March 12, 2010

Glen Rosales, Special to NCAA.com

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Not much more than a year ago, it would have been difficult to envision Jason Stomps holding an NCAA Division II Indoor Track and Field National Championship trophy for the weight throw at the Albuquerque Convention Center.

In November 2008, Stomps of Hillsdale College (Hillsdale, Mich.), was lying in a hospital bed, hooked up to a battery of respirators while fighting a particularly virulent strain of pneumonia.

"He was not on his death bed, but he was not very far off it," said Chargers coach Bill Lundberg. "He had a high fever and there really was some concern."

In all, he ended up spending 17 days in the hospital, most of those in the intensive care unit. His 250-pound body of chiseled muscle used in the throwing events had shrunk by some 40 pounds.

"When he was done, it was hard for him to walk up the stairs even a month after he got out of the hospital," said the Hillsdale throwing coach Jeff Forino.

Despite the travails, Stomps never found himself getting down or doubting himself.

"Not once," Stomps said. "My coach was always pushing me. My family also was always pushing me. The Lord was pushing me and my teammates. We have a little bit of inter-competition between me and (teammate Aaron) Falks. It's always friendly and teammate-supportive. My friends and family were all rooting me on the entire time."

Given all that support, Stomps had his heart set on winning the school's first D II individual championship.

"I knew it was going to be a big struggle, but I wanted to bounce back as fast as possible," he said. "I was working my tail off ever since. I had one goal this year and that was to win a national championship."

He had quite a bit of work to do to get his form back.

"The doctors cleared me just after New Years' '09 and I got back a few days after (indoor) practice had started for the team," Stomps said. "I slowly got back into it, lifting and throwing, just getting back up to speed. My coach has incredible knowledge and experience with the training and he's provided all of that to me. It works, obviously."

On Friday, he accomplished that goal with a winning throw of 70-feet, 8¬Ĺ -inches, representing a personal best.

"I was keeping positive and trying to keep an optimistic view of it," Stomps said of his struggles. "I knew I had a year of eligibility left. I knew I was going to redshirt last year. I just had to work harder than ever to get back and I did."

Stomps spent plenty of time rebuilding his body mass.

"The big thing with him, the weight room was probably his biggest weakness," Forino said. "He wasn't the strongest kid. But he's very technically good."

If anything, the illness bumped up his work ethic, Forino said.

"It's hard to come back, especially when something like that happens," he said. "But I think he felt like something was taken away from him. The work ethic. Some kind of extra work ethic came after that."

Lundberg said he had no doubts that Stomps would get back, even if things looked pretty grim for awhile.

"You never put anything past Jason Stomps," the coach said. "We call him Stompsie. We knew it was going to be awhile before he was going to be Stomping out of the hospital bed. He's been hungry for it. He's had a great career."

As for that trophy that he gripped tightly while being congratulated by his coaches and parents, he already knew what he was going to be doing with it.

"I'll probably put it with the rest of my plaques and trophies at home," Stomps said.

But it will have a special spot of its own.

"It will be in the front," he said with a smile.