No time is more important in the triple jump, Josh Norville knows, than the first few seconds.
The Lehigh senior stands on his tippy toes 105 feet from the pit, then leans back with his left foot, stretching his left hand over his chest.
He does it again. And again. He does it long enough to lose himself in the moment.
Then the 6-foot-3,194-pound leaper drives his legs forward on the runway, fights off the wind, hopes to erase the memory of any bad jump and lets himself go.
“It’s immeasurable how much (track) drives me,” the 17-year-old Norville says. “I wake up and think about track. I just need to get out on the field and get out on the track and do the best that I can and work and work and just never let up.”
In his third and final year as a track and field athlete with the Lightning, Norville has a state championship on his mind. He ranks first in the triple jump in Class 3A. He’s ranked 11th in the nation according to milesplit.com.
And he heads into the triple jump field at the University of Florida’s Pepsi Relays on Friday as a strong contender to win.
He jumped a career-best 47 feet, 6.5 inches on March 12 at the Community School of Naples Invitational, which netted a mark almost three feet farther than his personal best from 2015. But he hasn’t been back to 47 feet since.
“When it comes to a track meet, there’s a lot of season and if you have that one jump, you’ll look good that meet, but you come back and do it again,” he says.
But still, 47 feet? A colossal stepping stone.
Because in his final few steps on the runway as a junior, he never got the same satisfaction. He missed out on the state championships, finishing fifth, just one place away from qualification.
“It was tough,” he said. “I actually did cry a little, because I knew I could have done better.”
But he didn’t harbor those feelings of disappointment for too long.
Just a week later, he brushed that misfortune aside, going to work with Lightning coach, Matthew Booth, who trains not only Lehigh athletes but works with professional athletes and provides meet management for them — including notable Olympians like United States decathlete Ashton Eaton and Jamaican sprinter Asafa Powell.
Norville moved on.
“The biggest thing is he’s learned how to let it go and focus on the next one,” said Booth, a USA Track and Field Level 2 certified instructor in jumps. “Last year he would worry about attempt No. 1 when he was on jump No. 3. Now he’s good on clearing his head. From there, he just blocks everything out and goes to work.”
Practice is what makes perfect. And it’s been instrumental in Norville’s improvement.
A heavy dose of weight room work over the summer gave Norville a stronger core, which resulted in more explosion from the start, which nets him more power when he finally takes the leap off the strip and lands in the pit.
He’s gotten better in his phases, too: Planting in the first, patiently transitioning in the second, and driving off the board in the third.
With one huge jump at the Pepsi Relays, it could net him the exposure he needs in front of big-time scouts. The University of South Florida has already expressed interest, Booth said, but Norville knows he needs to be more consistent.
It’s why he pushes himself so hard at times. Part of that is personal pain, too.
Two years ago, he lost his older brother, Cameron, to a single-car accident. The pair, who were separated in age by nearly four years, used to sleep on bunk beds as kids and idle time by playing video games together.
At times, Norville considered Cameron more than a brother. Sometimes, he was like a father.
“My brother, he always taught me the right and wrong,” Norville said. “Without him even saying something to me, me just watching what he did and how he acted, it made me want to be a young, successful man like him.”
Losing his brother struck a chord in his life. It meant that anything could be taken away at any time.
But now, he knows he can control factors in his life. He can control track. He can control school.
“I can’t sit there and ask, ‘What if I did that?’ I don’t believe in what ifs,” he said. “I have to make sure I do it and if I don’t do it, I have to come back and work on it.”
Norville currently holds a 3.34 GPA and a score of 22 on the ACT. He wants to compete in college, just like Booth, who won an indoor state championship in the high jump as a senior in 1997 at Falmouth High in Massachusetts and then went on to compete at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts.
“I found out who I could be,” Norville said. “I could be the best in the nation. But no matter what, I still have to try. I can be a leader and get places. I could make everyone around me proud and let them know I’m a hard worker.”
He’s set high goals for himself: 50 feet in the triple jump; 24-5 in the long jump.
By meeting those standards, he could ensure himself the opportunity to jump at the next level.
Booth encourages Norville every day, telling the senior he can make those jumps. He just needs to focus, be patient and execute.
The triple jump is all about those first few important moments.
“He tells me that all the time,” Norville said. “It only takes one jump to win regionals. It only takes one jump to go to states. And I always look at it that way. I only get one time to actually do that.”