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.
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.
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.’”
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.”
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.
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.
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.”