David Registe lives the typical life of a student-athlete. On weekdays he goes to practice, goes to class and spends a good part of his day studying in UAA’s Student Union. Between studies he snacks on tortilla chips, messes with his iPod and texts friends before heading home to relax and maybe play a few rounds of “Gears of War” on his XBox.
But on weekends, when he heads out of Anchorage with the rest of UAA’s track and field team, he proceeds to dominate the long jump competition.
At press, Registe is ranked 36th in the world and ninth in the nation, with his jump of 25 feet 10 and three-quarter inches, and second out of all NCAA athletes (only to a Division I athlete). He also holds UAA records in not only the long jump, but the 100 and 200 meter dashes as well.
But doctors thought that at two months of age, last year’s NCAA Division II National Champion in the event would be unable play like other kids or even be strong enough to walk up stairs due to complications at birth.
Today, the only physical reminder of his tumultuous beginning is a four-inch scar that stretches across the right side of his neck. A mark that has no effect on the extraordinary marks he makes on the track and field scoreboards.
He wasn’t breathing when he was born. It was May 2, 1988 and the newborn David had aspirated meconium, fetal stool, in his mother’s womb, preventing his lungs from absorbing the oxygen needed for his survival. Doctors tried to suck it out but were only able to remove small bits at a time. After two days of trying, doctors knew that something different would have to be done if he was going to survive.
Doctors told his parents – Dornis and Martin – that there was a new procedure being developed called ECMO – extracorporeal membrane oxygenation – that might be able to help. But Providence Hospital in Anchorage didn’t offer such a procedure.
ECMO is the last ditch effort of many neonatologists to heal an infants’ lungs. The machine, developed out of the bypass systems used during heart-lung transplants, reroutes blood away from the lungs, filtering out carbon dioxide and oxygenating the blood. This allows the lungs to heal or develop without having to deal with the strain of breathing. Doctors told his parents it was their best option for saving his life.
His parents agreed to fly him to Portland, where doctors paralyzed his body and inserted two tubes into large blood vessels in his neck. He didn’t breathe for week, letting the ECMO machine take over the role his lungs would have naturally played.
He was monitored in the Portland hospital for the next three weeks to be before returning to Alaska and to his family, who had been unable to accompany him. His parents – both immigrants from the Caribbean island of Dominica who came to Alaska in 1976 – had five other children to care for.
In Alaska he was still in critical condition, and would spend another two months in Providence on respirator before being sent home to Palmer.
But before he could come home his parents were asked to take a CPR course, so if they had to resuscitate him, they could.
It was then that doctors told his parents to not expect to him to run around and play like little kids. The damage to his lungs, and possibly his brain, was unknown. The ECMO procedure was still experimental, and the full effects of the newborns’ recovery were still being revealed.
At home he remained on oxygen for another three months. He began to naturally heal, but had to undergo physical therapy, improving stiffness he had developed after being immobile for months.
He also had to undergo speech therapy. His father said that in the doctors’ haste, they had accidentally nicked his vocal cords inserting the ECMO tubes. As a result his voice was raspy and he had a difficult time producing sound.
But despite any worry doctors may have had, his parents realized they were unfounded. His father described an incident when he was attending a meeting at Colony High School, which would later become Registe’s alma mater. He brought 3-year-old David with him, when out of nowhere he took off running down a long hallway, disappearing down some stairs. It was then that his father knew he was going to be just fine.
In the hole
Athletic accomplishments never escaped Registe. Growing up with five older brothers and sisters who were all active in sports, he looked up to them. Basketball was his life, and he started playing it elementary school for the Wasilla Little Dribblers league. He dabbled in track in elementary and middle school, and despite setting records in the 100-meter dash at Cottonwood Elementary School, still considered basketball his passion.
In his days at Colony High School, Registe would spend free time in the gym, practicing his game. It was there that high school track coach Randy Magner saw him dunking and figured he would do well at the long jump.
But Registe needed a little convincing, but with help from Magner and some friends who were on the team, Registe came out for track and field his junior year.
His first few weeks in the jump pit were rough. At his first meet of the season, a small meet between other Mat-Su valley schools, he took fifth. Registe, who had high expectations, was disappointed, and embarrassed.
But he kept working with Magner, focusing on his jumping form while in the air, and started racking up wins.
It cumulated with a jump of 21′ 09.25″ and Alaska state championship to his name. His senior year, he focused on strength and technique and nabbed another state championship, improving his leap to 22′ 04.25′.
It was after his second championship that his father told him that the only way he could afford college was if he got a scholarship. So Registe, who had not been formally recruited by any schools, started sending out e-mails to prospective colleges.
He doesn’t remember how many colleges he contacted but he remembers three specifically. The first was an e-mail back from Michigan State, who told him that they only accept jumpers who could hit a mark of 23′ 4″ a mark Registe didn’t think he could hit.
The second school was the University of Arizona, with the coach actually calling him. He said that he had to have a mark of at least 24 feet, another mark Registe figured was impossible.
