All Shelby McEwen needed was a little Faith.
The Alabama high-jumper failed on his first two attempts at last week’s NCAA Indoor Championships in Birmingham and had just one more chance to clear the bar at 7 feet, 6 inches and win a national title.
That’s when McEwen heard the voice of inspiration — from his 7-year-old niece, Faith.
“On my last jump, the crowd got real quiet,” McEwen said. “I could hear my niece. She said, ‘Let’s go, Shelby.’ So she kind of put a spark in me. So when I rocked back and I approached it, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I got it.’”
McEwen cleared the bar and couldn’t contain his excitement.
“I got really emotional,” he said. “It’s been something I’ve been working on since fall training and grinding night in and night out.”
It was a little too early for McEwen to celebrate, though. LSU’s JuVaughn Harrison and Tennessee’s Darryl Sullivan still had one final attempt. Harrison outjumped McEwen a few weeks earlier at the SEC Championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas, clearing 7-5.75 to win the title. McEwen finished third at the SEC meet.
“I was hoping those guys cleared it so we could just keep going,” McEwen said. “Those were some pretty good competitors I was going up against. But when the competition is so tough, you have to come with it meet in and meet out because you never know what somebody is capable of doing that day.”
Sullivan and Harrison failed to clear the bar, and McEwen had his title.
“It was a spectacular performance,” Alabama track and field coach Dan Waters said. “Shelby is always one of the guys on the team that we always talk about his consistency and his ability to jump well. He performed and turned in a great performance and turned it into a championship.”
Not bad for a kid who thought jumping on a basketball court was his future.
McEwen admits basketball was his first love and it was a foregone conclusion that was his ticket to a higher education. Track was just something fun and not a priority.
The 6-foot-3 guard played for two seasons at Northwest Mississippi Community College, just a 45-minute drive from his hometown of Abbeville, Mississippi. After his freshman season, he got the itch to compete in track.
“The school didn’t have a track team so I started jumping unattached,” McEwen said. “I went down to Auburn, I jumped down at Southern Miss, and I had a meet in Alabama.”
Waters was at that Tuscaloosa meet.
“I was standing on the infield and watching him jump, and I was like, ‘Well this guy is pretty special,'” Waters said. “I went to coach (Miguel) Pate and said, ‘Let’s make sure we offer that guy a scholarship.’ Within about three or four days, we had him signed and committed to come over here.”
It has all worked out well for McEwen, but he’s not finished yet. The outdoor season just started, and McEwen has his eye on another title.
“We are going to carry this momentum over into outdoor season and win another national championship,” said McEwen, who was recently put on the watch list for the Bowman Award, track and field’s highest individual honor. “Some major goals for me is to go out and set a new personal record and to qualify for the Olympic Trials.”