Rebecca Dutchak always suspected she had been given the gift of jump, but it wasn’t until she took a leap of faith that she discovered her grace over gravity.
Last weekend in Kelowna, at the 2019 Subway B.C. high school track and field championships, the senior from Victoria’s Claremont Secondary made a most convincing argument that she is one of the most naturally-gifted horizontal jumpers in recent B.C. girls high school history, and not so much based on the distances that she has covered, but because of a most instant level of success despite having never been coached.
For starters, Dutchak won both of her specialty events at the provincial meet, taking the long jump with a leap of 5.55m last Thursday, then a hop, step and jump later, winning the triple jump on Saturday at 11.18m.
But perhaps the most amazing part of story?
Dutchak had never even entered a bona-fide track meet until 2017, when as a Grade 10 she finally realized that there was a junior section to the B.C. high school meet in which she would be able to compete.
Without having ever been coached, she qualified for the junior portion of that 2017 B.C. high school championship meet and proceeded to win gold medals in both the long jump (5.26m) and the triple jump (11.23m).
“The impact of what I was able to accomplish that season was huge for me,” said Dutchak, 17, whose high-ceiling story will get a chance to grow in a much more training-immersive environment next season in Vancouver when she joins the NAIA national champion UBC Thunderbirds.
“I just felt so motivated,” she continued. “If I could go that far without any training and be tops in the province? It felt really good.”
Dutchak has been training locally in the provincial capital with Athletics Victoria the past two years, an environment she has really appreciated in terms of preparing her ready for the next level.
“It’s been perfect for me because it’s been a great atmosphere,” she says. “Practise has been more about doing a lot of drills than the really technical stuff. They just told me to stick with what I was doing. They really haven’t switched up my technique.”
And that remains the single most enticing part of her story: Her untapped potential.
Dutchak remembers being floored when UBC head coach Laurier Primeau approached her at the 2018 B.C. high school meet and asked her if being a university jumper was something she had pondered.
Primeau, aware of just how raw yet naturally-gifted Dutchak was, perfectly characterized her accomplishments as an absolute neophyte 10th-grader thusly: “She would have been competing against athletes who were training in her events eight-to-10 months of the year, and she was beating them with just her natural talent…and a maybe a few weeks on the sand-pit next to the soccer pitch. It just speaks to her talent.”
In what you could characterize as virtually overnight, she went from having never competed in a meet as a 10th grader in the spring of 2017, to a setting new personal bests by finishing fifth in the long jump (5.71m) and fourth in the triple jump (11.64m) as a member of the B.C. team at the Under-20 Canadian National Championships last July in Ottawa.
Her long jump result had her ranked No. 2 in Canada in the Under-18 division.
“She can definitely be an elite jumper at the university level and beyond, but it’s up to her how she manages all of her courses and how much passion she has for her sport,” says Byron Jack, who co-coaches UBC’s horizontal jumpers with Elena Voloshin. “And it’s not just about her four years at university. I think the sky is the limit for her, if that is what she wants to do.”
BALANCE OVER BURN-OUT
Although Rebecca Dutchak scaled back from playing blue-chip soccer for the first time in her competitive life this past year, and had recently given up playing high school basketball, there is no doubting that her emergence as an overall athlete was enhanced by her multi-sport upbringing.
And while her jumping career has logically become the centre of it all, her reasons for focusing largely on one sport over her senior year of high school were as much based on hitting the academic standards she had set for herself as a budding UBC human kinetics major with an eye towards one day studying dentistry.
Bottom line: She loves every aspect of her sporting life, but she has always maintained a healthy curiosity for the big picture as well.
It’s one of balance over burn-out, and it has her ready to flourish on one of the nation’s top post-secondary campuses.
“I started playing soccer when I was four, so it has always been a part of my life,”says Dutchak, a forward type who was skilled enough that she quickly advanced to the top of the heap upon moving from Newmarket, Ont., to her current home in the provincial capital prior to the start of her Grade 7 (2013-14) year.
“In Grade 8, I was a part of the (HPL’s) Vancouver Island Wave team,” she says “It was a lot commitment. There was travel to Vancouver every weekend and while I wanted to play at that level, I didn’t want to do all of that travel.”
Instead, she elected played in the Vancouver Island Premier League, while each year doing what she had done since third grade back in Ontario.
