In a chilly October afternoon, 701 miles south of his hometown of Princeton, Wisconsin, Jordan Wesner inhales sharply and exhales deeply before starting his approach to the high jump pit; he glides over the bar in full warm-ups. His first competition would not be until early December, but he came to practice ready to compete.
“I love competition,” Wesner said. “I’m competitive about everything, even my studies. I’m always trying to beat the guy next to me.”
Getting his start in high school came with a little bit of luck. Wesner began as a cross country runner because his friends were participating in the sport. When track season began, he was ready to run shorter distances. Running everything from the 4x200m relay to the 800m, Wesner moved from event to event until finally participating in the high jump, and as he said, "The rest is history."
Wesner went on to earn three state titles and had an undefeated run in championship meets from sophomore year to his senior year. His record and high school personal best of 6’11.5” (2.12m) also landed him on the radar of many college coaches, including head coach Kevin Robinson from the University of Memphis.
“I saw Memphis, and they were straightforward with scholarships and stuff and I liked that a lot,” Wesner said. “I really got along with coach Robinson, too, so I came here.”
Southern schools had a large appeal to Wesner because of the warmer climate. Schools in the south have the ability to train year round, whereas athletes in the north have a much shorter season. Wesner, from a small town about 90 minutes southwest of Green Bay, was accustomed to the late winters and shortened training cycles.
“My freshman year of high school, we didn’t even start training until April,” Wesner said. “States is the first week of June, so we really had no time to train.”
His arrival in Memphis brought an unprecedented amount of success. Wesner capped off his freshman season with an appearance at the Outdoor Track and Field National Championships. Although his performance was not indicative of his ability, he learned the value of remaining calm.
“I was really nervous, I’m not going to lie," Wesner said. "I had never competed in front of that many people or in that large of a stadium. When I look back, I always wonder why I was so nervous.”
Since that day, Wesner has embraced a balance between his laid back personality and his competitive edge. Senior high jumper Noah Agnew knows both sides of Wesner better than anyone.
“I think what is a distinguishing quality about him however is how light-hearted and goofy he is,” Agnew said. “It is very interesting to see that duality in him. He is very fun to be around and he is easy going and loves to laugh and mess around. But when the cards are on the table he has an instinct that is as sharp as a knife, as sharp as I have ever seen. He is a killer when he turns that switch on.”
Wesner's successes early on sparked interest from coaches at larger Division I schools, but after talking to other coaches and visiting their campuses, he realized the environment at the UofM was best for himself.
“It's the team atmosphere and the coaches [that keep me in Memphis],” Wesner said. “The sport is extremely performance based when you start looking at bigger schools. If you don’t hit the marks that they want you to hit then you go right to the back burner. I am a laid back guy and the team here is a family. Other schools felt like everyone was only out for themselves; but here, if one of our teammates is successful, then we all enjoy that success.”
Although Wesner has a number of accolades on and off the track, including his double All-American status, three American Championship appearances, casually dunking from the free throw line and boxing competitively, his life off the track contains similar depth.
“[He is] bigger than sports,” Agnew said. “He has a depth to him that I do not think you would find in most 22-year-olds, let alone 22-year-old student athletes. In long bus rides to meets, while everyone is sleeping or watching Netflix, Jordy is reading articles about existentialism or watching debates between Jordan Peterson and Slavoj Žižek.”
Starting off as a kinesthesiology major, with goals of becoming a coach, Wesner eventually made a decision many college students make: switch his major.
“I met this guy named Olushola Olojo, a.k.a. Shola, and he and I started talking and he got me interested in economics,” Wesner said. “So, I tried it out and I haven’t stopped loving it since. I graduated with an economics major last year and now I’m working on an MBA.”
He spent his 2019 summer interning with Oshkosh Defense, a company that specializes in making military vehicles.
“They essentially replaced the Hummer with their own military vehicles,” Wesner said. “I worked on their proposal team, which was super interesting. It was a lot of writing and I’m thinking about getting into something like that.”
With his 2020 season in full swing, Wesner has his eyes set on not only the Indoor and Outdoor National Championships, but also the U.S. Olympic Trials. Using his indoor season primarily to train, Wesner has already jumped 2.20 m; that mark is only .06 m short of the A standard of 2.26 m.
“I am treating this year as a slower year,” Wesner said. “In previous years we would go out and try to PR; but it’s 2020, and an Olympic year, so we are trying to take everything much more slowly with our eyes set on Eugene. We don’t want to peak now, we are progressing slowly from now until the trials.”
With his collegiate career coming to a close this spring, Wesner found boxing will be a way to channel his competitive spirit in the future. He also plans to continue to jump following this Olympic cycle.
“I don’t want to say that this year will be a make or break year for me,” Wesner said. “It’s hard to look past jumping because it has been my life for the past decade. It’s gotten me so far. If I look back six years ago I would never have imagined how far I would have come. Let alone going to college and getting a masters degree.”