But then UAA’s head track and field coach Michael Friess called him with a scholarship offer.
“When two schools say no, and one says yes,” Registe said. “You know what to pick.”
When Registe came to UAA in 2006, the school had no formal track facilities. Friess was working with community members to build an indoor track suitable for the team, but it was still being constructed when Registe joined. His first year of practice was spent on treadmills and rollout tracks laid down on the Wells Fargo Sports Complex floor.
For long jump training, Registe would run down the rollout track and land in a “pit” of foam high jump mats – a far cry the traditional sand pit long jumpers use.
When the jumps team – which consisted of him and only one other female athlete – worked on run throughs, where the athlete works on the running build up before their jump, the coaches would place mats on the wall. Because the gym was not long enough for the team to reach full speed, the mats on the wall helped shield Registe and his teammate from greater impact.
In his first year at UAA, Registe won GNAC but took 12th at the National meet. He missed qualifying the finals by only two centimeters. Looking back at film of his jump Registe said that he had leapt from “behind the board.” In the long jump, competitors are measured from the end of the board to point of landing that is farthest back. Registe said that by jumping from so far back, he had easily cut eight inches off of his jump.
But the next year he came back, and this time, with no gym jumping. The Dome at Changepoint had finally been completed, establishing North America’s first indoor 400-meter track, complete with a true long jump pit. He and jumps coach Rafael Echavarria worked to improve Registe’s strength and long jump technique. Echavarria says that most Alaskan athletes come in with just natural athletic talent. The competitive high school season only lasts a few months, and for many, that’s all the training they ever have. In college it turns into nine months, if not a full year, of daily training.
Registe won the GNAC long jump title, again, and went to nationals ranked third in the event.
Being that close to first gave him the motivation he needed. Other jumpers, all of who towered above the 5′ 10″ Registe, intimidated him. It also didn’t help that after his first jump the meet was postponed due to lightning in the area. He had been taking a nap when they called him back to compete.
He hit the jump he needed, and went into finals ranked second. His first jump was solid, but on his second jump he scratched, but on his third jump –
“I popped it.”
He popped 24′ 8″. But since he was ranked second going into finals, he had to sit on the sideline and watch his competitor try to beat him. Registe said watching him was bad, but not as bad as watching the woman who was updating the scoreboard.
He said it was like slow motion as she put up a two . . . and a four . . . and finally a five. His competitor had landed three inches short. Registe had just won the NCAA Division II national championship.
After the win, his coach told him that he could have dinner anywhere, with money no option. His choice? Denny’s.
“After winning a national championship, you don’t care where you eat,” he said. “You still won nationals.”
He ordered chicken strips and fries.
Due to a sore hamstring, Registe has only been able to jump seven times this season. But of those seven jumps, one has been good enough to land him with a jump good enough to be one of the nation’s – and the world’s – best.
The difference has been in the run-up. Echavarria decided to move Registe back from 15 “steps” to 19. Each step is a step Registe takes in his run-up to board used to measure the starting point of the jump. The distance equals 143 feet, up from 113.
Echavarria says that in practice and at the other meets, Registe had felt like he wasn’t reaching full speed when he got to the board. Moving him back would allow him the extra momentum he felt could power him through the jump.
It was better than Echavarria thought possible. In his first jump at 19 steps, in Long Beach, Calif., he jumped before he hit the end of the board, cutting off at least seven inches off his final mark according to Echavarria, who was watching.
“The jump was over 26 feet,” Echavarria said. “No question.”
He didn’t have Registe jump again. The mark was so good, there was no reason to risk irritating his injury.
Echavarria said part of Registe’s success is his natural talent. He said that some long jumpers have “hops” and others have speed, but that Registe has both.
But that’s not all. Registe works hard. He watches tapes of Olympic athletes to work on form, focuses intensely to correct his and he doesn’t question workouts.
He also doesn’t let his talent go to his head. At the last meet while Registe was warming up, Echavarria said he was just as focused on how his teammate was doing as he was with his warm-up.
“He really cares about the team.”
Registe missed out on another jump and a chance to defend his GNAC title when the championships were cancelled due to a potential out break of the H1N1 (Swine Flu) virus at the host site. But at the end of May he’ll have a chance to defend his other title as national champion. This summer, he’s foregoing a trip to the North Slope to work on a maintenance crew, painting. Instead of having to train on the tundra, next to the Arctic Ocean, he’ll be in Anchorage, training for the world track and field championship qualifier at the end of June.
Like most students his age, he says that he likes to take it one week at time. Despite his success, Registe doesn’t like to talk about the future or brag about his accomplishments. He plans to attend UAA next year, studying physical education, that’s all he knows. He lives his life like every one else, and rarely deals with people gushing over his success. But recently his mother told him that a child at her church told her that he wants to grow up to be just like David.
When asked how it felt to have someone admire him like that, he grins widely and brushes it off, getting back to typing a text message.
“Yeah, I heard about that. It’s cute.”
But it doesn’t stop him from blushing.