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Jumper chasing his dream

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Josh Honeycutt is chasing his dream.

Honeycutt, an Iola native, attended Emporia State University where he won the NCAA Division II indoor national championship in the triple jump in 2009. Then, Honeycutt and a friend packed a car and drove to Arizona.

They didn't have jobs secured, but continued their training to become world-class.

After two years of training with a coach and then by himself, Honeycutt moved to Hays in late September. On Sept. 25, Honeycutt proposed marriage to his longtime girlfriend Jennifer Robinson, a former national high jump champion at ESU and a graphics and animation specialist at Fort Hays State University.

Honeycutt started to train with Ty Haas, the Tigers' jumps coach, and is on Fort Hays' staff as an assistant coach. Haas handles the technical side of Honeycutt's training, while Matt Koelling, an assistant coach at NCAA Division I Southeast Missouri State University and a former ESU triple jumper, does Honeycutt's weight program.

Honeycutt jumped a new personal record 16.83 meters (55 feet, 2.75 inches) at the Sam Williams Twilight Qualifier on May 10 at ESU. He is ranked 10th in the world in the outdoor triple jump and fourth best in the United States (non-wind aided), according to iaaf.org.

On Wednesday, Honeycutt will continue on the path for his dream -- the Olympic Games -- when he will jump at 6 p.m. at Lewis Field Stadium.

The public is welcome to attend.

"He wants to blow away 17 meters," Robinson said.

This is Honeycutt's last tuneup before the USA Track and Field Championships on June 26-29 in Sacramento, Calif.

The next weekend, Honeycutt and Robinson will get married in Emporia. Robinson, who calls herself "very organized," is almost finished with the wedding plans.

This summer, Honeycutt likely will travel to Europe for meets.

"She has been so supportive," Honeycutt said.

Honeycutt and Robinson, both gregarious and strong in their faith, have known each other for many years. They grew up 45 miles apart; Honeycutt in Iola, Robinson in Altamont. Robinson didn't know Honeycutt, but he knew who Robinson was.

Honeycutt started jumping in high school and went 39 feet in his first meet, 44 in his second and eventually placed fourth at state. As a senior, Honeycutt had Kansas' leading triple jump and paced Class 4A.

Honeycutt committed to Emporia State early, and then the Division I schools came in later, but Honeycutt decided to stay with the Hornets.

Robinson hosted Honeycutt on his official visit, but was in a relationship at the time. She knew Honeycutt "was different," but thought "he was a cool person" at first glance. They started dating in September 2009.

As a sophomore, Honeycutt first came onto the scene when he jumped 16.39 meters (53-9.25) on April 4, 2009. At the time, it marked the nation's best jump and 14th-best in the world. Then, he went through some struggles.

"I didn't PR for four years," he said.

But Honeycutt kept at his dream. At large open meets, such as the KU Relays, he defeated jumpers from Division I schools that overlooked him. After college, he went to Arizona and jumped for Phoenix Elite. While in Arizona, Honeycutt continued to date Robinson long distance.

"To get to where the Lord wants us to go, we have to make sacrifices," Robinson said.

In the time before the USA Indoor Track and Field Championships in March 2013, Honeycutt made a change.

"Had to make a decision and give it all to God," Robinson said.

Then, Honeycutt won the triple jump with a mark of 54-9 (16.29 meters). He defeated Florida State standout Rafeeq Curry and Arkansas State's James Jenkins. A few months later, Honeycutt came to Hays to work with Haas, who he knew from MIAA meets, and Tiger head track coach Dennis Weber.

Honeycutt enjoyed ESU, but because he came from a small high school and didn't go Division I -- nor he admits was probably pushed to the max after the big sophomore jump -- he still believes there is plenty of room to grow. In Honeycutt's eyes, that's different than many world-class jumpers who went to a big college, have jumped at big meets for years and are closer to their max potential.

Honeycutt has made further sacrifices in Hays. He often puts in hard workouts that last for several hours.

"I can't have a full-time job," Honeycutt said.

Honeycutt works part time at the library, helps the Tiger jumpers and spoke to kids at Holy Family Elementary School, where Haas teaches.

As well, Honeycutt talks often about following your dreams -- no matter what area of life, no matter what obstacles one faces.

"He's been great," Haas said.

Honeycutt wants to go into coaching after his career is finished, and soaks up as much information as possible. Honeycutt does have an agent and has talked with Nike, but securing major sponsors, even at 10th in the world, is hard.

At the 2012 London Summer Games, the United States' Will Claye and Christian Taylor won gold and silver, respectively. This year, Taylor has a longer wind-aided jump than Honeycutt.

Claye is currently No. 16 in the world with a non-wind aided 16.63 meter jump. Sometimes, athletes gain entry into big meets not through qualifying (like Honeycutt), but through what they did in the past.

Chris Carter leads the U.S. with a 17.09 meter leap (non-wind aided).

Haas and Weber have worked on several areas, including what Haas called "pelvic neutrality." Honeycutt took off several weeks this spring from competitive jumping to work on improvements, rare for an athlete of his caliber. Haas has sent some videos to LSU's well-known jumps coach Boo Schexnayder of Honeycutt. Weber has honed Honeycutt's form on the runway.

"A mad scientist," Honeycutt said with a smile.

It paid off May 10. In addition to the 16.83 meters jump, Honeycutt also went 16.77 (55-0), and hit 16.61 and 16.57. Last week, Honeycutt was pleased to get 55 feet twice in the same meet with working with Haas and Weber for just a short time. He had moved a little closer to his dream. On Wednesday, he could take another step at FHSU.