Recently graduated senior Andrew Colbert of Penn men's track and field has had a unique journey to reach the pinnacle of his sport, and to get there, he focuses on himself and trusts that his training will get him where he should be.
The Freehold, N.J. native was a decathlete during his time with the Quakers, but he was actually primarily recruited for high jumping prior to his collegiate career. After dabbling in many sports like lacrosse, basketball, wrestling, and soccer when he was young, he decided to primarily pursue track and field for two simple reasons: he loved running, and he was good at it.
However, he wasn’t opposed to exploring different events across track and field. In his sophomore year of high school, he tried pole vaulting just because it looked cool. Soon after, with his coaches’ encouragement, he started to compete in the 400 meter, 4x400m relay, and javelin events. Before he knew it, by his junior year, he was practically doing every single event.
After noticing his versatility, Colbert decided to pursue decathlons — a ten-event contest that consists of a 100m dash, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400m, 110m hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, and 1500m race — and other variations, such as the pentathlon (five events) or heptathlon (seven).
When recalling his first season with the Quakers, Colbert was honest about a not-so-great freshman campaign and how far he has come since then.
“I was the outcast [during freshman year], especially being one of the last recruits for my class," he said. "I wasn't good. I came in with an injury, and in workouts I wasn’t keeping up with the other athletes. Out of the whole season, I competed in like two meets towards the end, but I didn't start out strong at all. I’ve come a long way since then.”
Colbert’s most significant success came at the Indoor Ivy League Heptagonal Championships, where he finished runner-up in the heptathlon. The senior credited his success to the countless hours spent practicing and the support from his coaches and an unexpected mentor in Frank Harrison — a Wharton and Penn men’s track and field alumnus.
Harrison — a former decathlete and Olympic Decathlon trials competitor — is known to be a long-time supporter of Penn track and field and runs a semi-secret workshop where he frequently helps mentor and train track and field athletes.
“During that week of spring break [in March 2020] where the school canceled all athletics," Colbert said, "that same day, [Harrison] sent out a text to me and a couple other athletes and said that the barn's open, and we're gonna keep training. When everything else in the world was shut down, that place was open. He never charged a penny. He was always there, helping guys train and perfect our technique. I wouldn’t have come halfway close to where I am today without him.”
As Colbert’s athletic career drew to a close with the end of the spring season, he reflected on his journey and how it has taught him to stay focused on himself and his goals, and to trust the process.
“It’'s all about going with the flow," he said. "That's how I grew up with things. I've read a lot of books on the strategy of the decathlon, and it's about taking one event at a time. You do an event. If you do great, you celebrate, and then you move on. If you don't do great, you flush it and you move on … I believe you need to just put your head down, trust the process, and work. You won't notice it in a day, but after weeks, months, and years of doing it, you look back and see how you’ve come a long way.”