Mother knows best. Just ask BYU high jumper Zachary Blackham, whose mother suggested he participate in track and field to stay busy during his free time while in junior high.
Now a junior at BYU, Blackham is ranked No. 7 in the NCAA in the high jump and holds a personal best of 2.21 meters (7-feet-3-inches) in the event.
When asked how he got into jumping, Blackham smiled.
“That’s actually kind of a funny story,” he said.
And it really is.
On the day of his very first junior high track meet, one of Blackham’s coaches approached him to inform him that he had signed Blackham up for the high jump.
Blackham had never jumped before, but agreed to participate and quickly got some pointers from another jumper on the team.
He cleared the first height of the day, but that apparently wasn’t good enough.
“I got disqualified for jumping off two feet,” Blackham said. “You’re only supposed to go off one.”
Despite the miscue, Blackham decided that he’d continue jumping because he enjoyed it.
Years later, it certainly appears to be a good decision.
Following junior high, Blackham attended Orem High School, where he was an All-State athlete for three straight years, a two-time state 4A Champion and set the record for high jump at his school – a record he still holds today.
But even with all of his success, coming to BYU was not an easy transition for Blackham.
“Freshman year was really hard,” Blackham said. “You go from being the top dog to the bottom of the food chain. I struggled (with that) a lot.”
After completing his freshman year, Blackham left for Los Angeles on an LDS mission where he learned to speak Spanish fluently.
Blackham said returning from his mission was a much easier transition for him than it was actually coming to college out of high school.
“I ended up breaking my personal record and after that, I wasn’t as worried about other people and just had fun with it,” Blackham said. “That’s when I do (well).”
From there, Blackham progressed even more in his jumping.
In March, he took third overall at the NCAA Indoor Championships with a height of 2.18 meters (7-feet-1.75-inches) and recently qualified for regionals with his outdoor jumping mark.
Blackham credits his coaches and teammates for a lot of his success.
“Coach (Robison) is the most motivating and optimistic guy that I’ve met,” Blackham said. “He’s just amazing. He’s never degrading or negative. He never says, ‘You did this poorly.’ He helps make it not a big deal.”
Robison had good things to say about Blackham in return, praising Blackham for how he’s “worked extremely hard” and “put himself in the right place.”
Fellow jumper Sam Rockwood said Blackham, the captain of the men’s jump team, is a great leader.
“He leads by example,” Rockwood said. “He’s always an optimistic person and he looks on the bright side whether he clears a high height or a low height. He’s always a happy guy and he encourages others to do the same.”
Blackham will compete at regionals in Lawrence, Kansas May 26-28, where he will compete for a spot at nationals.
Blackham said he just needs to keep working on some things in preparation, but is feeling confident.
“Go in mentally strong and have fun with it,” Blackham said. “And I should do well.”