Heitman is 100-percent gold
Four boys had a chance to clear 6 feet, 6 inches in the high jump at the Class A state track and field meet on Saturday, June 9. Yahya Madar of Mounds Park and Saje Scheeler of Christ's Household of Faith took three cracks at the height and failed each time. Lake City's Ethan Heitman cleared on his first attempt while Annadale's TJ Jok needed two tries.
That set up Heitman and Jok for a showdown at 6-7, the mark that won the 2017 championship for Tyl Woelber of Pipestone.
Heitman and Jok, competing indoors at Hamline University due to wet conditions outside, needed all three attempts, but neither could clear the extra inch. That meant Heitman was named the Class A high-jump champion, his one attempt besting Jok's two at 6-6.
After last year's third-place showing (at 6-4), Heitman was certainly among the favorites to grab a silver with Woelber coming back for his senior season. Throw in a leap of 6-8 at a USATF meet last summer, and Heitman may even have been the trendy pick for gold.
But then a series of knee injuries began, with the final blow coming last fall when the Lake City junior tore his ACL, which paired with a torn meniscus from an earlier injury in the long jump at another summer meet.
"It was raining and we were using a wooden board. So when I went to jump, I hyperextended my knee," Heitman said of a meet in Kansas with USATF. "But a couple days later, I was fine and I high humped. And when I came back home, I went up to Red Wing to play basketball. I went up for a layup and someone hit the side of my knee and I fell down. That was early August. In late August I was back playing basketball again, and all I did was a simple jump stop and I heard a pop in my knee. And I just fell to the ground. That's when we got the results that I tore my ACL and meniscus."
Surgery, and the timetable for recovery, put Heitman's 2018 track season in jeopardy.
"My goal this season was to come back in eight months, which would be one week before sub-sections," Heitman said. "And my goal was to just run a 100(-meter dash). But I ended up being able to jump."
As it turned out, Heitman was back in seven months, which is an impressive timeline but one that still had him questioning whether he was fully prepared to compete.
"Once I got the news I was cleared to long jump and high jump, I was nervous in the (doctor's) office, like, 'Is my body ready?' But, the PT people, it's their job to make sure I'm ready. So I just trusted them," Heitman said.
Once he was back on the track, the mental games started. The heights which Heitman once cleared with ease were a struggle. But Heitman soon realized that recovery is a process, and that 6-4 wasn't going to happen on Day 1. And those in charge of the program reminded him as much.
"My coach, all season, said to just have fun, that this season didn't matter," Heitman said.
Heitman got in a home meet, the Hiawatha Valley League meet and one road meet to qualify for the sub-section meet. At the Section 1A meet, held in Elgin May 29 and 31, Heitman cleared 6-3 to qualify for the state meet.
Even then, the mandate was fun, not necessarily a podium finish.
Once the rain came and forced the state high jump indoors, Heitman didn't think anything about it.
"It wasn't an advantage or disadvantage, it was 'just jump,'" Heitman said.
And when it was all done, an improbable state champion was greeted by those he knows best.
"My whole family came up to hug me. They went through the whole process, too, with all the rehab, driving me places, getting me what I need," Heitman said.
While Heitman said he was "shocked" he won a gold medal, the quiet Tiger raised eyebrows when he mentioned what he's been doing since then.
"I'm done with all the PT, but they moved me to a strengthening program because my quad (on the injured side) is still just 80 percent of the other one. So I'm not quite 100 percent," Heitman said.
At less than full strength, Ethan Heitman cleared a bar 6 feet, 6 inches off the ground, a jump that won him a state title about nine months after a major knee injury. And he's not done. Heitman said he is looking at colleges, Minnesota and Louisville mainly, as well as South Dakota, where he can compete after high school.
But there is still a prep track season to come for Heitman, who will be a senior this fall. And if he achieves his goal, another state title is all but a lock.
"My overall goal for high school high jump is to get over 7 feet, which I still think I can get," Heitman said.