Drew Nealey competed in his first decathlon on June 20. Five weeks later, the versatile athlete from Northport is an All-American in the event.
Nealey proved a quick study in the decathlon, posting seven top-10 finishes to place fourth in the men’s ages 17-18 division at the USATF National Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships held recently at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.
The 18-year-old Nealey scored 6,283 points, 491 points behind winner Christian Friis (6,774) in the 28-man field.
“It was a pretty cool feeling,” he said of his performance.
“In a lot of meets, if you don’t do well in one event, you’re done. In decathlon, if you don’t do well in an event, you kind of have to shut it out of your mind,” said the Belfast High School senior.
Nealey, who has swept the Class B indoor and outdoor titles in the pole vault each of the last two years, showed that he boasts plenty of other athletic skills.
The decathlon includes the 100 meters, long jump, shot put, high jump and 400 meters on the first day, followed by the 100 hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and 1,500 on the second day.
“I’ve always been really interested in the idea of doing a decathlon,” said Nealey, who debuted in the event at the USATF Maine Junior Olympics held in Scarborough and scored 5,657 points.
He fell short of his goal of 6,000 points, but that only made him more determined for his appearance less than three weeks later at the Region 1 championships in Fitchburg, Massachusetts.
“I probably spent up to three hours a day on a lot of days, working on all the events,” said Nealey, who had to finish first or second to qualify for the nationals.
He excelled, posting personal bests in seven of the 10 events.
Nealey has leaned heavily on his father, Dale Nealey, for instruction in some of the events. The elder Nealey was a standout pole vaulter at the University of Maine in the 1980s and is the track and field coach at Belfast High.
“Definitely my dad’s been the main person that has taught me the different events,” said Drew Nealey, whose mother, Jo-Ann (Choiniere) Nealey, was a star distance runner at UMaine and coaches Belfast’s cross country squad.
He had limited experience in the 100 meters, shot put, 400, 1,500 and long jump coming into the summer. Thus, working on the various techniques to become proficient in all 10 events has been a challenge.
“The 100 is so technical and I’ve thrown discus in the past but I haven’t done a lot of shot-puting,” he said.
Drew Nealey said the shot put is a struggle for him (at 6-foot-2, 165 pounds) and most of the other decathletes.
“I’ve gained a lot of respect for throwers. There’s so much technique that goes into it,” he added.
Nealey flew to Jacksonville during the last week of July, accompanied by Scarborough High School decathlete Sam Rusak and his father, George. Dale and Jo-Ann Nealey drove to Florida with the vaulting poles.
Sam Rusak also achieved All-America status, finishing eighth in the ages 15-16 division.
In addition to his lack of decathlon experience, Drew Nealey also had to deal with the brutally hot weather. The “real feel” was 110 degrees.
“We have to get at least a half-hour from the end of one event to the beginning of the next,” he said of the meet protocol. “The biggest thing is just trying to stay hydrated.”
Nealey finished tied for first in the high jump at 6 feet, 2¾ inches and tied for third in the pole vault at 13-11¼. He capped the meet by placing fifth in the 1,500 meters (4 minutes, 40.82 seconds).
“I was nervous about the 1,500, but I did pretty well with it,” said Nealey, who had run it only once previously.
He took seventh in the javelin (138-4), eighth in the discus (112-2) and shot put (39-1¼) and 10th in the long jump (19-6¼). He wound up 15th in the 400, 16th in the 110 hurdles and 18th in the 100.
Nealey will soon turn his attention to playing quarterback for the Belfast football team, but he is looking forward to pursuing the decathlon.
“I’m really excited to train for it a little bit more next year, and hopefully I’ll do even better for New Balance [outdoor] nationals,” he said.