Freshman Ryan Thomsen pole vaults at the annual “Tune Up” meet last weekend. (Photo: Evan Carter / Hillsdale Col­legian)

Before com­peting in the Saginaw Valley State Uni­versity Open last December, freshman Ryan Thomsen had never done a hep­tathlon. In a per­for­mance he called “alright,” Thomsen qual­ified for the indoor national cham­pi­onship and broke the Canadian junior record and Hillsdale’s four-year-old school record in the event.

Now, after three months of trying to recover from a muscle strain he sus­tained in December, Thomsen has decided not to compete in the 2017 GLIAC Indoor Track and Field Con­ference Cham­pi­onships this Sat­urday and Sunday in Findlay, Ohio. Thomsen had hoped to win the GLIAC hep­tathlon and went into the event ranked No. 2 in the con­ference.

“I really wanted to compete, but I didn’t want to risk not per­forming at the best of my ability,” Thomsen said. “Espe­cially with us going to the GMAC next year, I’d hoped to get a GLIAC cham­pi­onship under my belt.”

Beyond his freshman indoor and outdoor track seasons, Thomsen is already dreaming about com­peting to win the NCAA Division II decathlon. And while Thomsen’s track and field success may seem sudden to some, it’s some­thing that Thomsen has been working toward for the last four years and plans to con­tinue working toward throughout his col­le­giate career. 

“The great thing about freshman year is that you can put some pretty crazy dreams together and spend your next few years trying to accom­plish them,” Thomsen said.

Growing up, Thomsen played bas­ketball, football, and soccer. According to his dad, Al Thomsen, Ryan was the kid who picked dan­de­lions during soccer games.   

During his freshman year at Calvin Christian High School in Escondido, Cal­i­fornia, Ryan tried cross country in the fall and bas­ketball in the winter. He didn’t enjoy cross country and wasn’t very good at bas­ketball, even though his older brother Tyler had been a bas­ketball star at Calvin Christian.

When the spring rolled around, Ryan decided to try track and field, because his friends were doing it.

“As a freshman in high school, we were just kind of exploring dif­ferent things,” Al Thomsen said. “I didn’t push him into any­thing par­tic­u­larly, I just let him try what he wanted to try.”

Ryan Thomsen quickly dis­covered that he excelled in track, par­tic­u­larly in the jumps, as he com­peted in long jump, triple jump, high jump, and pole vault. He did so well that he advanced to the con­ference final in each event by the end of his freshman track season.

Photo Courtesy Al Thomsen

His success con­tinued into his sophomore year, when coaches asked if he would be inter­ested in trying the decathalon. The decathlon isn’t an official high school event in Cal­i­fornia, so he had to wait until the Cuyamaca Invi­ta­tional in June to compete. Thomsen placed second to the best decathlete in Cal­i­fornia. 

“California’s a very com­pet­itive place, so finding a place where you can actually be decent — and this kid was a big deal, I put up pretty close to him my first time doing it — I thought, ‘Hey, this is some­thing I could actually be pretty good at,’” Thomsen said.

The decathlon is a multi-event com­pe­tition in outdoor track and field, in which ath­letes compete in ten jumping, running, and throwing events over two days. The ath­letes earn dif­ferent amounts of points depending on their per­for­mance in each event, and at the end of the ten events, the athlete with the most points is declared the winner. 

In the NCAA, male ath­letes compete in the decathlon out­doors and a smaller seven-event hep­tathlon during indoor track. Female ath­letes compete in the hep­tathlon out­doors and the shorter five-event pen­tathlon during indoor track.     

Thomsen con­tinued to find success in his indi­vidual track events, going to the Cal­i­fornia Outdoor Track State Meet his senior year in the long jump, pole vault, and 110 meter hurdles — an impressive feat in pop­ulous Cal­i­fornia, where there is only one division for every track and field athlete in the state.

Photo Courtesy Al Thomsen

Still, Thomsen’s real strength was the decathlon, which he con­tinued to compete in during the summers after his junior and senior years of high school. 

The summer after his junior year, he qual­ified to compete in the elite Arcadia Invi­ta­tional, where he was the top Cal­i­fornian decathlete and the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics, where he placed in the top eight and was named All-American.

“That was what cemented decathlon for me, being what I wanted to do, at Arcadia,” Thomsen said. “Up to that point it was just kind of, ‘Hey, I’m kind of good at this, this is fun.’” 

Photo Courtesy Al Thomsen

The next summer, he com­peted at Arcadia and the won the USA Junior Olympics. He also com­peted in the Pan American Junior Cham­pi­onship in Ontario, Canada, which because he is a dual American-Canadian citizen, also counted as the Canadian under-20 World Cham­pi­onship qual­ifier. After college, Thomsen has aspi­ra­tions of com­peting for the Canadian national team in the decathlon.

“I still have time to put in the under-20 record for the U.S., as well as Canada,” Thomsen said.

His brother Jordan, who is a year younger than Ryan, also com­petes in decathlons. 

“We’ve always been close, he and I,” Ryan said. “We always got all the golds and silvers. We even have salty pic­tures of him sulking because I’m standing on the podium with four gold medals and he has four silvers.”

Jordan Thomsen (left) is one grade behind Ryan (right) and often com­peted against him in track and field. Photo Courtesy Al Thomsen

Thomsen had the oppor­tunity to join a number of NCAA Division I track and field teams, including Dart­mouth and Princeton. He even had the oppor­tunity to walk onto the team at the Uni­versity of Oregon, which won the NCAA Division I indoor track and field cham­pi­onships for the last three years and the outdoor track and field cham­pi­onships in 2014 and 2015.

Ryan and his brother Jordan pose with U.S. Olympic Champion in the decathlon Ashton Eaton. Photo Courtesy Al Thomsen

Still, Thomsen chose Hillsdale.

“When we saw that Hillsdale doesn’t accept any kind of federal money, you know all these things were hitting the right buttons for us,” Al Thomsen said. “Ryan, in talking with coach Towne, decided that this was the school for him.”

Ryan not only appre­ciated what Hillsdale stands for, but he also liked that head coach Andrew Towne was so con­sistent in con­tacting him during the recruitment process. 

Since coming to Hillsdale, Towne has been working with Thomsen on improving in all of the decathlon events, focusing on improving Thomsen’s sprinting form.

Evan Carter | Col­legian

Thomsen’s training was delayed for much of the season when he and fellow hep­tathlete junior David Chase both pulled muscles doing a hurdle drill in practice last December. As a result of these injuries, the GLIAC Indoor Cham­pi­onship would have been the first indoor track meet Thomsen had done since last December. 

Still, Thomsen believes he made the right call when he decided not to compete.

“It’s both a let down and a smart decision,” Thomsen said. “I know in the long run it will be smarter for me to have done this.”