When Evan Jager was 12 years old, his father made a bet with him.
Joel Jager could tell his son had a gift as a runner and challenged him to run a mile — which Evan then did in 6 minutes and 12 seconds. Wanting to push him to a faster time, Joel Jager asked Evan how fast he thought he could one day run the mile.
Evan Jager set that goal at five minutes. And his dad said once he did that he would buy him a mustang.
“I have no recollection of why I said five minutes,” said Evan Jager in a recent interview with Algonquin-Lake in the Hills Patch. “But I just told him I could. Part of the reason why I said five minutes, I guess, was because I have always been someone to set the bar extraordinarily high for myself.”
By the end of 8th grade, Evan Jager had a mustang sitting in his driveway.
And several years later, Jager, a 2007 graduate of H.D. Jacobs High School in Algonquin, is prepping for his next big challenge: A trip to the 2012 summer Olympics in London where he will compete in the 3,000-meter steeplechase race.
Having ran the steeplechase competitively only four times, Evan Jager still is a newcomer to the race. However, that didn’t hinder his performance in the final Olympic trials last month when he finished first and beat his own personal record with a time of 8:17.40.
“The biggest thing for me was crossing the finish line and knowing that I had made the Olympic team,” Jager said. “It was an extraordinarily exciting time to achieve a dream that big, and crossing the line in first as the Olympic trials champion was another awesome feeling.”
Joel Jager knew that when he saw his son’s face at the bell lap that he was feeling strong.
“I have gotten use to recognizing if he is fatigued, tired or stressed, but he was totally comfortable,” Joel Jager said. “I was pretty convinced at that point that he was going to win that one.”
Love For Running Starts at Young Age
Running always has been a natural fit for Evan Jager. When Evan was 4 years old, Joel Jager knew his son liked to run.
“He was energetic and never stopped (running),” Joel Jager said. “We signed him up for soccer when he was five so he had something that he could be active in and get the energy out of his system.”
Evan Jager played soccer until high school, but he took the opportunity to join track and cross country at Westfield Middle School as soon as he could in 7th grade.
“I was always told by my parents and coaches that I looked like I could run forever,” Evan Jager said.
When entering high school, Evan Jager had a difficult choice to make. He had to choose whether to continue with soccer or cross-country since he could not participate in both at the same time.
“We had the conversation with him about his choice, and we said to him, ‘You are going to be a good soccer player, but you will be a great runner,’” Joel Jager said.
With that, Evan Jager quit soccer to focus on track and cross-country. As a freshman on the varsity cross-country team, he was already the number one runner.
“My coaches always instilled in me that I could achieve more, which helped to keep me really motivated to try and to do my best, and work hard to achieve these great things,” Evan Jager said. “The practices were always fun, and showing up each day was easy because I could work hard, while enjoying it.”
Jacobs High School cross-country coach Kevin Christian said Evan Jager was not only a great athlete, but a great teammate as well. Evan Jager gave up running solo while at state, to run in the 4-by-800-meter relay with his teammates instead.
“Not many teammates would risk winning the double at state to help out a relay in that situation,” Christian wrote in an e-mail. “Not many people would have picked that relay to win state going in, even with him on it, but he still chose the relay over his individual races.”
Evan Jager and his team ended up winning that relay, along with setting the state track meet record with a time of 7:40.02.
“That really was the proudest I have been of him at that one moment in time,” Joel Jager said. “He was so selfless because he wanted to share that moment with the other guys instead of just being another one-guy act.”
Evan Jager went on later that day to win the 1600-meter race, with a time of 4:11. As a senior, he won the state cross-country meet, along with the 3200-meter race in 8:52 in a “very competitive field on an extremely hot day,” Christian said.
High School and Beyond: Jager Gets Past Injury
After high school, Evan Jager attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a freshman, but he soon left to have a professional career with Nike in Portland, Oreg.
An injury to Evan Jager’s foot was a huge setback for his career, he said. He took six months off to allow for recovery from surgery that repaired the broken navicular bone in his right foot.
“It was a hard time mentally and emotionally for me to see all of my teammates racing and training in that time period,” he said. “It was hard to sit on the sidelines while they all got in shape.”
Once recovered, Evan Jager decided to ask his coach, Jerry Schumacher, if he could try out the steeplechase run.
“It had always been an event I was interested in,” Evan Jager said. “I thought if I tried it out, I could probably have success, and I could excel in it.”
Although Evan Jager never hurdled before, coach Schumacher agreed to help Evan train for the steeplechase. Training began this past fall. He ran his first steeplechase race in April.
“It came very naturally to me and it just felt right,” Evan Jager said.
Despite taking a fall on the water jump in his next race on May 18, Evan Jager still finished fourth with a time of 8:20.90, which met the “A” qualifying standard for the Olympics.
Now that Evan Jager has secured his spot in London, his training leading up to the race will not be too taxing. The summer Olympics in London will be held from July 28 through Aug. 12.
“We just are making sure I am staying on the track and keeping my muscles in that firing memory, so they stay in touch with that high speed for the race,” he said. “At this point in the game, the hay is in the barn and most of the real work is done. It is mostly maintenance from here on out.”
Evan Jager follows the same pre-race routine these days. He takes a short, 15-minute jog at a slow pace and then runs some drills and stretches to loosen his muscles. Next, he grabs a Starbucks coffee and a sandwich from Subway for energy. And then he listens to music to get in the zone.
Evan Jager will run one more race in Monaco on Friday to get “more practice with international runners,” Joel Jager said.
“He is just excited as he can be to get on with it, and compete against the world,” Joel Jager said.