“I always signed up for long jump,” she says of the elementary and later middle-school meets. “I was good at it and people would always tell me I was. But I never trained. I just did three jumps a year.”
IT’S TEAM ABOVE ALL ELSE
Each spring, seemingly without fail, B.C. School Sports’ three-championship weekend, that chaotic concurrence of rugby, track-and-field, and soccer provincials, reveals those special multi-sport athletes who settle for nothing less than every last bit of their high school sports experience
You’re probably not surprised that Rebecca Dutchak, who had stepped away from club soccer but not from her own high school team, was one of those special student-athletes.
Her planner had long-since pencilled in the track and field provincials from May 30-June 1 in Kelowna.
It didn’t include, however, the B.C. AAA girls high school soccer championships May 29-31 at Surrey’s Cloverdale Athletic Park.
Claremont had initially been eliminated from soccer provincials after failing to grab one of the Vancouver Island zone’s two available B.C. tourney berths.
Yet when Cranbrook’s Mt. Baker Secondary, an automatic qualifier from the Kootenays zone, elected to forfeit its berth, Dutchak immediately realized the potential pickle she could be in.
And when her Spartans beat rival Reynolds Secondary to claim the 16th and final berth to the B.C.’s, she had a touch choice to make.
“I was committed to my soccer team, so I came over with everyone by ferry on Tuesday night, and played the first two games with them on Wednesday,” says Dutchak, whose Spartans wound up losing 2-0 to Richmond’s R.A. McMath Wildcats and then 1-0 to North Vancouver’s Handsworth Royals.
“Then, on Thursday morning I flew up to Kelowna to compete in the long jump.”
Interestingly enough, Claremont’s track and field contingent was small enough this year that it didn’t have a coach.
Instead, a small contingent of athletes from the Saanich-area schools of Claremont, Stelly’s, Parkland and South Island Distance Education all travelled to the championships under the supervision of Colleen McNamee who coaches at Parkland.
“I met her at the airport in Kelowna with my two Parkland distance runners, we rented a car, drove to the hotel and then got to the meet,” begins McNamee. “But because I had a Stelly’s girl throwing the discus we need to get there by 2 p.m. The long jump wasn’t supposed to start until 5:15 but it got delayed until 6:30, then we realized that Rebecca was in the second flight of jumpers. She didn’t make her first jump at 7:30 p.m.”
Let’s see, two soccer games in blazing heat on Wednesday in Surrey, followed by a Thursday morning flight to Kelowna, followed by a five-and-a-half hour wait in the stadium.
As McNamee remembers: “I bought (Dutchak) a Gatorade, and she had an apple and a Clif bar. The whole time she never complained. She just wanted to know how her soccer team did. And besides, the two of us where just obsessed with the Raptors (NBA finals opening) game.”
Turns out Toronto won, and then so too did Dutchak.
It was all a part of her final memorable weekend of high school sports.
She of course would go on to win the triple jump two days later as the meet wrapped up on Saturday.
Yet for McNamee, the true essence of the double-gold jumper was revealed during her off-day Friday.
“She had no event, and I was volunteering at the boys javelin,” McNamee said. “I told her to sleep in, but she said she was coming.”
So while McNamee officiated the event, Dutchak went into the field, pulling the tape measure and retrieving the javelins.
“She just that type of person,” says McNamee.
It’s one the Thunderbirds can’t wait to welcome.
“I like being around the track,” Dutchak says. “Volunteers were needed. People have helped me so much, I just wanted to give back. Plus, I learned a lot about the javelin.”
And while’s she is not likely ready to add throws to her repertoire, she is set to test the ceiling of her potential as a jumper.
“The fact that she has that soccer background, and last year (at high school provincials), showed her speed by making the 200m (B.C. high school) finals, all of that makes it so interesting to think what she might be able to do,” says Jack.
Adds Primeau: “When I am recruiting, I am looking for one of two things: Athletes who are so good that if they never got better would still score for us at the NAIA (national championships), and people who are new to the sport and incredibly successful despite how raw they really are.
“Rebecca is relatively new to this and she is such a lovely person,” adds Primeau. “She just fits the culture of our team, and she has not come close to tapping her talent.”
Put it all together, and the you might say that the best way to describe Rebecca Dutchak is to say that she is just now getting ready to jump off the charts.
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