There are some athletes – rare as they may be – to which everything comes natural.
Every movement, every throw, every run and jump, all done with grace and ease, to the point where it seems they’re not even trying.
Jake Hanna, for all his impeccable skill and talent on the track, is not one of those athletes.
Instead, Hanna had to work at it.
It’s a point driven home by one of his coaches at Ocean Athletics Track and Field Club, when asked about how Hanna, a 15-year-old Elgin Park Secondary student, went from being an athlete with an interest in everything – from soccer to volleyball to lacrosse – to one of the country’s best hurdlers and middle-distance runners in his age group.
“I have a distinct memory of him trying hurdles for the first time,” says Mary Korpach, who has coached Hanna for the last two years, but has known him since he was in elementary school and first signed up with Ocean Athletics after seeing a classmate wearing a club T-shirt.
“He was, oh, probably 11 years old, and he was doing the 100-metre. In the 100, there are 10 hurdles, and his first time, he knocked over every single one.”
Hanna doesn’t dispute the accuracy his coach’s memory, either.
“I used to just plow through them all – that was my strategy back then,” he says, with a smile.
He’s improved considerably since, as one might imagine. In fact, the South Surrey teen is – one health-related stumbling block aside – in the midst of the best track season of his young career.
Hanna – whose older brother, Max, is one of the province’s top javelin throwers – currently holds the fastest 400-m time in Canada among boys in his age division (14-15 years old), and is coming off a two-medal performance in the Grade 8/9 division of B.C. High School Track and Field Championships, which were held in early June.
Earlier this month, the younger sibling broke a provincial record in the 200-m hurdles at the Jack Brow Meet in Kelowna, and last weekend, he ran four events – 100-m and 200-m hurdles, plus the 200-m and 300-m – at B.C. Club Championships in Coquitlam. His performance there, three gold medals and one bronze, earned him a spot on Team BC for Canadian Legion Track and Field Championships next month in P.E.I.
Before he sets his attention on the nationals back east, Hanna will focus on the BC Summer Games, which are set to begin throughout his home city Friday. All track-and-field events are to be held at Bear Creek Park.
This weekend, he will compete for Zone 3 (Fraser Valley) and will run the 200-m and 300-m races, as well as the 200-m hurdles. He qualified for a fourth event, the 100-m hurdles, but due to Games rules can only compete in three.
It’s an impressive resume, and a far cry from his 10-hurdle knockdown just a few years ago.
“He’s such a hard worker, and is so resilient, and is always willing to try something new – he’s very coachable,” Korpach says.
“And he’s not really tense about it all. He’s able to laugh at himself when something goes wrong. He’s able to put it behind him.”
Hanna’s resilience was tested at the end of the 2011 track season, when an injury to his lower back forced him to the sidelines. He sat out the last two months of the competitive schedule, and, after a winter break, even missed a few weeks early in the 2012 season when the injury flared back up.
“It was really sore, probably from over-training, we figure. It was something with the tendons in between the vertebrae,” he explains.
“It’s not the best feeling, sitting on the sidelines. It was frustrating because we went to a few different doctors and they all said the same thing, but nothing was really getting better, it didn’t work.
“At the end of last year, I could barely put my shoes on.”
Eventually, Hanna sought the advice of another doctor, who suggested prolotherapy, in which a dextrose (sugar water) solution is injected into the injured tendon, causing inflammation – or what Hanna calls “a fake injury.”
The inflammation increases the blood supply and flow of nutrients to the damaged tissue, thus repairing it.
Hanna’s back responded well to the therapy, and he was feeling 100 per cent after just a few treatments.
“I’m very happy to be back and be healthy. I’m excited, ready to go,” he says.
“And this season has gone so much better. Last year, with the injury, I really couldn’t do much.”
With his injury woes in the rearview mirror, Hanna admits he’d like to add at least one medal to his collection this weekend at the Summer Games, but says he’ll be more focused on his own performance than those of his competitors.
“Mostly, I just run for myself, for times. Obviously, I’d love to win every event, but for me, all it’s about is racing for a better time than I ran before.”