video of Jager's 2016 Olympic performance and of another race in Paris the year before where he tripped and fell near the finish line.
"That was probably the most embarrassing point of my life," said Jager, adding if he hadn't fallen he would have become the first non-African runner to break the 8-minute steeplechase.
Yet, Jager finished the race at his personal best of 8 minutes and 0.45 seconds, setting the North American record.
"Seeing the silver lining in some bad situations can be very helpful in moving forward," Jager said.
School officials honored Jager with a Distinguished Alumni Award during Friday's assembly. Jager donated his Rio Olympic jersey, bib and spiked track shoes, as well as his high school and college jerseys to the Algonquin school.
"Evan loves the school so much he is donating his most treasured items," said Kevin Christian, head coach for boys and girls cross-country, and an assistant when Jager was on the team.
Jager's jerseys will be displayed along with his Jacobs Hall of Fame picture, and a plaque commemorating his accomplishments.
"Part of the reason why I'm leaving my jerseys here is to show kids that really unimaginable things are possible, if you really love what you are doing and you work really hard at it," said Jager, urging students to dream big.