Justin Pickard, a volunteer track and field coach, will head up a select group of Park City track and field athletes this spring. A couple of things are unusual about this. First of all, Justin Pickard is a 9th grader at Treasure Mountain Junior High. Oh, and the athletes are children and young adults with intellectual disabilities, training for the Special Olympics.
He will coach the athletes, selected by the National Ability Center (NAC), in the basic running, jumping and throwing techniques required in track and field events. The program is the first of its kind in Park City. Practices start next week, leading up to their first track and field meet on May 31st. Both able-bodied and intellectually disabled athletes will participate.
Pickard, who answers to the nickname "J.J.," is a rising star on both the lacrosse and track and field teams at Park City High School. The teenage shot put phenom was undefeated in his age group last year and set a new indoor American record in his age group at 48 feet, 5 inches.
He sees his volunteer work and the NAC project as a responsibility, not a duty. He started volunteering at the NAC two years ago mucking out horse stalls and doing odd jobs. "I think you should always give back. This year I wanted to do something for them that I know how to do pretty well," he says. I try to do everything I can to help younger athletes." His enthusiasm for public service is a rare trait in someone so young.
Pickard moved to Park City from Mercer Island, Wash., in 2011. He grew up in West Mercer and was a self-confessed risk-taker from an early age. "My worst childhood memory is when I was 10 years old, jumping off my roof onto a trampoline and breaking my arm," he says. "I saw some older kids do it and it looked like fun. Anyway, I bounced pretty high."
Pickard admits the move to Park City was rough. "It was hard to get used to at first, but it's a beautiful place. I fell in love with the city, pretty much, just because of the environment."
He attended Ecker Hill Middle School for a year before moving up to Treasure Mountain Junior High. He's been playing lacrosse since the sixth grade and was twice selected for the Utah Under-15 National Lacrosse Team. Though only a freshman, he made the Park City High varsity lacrosse team this year. The team has won 10 of its 12 games, including tournament play, so far this year and is second in the conference.
His coaches have nothing but praise for Pickard. Coach David Yocum, who works with him on speed and agility, says he's never seen a young athlete work any harder. "From my first encounter with Justin, I noticed how engaged he was in what I was attempting to teach him. At age 13 you don't often see that. I've watched him spend hours and hours by himself working on his lacrosse."
But it's Pickard's work with NAC that really impresses Yocum. "The program is still in its infancy but, like everything else he does, Justin will embrace the challenge and work diligently to make it a success," he says.
Young Pickard credits his Park City coaches for helping him develop and improve as an athlete and a person. He specifically mentions coaches Yocum, Acee, Bell, Durling, Bilzi and Arrhenius. "I have some very special mentors who have made a huge difference in my life. I am so thankful to them." He singles out Laurence "Coach" Shuler, the man who taught him to ski at age three at Snoqualmie Mountain in Washington and remained his coach and friend until his untimely death last month. "He pretty much taught me some of the greatest life lessons ever, to always keep a smile on your face and try to see the good in everything and everyone. I'm still working on that one," admits Pickard. "He always inspired others by example; that's what I want to do."
Pickard and volunteers from the National Honor Society will take the Dozier field next week to coach of the Center's fledgling track and field training program. Coaching may well be his destiny. "I love to compete and I love to coach," he says. "It's the coolest thing in the world to see the smiles on kids' faces after they try and succeed at something new. It makes them happy and it makes me happy. I feel like I'm a better person, at least for that day."
- Favorite activities: Volunteer coaching, lacrosse, weight lifting
- Favorite foods: "Nachos, period."
- Favorite performers/music: Eminem, Dr. Dre, Tupac, G-Easy
- Favorite reading: Anything to do with the military
- Bucket list: Become an Army Ranger, skydive, meet Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton