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DeGrilla set for last push to reach goals

There comes a critical point in a lot of athletes' careers where they arrive at a make-or-break junction and have to face the possible realisation of stepping away from their dream, without fulfilling their potential.

That is very much the prospect facing long jumper Bruce DeGrilla, who, having returned to Bermuda from university in the United States, had come to terms with quitting athletics before being convinced to spend one more year competing in an attempt to reach both the Pan Am Games and the World Championships to help vindicate his about-turn.

“I had come to terms with my decision to quit athletics,” DeGrilla said. “For me, this is make or break. If I don't make something of this year, then I'm done with track and field.”

DeGrilla's promise was obvious from an early age, and after breaking numerous middle school records, he was included in the Bermuda squad at 13 to compete at the Carifta Games.

A chance introduction to overseas coaches led to a pathway being opened to the US at the Central Arizona College, an opportunity that DeGrilla still has mixed memories about.

“I was offered the chance to go to Arizona and I thought I would give it a go because it was a chance to travel away from Bermuda and experience something new,” the former CedarBridge Academy pupil said.

“It was challenging at Arizona because, after a short while, we didn't really have proper coaching. We had a high jump coach, but no dedicated long jump coach, which wasn't ideal.

“However, while I was there, a coach from Tennessee noticed me and so after I finished in Arizona, I moved to the University of Tennessee.”

That would be the moment that DeGrilla's potential started to be nurtured under the guidance of Berry Shumpert, a coach whom the Bermudian athlete still considers a father figure and credits with transforming his performances and mental strength.

“It was an amazing experience and I loved everything about the university,” DeGrilla said. “Once I moved to Tennessee, everything just took off — my speed improved, my jumps got better and everything just came together.

“I learnt a lot about the importance of a strong mentality and that some of the biggest challenges are mental ones.

“The coach at Tennessee, was firm and strict, but I needed that at that time to improve. The pre-season workout in Tennessee was very different and they worked a lot on the mental side of sport. That really helped change my mindset to one where I believed I could do a lot more, rather than having doubts.”

However, for all the positives, there was also hard times for DeGrilla in his final year in Tennessee, including injuries and a disappointing display at the 2017 Summer Universiade in Tapei at the Taipei Municipal Stadium, while competing for Bermuda.

“I managed to go to Taipei with Bermuda, but I didn't perform very well at all and that was hard to take,” DeGrilla added. “It was a different track to what I was used to and I couldn't get my run-ups worked out properly.

“I also had hamstring issues, which Tennessee helped me out with, but then I went and ripped my hamstring, but didn't know at the time.

“I continued to train hard until a trainer noticed bruising on my calf. That put me out for three weeks and I had to go through rehabilitation with the coaches. I was treated twice a day and then by the time I fully recovered, the season was over.”

Having finished university, DeGrilla was forced to step away from the comfort of university support and the presence of Shumpert and face the reality of returning to Bermuda and the uncertainty of what to do next.

“I was seriously thinking of stopping altogether after returning,” he said. “In Bermuda, it is really hard to stay in track and field compared to being overseas.”

With that lack of previous structure and guidance, the 24-year-old had come to terms with his own mental fragilities once again and the possibility of walking away from athletics. That was until a chat with former coach Bill Euler convinced him otherwise.

“Bill Euler got in touch to see what I was up to and I told him I was considering giving up, but he convinced me to give it one more chance,” he said.

“Because I had come to terms with quitting, it has been hard to get back into the rhythm of training and competing again, both physically and mentally.

“I have to get in the mindset that I'm competing to get myself right mentally. I have to fight myself to go to training and have to remind myself every day why I'm doing what I'm doing.

“I feel like I'm almost fully committed to athletics again but there's still that fight to get over the mental toughness.

“Right now, it feels a little lonely because any local athletes whose level I am close to are training overseas. Is it just a few of us here and they don't do my event.

“I feel like it would be possible for more to be done domestically, but our facilities need to improve a lot.

“Bill has played a massive role in motivating me again. His energy is infectious.

“He loves track and field and analyses every aspect of it, including how to improve the smallest details.”

“Bill has a very similar mentality to that of Berry Shumpert and it is great to have that again. I definitely respond better to that sort of support.”

DeGrilla has set his sights on competing at the Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru, in July and the IAAF World Championships, starting in September in Doha, Qatar.

“I need to jump 25 feet and 26 feet respectively to qualify, which I have done before, so I'm hopeful,” said DeGrilla, who works full time at Aries Sports Centre.

“We're trying to find some overseas events to enable me to go and jump that qualifying distance, but I also need that funding to be able to go away and do it.

“I've done one meet since returning to Bermuda, in Alabama, and it was hard, but I enjoyed it. I ended up winning, but I only jumped 23 feet, which is good for some, but I have really high expectations of myself.

“In my eyes 26 feet should be my target. I've been doing some jumps which have been analysed and I should be jumping close to 27 feet.

“However, there is still that mental battle with me trying to reach that bigger distance.

“Competing at the Pan Am Games and the World Championships would be huge for me after being on the verge of quitting; it would be a sense of justification for deciding to continue.”

Career crossroads: Bruce DeGrilla came close to quitting the long jump after finishing at the University of Tennessee and returning to Bermuda. The 24-year-old is hoping to qualify for the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, in the summer and the IAAF World Championships in Doha, Qatar, in September (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published January 23, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated January 22, 2019 at 9:38 pm)

DeGrilla set for last push to reach goals

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