Small College Sports

The curious tale of a local decathlete

Ogden column: Former C.R. Kennedy prep Chris Krystofiak takes winding road to national meet

Chris Krystofiak took a winding road to an 11th-place finish in the NJCAA Division I decathlon. (Submitted photo)
Chris Krystofiak took a winding road to an 11th-place finish in the NJCAA Division I decathlon. (Submitted photo)

You never know where you’re going to find a good story. Or when one is going to fall into your lap.

This is a message I share with the high school journalists I work with. All journalist I work with actually.

There are good stories everywhere — on the ball fields, golf courses and roads where foot races are run or cars drive fast. They can be found in school hallways or even in our work places.

The latter is where this story begins. It came courtesy of one of our part-time staff members, Jim Krystofiak. It’s about his son, Chris.

Chris was a four-sport athlete at Cedar Rapids Kennedy. He played football, basketball and baseball and ran track. He was a hurdler and also dabbled in the long jump and high jump. Grand View wanted him on its track team and even talked about Chris becoming a multisport competitor. A decathlete.

“I knew what it was,” he said. “But I never really thought about the decathlon at all.”

He was intrigued enough to train for the heptathlon during the indoor season.

But there was one problem.

“They never trained me for it,” he said.

He eventually soured on Grand View and decided to transfer to Southwestern Community College in Creston. He wanted to play baseball.

“After I left Grand View, I never thought I’d run track again,” he said.

But fate intervened.

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The Southwestern track coach ran into Chris and asked him about joining his team after the fall baseball season. He asked him about becoming a decathlete, or at least a heptathlete during the indoor season. The original plan was to split time between baseball and track in the spring.

Chris, again, was intrigued.

But there were multiple problems.

“We didn’t have our own track,” he said. “We had one shot, two discs and one javelin.”

The decathlon is a 10-event, two-day competition. It consists of the 100-meter dash, long jump, shot put, high jump and 400 dash on the first day, the 110 high hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and 1,500 run on the second. The indoor heptathlon has seven events — 60 dash, long jump, shot put, high jump, 60 hurdles, pole vault and 1,000 run.

Chris wasn’t worried about the running events, but the throwing events and the pole vault were completely foreign to him.

And there was one more problem. A big one.

“We didn’t have a pole to pole vault,” he said. “We’d ask the other schools if we could use their pole.”

And the coaching was lacking, too.

“They did the best they could,” Chris said. “I had to teach myself six or seven of the 10 events.”

He did well enough indoors, finishing fourth in the regional meet and just missing a berth in the NJCAA Division I national meet.

“It really gave me a big surge of confidence,” he said.

He hung up his baseball glove and focused on the decathlon outdoors. He worked on the field events during the spring and put it all together at the regionals, where he finished third, moved into the national rankings at No. 14 and earned a berth in the national meet.

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After a slow start, he turned in personal bests in the high jump and 400 was in ninth place heading into the final day — one spot out of an All-American finish. Going into the second day, he said, he was “feeling great” and “rattled off a huge PR in the 110 hurdles.”

But, he quickly pointed out, “in the decathlon, nothing is ever perfect.”

He was forced to change his discus style and slipped and fell in the ring, injuring his knee.

“I wasn’t able to walk,” he said.

But he refused to quit, even with the pole vault, javelin and 1,500 still ahead.

“All my hopes and dreams were shattered in front of me,” he said. “But the immediate thought was ‘adjustment.’ I had to adjust.”

He hobbled through the final three events, matching his personal best in the pole vault and setting a PR in the 1,500 — by nine seconds.

“It was a really cool moment for me,” he said, adding his knee gave out on him again in the 1,500 and he ran the last several meters on one leg.

He finished 11th in the nation.

“I find more pride in how I finished than being an All-American,” he said.

He’ll move on to Graceland in the fall where he’ll have a pole vault coach, a jump coach and a throwing coach.

“The motivation is going to be higher than ever,” he said.

Chris, who turns 21 on Wednesday, learned a lot this past year — new events, of course, but also about setting goals, about determination, about perseverance.

He learned a lot about himself.

“People talk about what your limits are,” he said. “If people say ‘that’s your limit,’ I want to go above that.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8696; jr.ogden@thegazette.com

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.