Looking for someone who can help lead him to the 2016 Olympic games, 26-year-old RJ McGinnis recently moved to Arizona to receive one-on-one coaching from Sheldon Blockburger, once a top U.S. decathlete and currently an assistant track and field coach at the University of Arizona.
Training for the Olympics is no small goal. It requires that every detail of the day be specifically mapped out so that the athlete can train to the best of his or her ability. It takes discipline, self-control and self-motivation. No one can make you train – an athlete must push through the mental barriers of “I give up” or “I can’t do this.” It requires sacrifice – a word McGinnis, an Oro Valley resident, became familiar with from an early age.
McGinnis competed in football and track and field through all four years of high school. After high school, McGinnis attended St. Cloud State University where he walked-on the football team and red-shirted for the first year.
One of his football teammates was a decathlete and told McGinnis that he should try it out. McGinnis decided to quit football and went out for track – it proved to be worth his while, as he took second at the national decathlon that year.
“You are naturally not good at everything so there was a lot of room to improve and I wanted to embrace that challenge,” said McGinnis in choosing to compete in a decathlon. “Having success right away helped me continue training and continue down that path.”
The decathlon is an outdoor sport that consists of 10 track and field events that are divided into two days. The first day, athletes compete in the 100 meters, long jump, shot put, high jump and 400 meters. The following day they compete in 110-meter hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, javelin throw and 1500 meters.
Each event has different benchmark levels needed to earn 700, 800, 900, or 1000 points. American Ashton Eaton holds the record for the highest score of 9,039 points from the 2012 United States Olympic Trials. McGinnis’ highest score is 7,626.
McGinnis’ next three years of college were spent at Minnesota State University in Twin Cities. While there, he improved exponentially as he reined in multiple accolades, such as, Three-time Big Ten Champion, NCAA Division-I Track and Field All-American, Drake Relays Decathlon Champion, U.S. Championships Qualifier and Four-time NCAA Division-I National Qualifier.
A week before graduation day McGinnis competed in the Big Ten Championship and then on May 15 he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in sports management. One week later he got married to his wife, Andrea, and the first weekend of June competed at nationals.
“It was a whirlwind of events,” said McGinnis. “After nationals I stopped training but then we moved to Texas. We had lived in Minnesota our entire lives so that was a big adjustment for us.”
They moved to Texas so McGinnis could be a part of Teach For America, a non-profit organization that focuses on developing teaching skills. He stayed for only three months until deciding to move back to Minnesota for school where he finished with a Master’s degree in physical education in 2012. It was during all these transitions that McGinnis started to realize he missed being in competitive athletics. He decided to start training again, with an even bigger goal in mind – the 2016 Olympics.
“My wife would ask me consistently ‘what is missing from your training that you need?’ It came down to needing elite level coaching,” said McGinnis. “Looked up online some coaches and found Sheldon Blockburger from the U of A.”
In March, McGinnis met with Blockburger and decided that his coaching and the city was a good fit for him and his wife. Since the move, McGinnis has been training on his own. He works out seven days a week which includes three days of lifting, a few days of cardio training and recovery – whether that be stretching, a massage or rolling out. His workouts last for about four hours each day. With such a high goal it is easy for an athlete to solely just focus on training, but it’s good to balance life with other things, according to McGinnis.
“Constant evaluation is what’s helped me keep my priorities straight. My faith helps me view athletics in a different light too – athletics are not my life or the core of what makes me happy,” said McGinnis. “That gives me the freedom to compete and regardless of the results to be okay with it.”
Although competing in the 2016 Olympics is his primary goal, it’s the journey to the games that McGinnis most looks forward to.
“Obviously there’s a desire to make the U.S. Olympic team and that’s motivating, but I see a lot of value in all the steps of the process of getting there,” said McGinnis. “The medal is one thing to have but the process, experience and relationships along the way to me or more important than that. It’s the process of that experience that keeps me going and will keep me going each day.”
McGinnis will begin training with the U of A track and field team this month.