NORMAN – Landon Sharp thought his track career was finished.
During the Big 12 Track and Field Championships at Baylor University in Waco, Texas this past May, Sharp felt some tightness in his left Achilles.
“I was doing some warm up approaches and my Achilles just really started hurting,” Sharp said. “But I didn’t want to stop so I kept going.”
A few minutes later, on his first attempt of the meet, Sharp’s leg gave out and the Achilles tendon in his take off leg tore.
“I knew what happened as soon as it happened,” he said. “When it snaps all that pressure is released and the tendon shoots up into your calf muscle.”
The University of Oklahoma high jumper crumpled to the ground in pain. For minutes and maybe hours afterwards, Sharp worried his career at OU might be over.
But trainers, friends and his family assured him he would come back from the injury. A week after the Big 12 Championships, Sharp had surgery to repair his injured tendon and the rehabilitation process began.
“The surgery went great and the couple weeks of down time after it went well, too,” he said.
Now two months removed from the surgery, Sharp says he’s ahead of schedule and that he’s regaining strength in his Achilles. He’s back to lifting weights now and squat lifted for the first time since the injury last week.
“He has worked really hard on his rehab,” OU’s head athletic trainer for track and field, Anita Clark said. “He’s followed directions very well, which is sometimes half the battle.”
Clark says Sharp has already accomplished the difficult task of regaining flexibility in his Achilles. Now, the next step will be regaining the muscle lost in his legs during rehab.
“He’s getting back into that now,” she said. “He’s riding the stationary bike, he can lift weights and he’s doing a lot of rehab exercises.”
Teammate, roommate and friend, OU shotput athlete Austin Perry was there the first day Sharp started lifting again, and has been with his friend throughout the entire process from the time the injury occurred.
“I told him from the very beginning that you’re either going to let this define you or you can define it,” Perry said.
If things continue to stay on schedule, Sharp will be cleared to jog in August and can begin jumping again in late November.
When he does return to the team, he’ll do so under the leadership of a new coach. Former head coach Martin Smith left to take the same position at Iowa State and has been replaced by Texas A&M head track and field coach Jim VanHootegem. Sharp says he has followed the A&M program from afar and has always been impressed with the program’s high jumpers.
“The new coach is actually a jumps and multi coach. His jumpers have always been pretty good,” he said. “I think I’ll be working with him a lot personally so I’m excited about that.”
Before his injury, the 6-foot-7, 180-pound junior’s career was beginning to blossom. He placed eighth and received All-Big 12 honors in the high jump with a 6-8.00 clearance at the Big 12 Indoor Championships in the fall after he cleared 6-8 in the high jump at the J.D. Martin Invitational, to win the event to begin his junior season.
“I’ve had an awesome time down there,” he said of his time in Norman. “I joined the O-Club recently and got my letterman’s jacket. That’s probably my greatest achievement so far.”
As a basketball and track star for Piedmont, Sharp drew interest from several small colleges in the area during his senior season. But the two-time state Class 4A state runner-up in the high jump says he knew OU was the place from him during his first recruiting visit to the campus.
“I went on a tour down there and loved it,” he recalled. “Once I saw everything and met the coaches I knew that it was exactly where I wanted to go.”
Admittedly, the jump from high school to college competition was one that took Sharp some time to make.
“In high school I was used to being the best. Then I got to college and realized I was just pretty average,” he said.
His welcome included a chance to jump against Kansas State University high jumper Erik Kynard. A silver medalist in the 2012 Summer Olympics, Kynard’s ability left Sharp in awe.
“Jumping against him really blew my mind,” he said. “He was up there jumping like 7-7, which I just thought was crazy.”
When Sharp arrived at OU his personal best in the high jump was 6-10. During his junior season he jumped that consistently and improved his personal record to more than 6-11, which is an inch short of Sharp’s goal.
“Seven foot is what every good high jumper wants to get,” he said. “I was about to get it, but ended up injuring myself.”
His pursuit of the elusive height is part of what has driven his recovery. When he’ll get his next chance to go after a new personal record is up in the air. With a redshirt season still available, Sharp could choose to sit out the entire 2013-2014 season. Or, he could choose to redshirt for only the fall season, compete in the spring and then again in the fall of 2014. He says he hasn’t made a decision, but wants to be 100 percent healthy and confident in his leg when he does return.
“Even if I have to redshirt the whole year next year I’d be OK with it,” he said. “Then I could train through it, get more confidence and be completely ready by the next season.”
The memory of the day he was injured still flashes through his memory from time to time, Sharp admits. But he isn’t afraid to go back to Waco, in fact, he wants to jump there again.
“I think it’d be good to jump there again,” he said. “Just so it’s not my last memory of Baylor and the Big 12 Championships.”