Even though Webster University junior Gretchen Rieger is a record-setting javelin thrower on the women’s…
Track and field star discovers hidden talent from coach’s plea
For all of the records Jacob Ridenhour has broken as a Gorloks track and field athlete, the sophomore came awfully close to not even pursuing the sport.
Whereas most athletes begin competing as youths and into high school, Ridenhour did not begin his journey until he was a senior at Jerseyville High School. It took a compelling plea from coaches for Ridenhour to consider joining the sport. Now, he is the first Webster University athlete to earn a national honor.
“The track coach was begging me to join and I thought I would give it a shot because I had just previously quit baseball,” Ridenhour said. “My first season was something special. It was like what I am going through now with this success.”
For Harold Landon, the head track and field coach at Jerseyville, all it took was seeing Ridenhour run the floor as a basketball and soccer player before he was sure of Ridenhour’s potential.
Landon said it took a couple of years and some influence of friends on the track and field team before he could convince Ridenhour to give it a try. The goal was to ease Ridenhour in, since he was a three-sport athlete.
In his first meet, Ridenhour took part in the 100-meter dash, the long jump, the 200-meter dash and the 4-by-1. In that event, he immediately found success.
“In the 4-by-1, I had him anchor leg [the final runner in the relay],” Landon said. “They gave him the baton and we were a little behind. All of a sudden, oh my god, he blows this kid away. We win the 4-by-1.”
Ridenhour turned that first act of success into a pattern of events with his next race, the 100-meter dash.
“He won the 100. He runs like a letter one and I was like, ‘oh boy, we’ve got something here,’” Landon said. “Then he wins the 200, and he almost goes 20 feet in the long jump. And he’d only been out for track for like two weeks.”
Even after his small sample size of success in high school, Ridenhour was not recruited for track and field at Webster University. It was not until a texting conversation with Track and Field Head Coach Nick Niehaus that he joined the team as a walk-on athlete.
One year later, Ridenhour is the only track and field athlete in Gorloks history to be recognized nationally by a national coaches association.
After strong performances at the Rhodes College Invitational in Memphis, he earned the United States Track and Field & Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Division III National Athlete of the Week honor on March 16 and 17.
Teammates of Ridenhour see his work ethic as the biggest reason for his record-breaking campaign. Senior and fellow sprinter Brandyn Robinson said Ridenhour’s work ethic was unlike anything he had ever seen before, and he sees his hard work firsthand.
“He is always talking about track which shows the passion for what he wants to accomplish,” Robinson said. “I know everything he has done so far wasn’t just handed to him, but he worked every step of the way for it.”
In high school, coaches recognized Ridenhour’s work ethic in his commitment as three-sport athlete in track and field, basketball and soccer.
Since coming to Webster University, Ridenhour has contributed to both a 14-4-2 men’s soccer team this past fall, and to the track and field team.
Over time, Ridenhour said his perspective changed on how important track and field was for him, when he saw his senior teammates crying after the final collegiate race of their careers last season.
With that renewed ambition, he set his goal to become an all-american and national champion.
“This made me believe that this is more than a team, and more like a family,” Ridenhour said. “I told myself on the car ride back that this is the sport I wanted to succeed in, and that I will do whatever it takes to achieve greatness.”