DALLAS (BP)–Long jump is definitely an art. Athletes spend hours calculating their steps, adjusting their running stride and fine-tuning their leap. It’s all about precision, strategy and, of course, who can soar over the most sand.
Dallas Baptist University senior Denny Giles has his own strategy when it comes to track and field events. Forget high knee drills, experimental jumping techniques and computer performance analysis. Giles goes for something even more radical. He prefers to, uh, just do it.
Flashback to Giles’ senior year at Artesia High School in Artesia, N.M. Bored and tired of sitting around at the district track meet, Giles asked his coach if he could compete in the long jump. “I just remember not having a clue,” he recalls. “I didn’t even know how many steps to take.”
His first jump? A district record 23’09.50.
“I jumped and when I got out of the pit,” Giles said, “they just looked at me. It was really quiet. Most people clap and they were just standing there.”
That same year he won the state long jump championship — just another accolade to add to the list. If state titles were a source of nutrition, Giles could feed a family of five. He led his baseball team to back-to-back state titles and was an All-South running back on the state championship football team.
Giles excelled in every sport, but baseball was his first love and “complete focus at the time.”
He grew up watching the Chicago Cubs, inspired in part from his grandfather who would hitchhike across the country to follow the team.
Yes, Denny Giles had his life planned out. He was going to play Major League Baseball and, figuring college was an appropriate step en route to the big time, he accepted a scholarship to play for Frank Phillips College in Borger, Texas. He majored in marketing because “I figured I’d be making millions of dollars playing baseball so I needed to learn how to manage it.”
“Honestly, I never planned on finishing my education,” the 24-year-old Giles admitted. “I thought baseball would take me where I wanted to be.”
Giles played baseball for another junior college before transferring to Dallas Baptist University where he planned to complete his baseball eligibility, that is, unless his professional career took off first. In the summer of 1999, Giles played for a minor league team, and things were looking up for the 5-foot-11, 165-pound slugger.
However, last May, when he should have been gearing up for another season in the minors, something felt different.
“I had always prayed, ‘God, the second you say [baseball’s] over, it’s over,” Giles recalls. “When people asked me if I was excited about spring training, I couldn’t say yes. It was gradual, but I just didn’t like baseball anymore.
“So I said, ‘OK, God, my whole life’s dream is down the toilet. Now I have to rely on you.'”
Ten months after quitting baseball cold turkey, Giles was crowned the national high jump champion on March 2 at the NAIA National Indoor Championship.
But his recent track and field victory wasn’t as effortless as the long jump success he enjoyed back in high school.
“My steps had been off the month [before nationals],” Giles said. “I had two sets of steps, and I didn’t like either of them. After I cleared the first height, a [fellow jumper] from Central Oklahoma came up to me and said, ‘You don’t look right. You’re coming in wide.’ He was right. I adjusted my steps. I wasn’t getting enough clearance to go over the bar.”
It worked and Giles had little difficulty advancing until the bar was raised to 6’8″. He missed his first two attempts. “I looked up and said, ‘OK God, I’m tired of doing this on my own.'”
On his last attempt, Giles didn’t jump. He flew. “The height I soared over that bar, it was amazing. I was so free.”
He eventually cleared 6’10” to take the win.
“We are all very excited for Denny,” said DBU head track coach Dan Harvey after the national meet. “He is a great athlete and a fine young Christian man.”
Indeed. From the anguish of giving up a childhood dream to the glory of winning a national championship, Giles has come full circle in the past year.
“God tends to let me jump a little higher than I should.”
(BP) low res photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: DENNY GILES.