It wasn't rocket science. But for Jake Haseman, who is an aerospace engineering major at the University of Cincinnati, learning the craft of the hammer throw might as well have been akin to some students' attempts to solve quadratic equations.
"It's a very steep learning curve," Haseman said of the discipline. "You have a 16-pound ball that wants to go outward. Meanwhile, you have to move your feet, you have to turn your body and you have to time your release. It's very choreographed."
The Napoleon graduate is completing his senior season with the Bearcats men's outdoor track and field team. An accomplished shot putter and discus thrower in high school, he earned a spot on the Cincinnati track team as a walk-on and competes in the discus and the hammer throw.
The discus came naturally to Haseman. The hammer throw did not. He had to learn a new event while beginning coursework in a rigorous major, one that required cooperative education work assignments during the school year.
"It's a lot of dedication," said Susan Seaton, the women's track coach at Cincinnati, who works with the Bearcats' throwers. "You're going to work, then eating, sleeping and training. Jacob would wake up early and do weight training, and then be at work by 8. Then he'd come back to practice when he was finished with work. We managed his schedule like that, even with him in school."
In his first two years as a hammer thrower, Haseman struggled. He couldn't properly time his release of a 16-pound ball attached to a handled steel tether. One-tenth of a second too early and it could wind up in the cage that surrounds the thrower's circle. One second too late and it could end up outside of the sector, the V-shaped area where the hammer lands, and an otherwise quality throw will not count.
Haseman's struggles reached the point where he did some soul-searching in regards to his future in track and field.
"There have been times where I thought about not doing it anymore," said Haseman, who is not a scholarship athlete. "Two years ago, it was the hardest thing. I had to skip practices, I was losing sleep and I thought, is this worth it?"
Still, he met with Seaton and discussed his doubts about his ability in the hammer throw. "I told him, ‘you've made great progress, and you'll figure out the last few pieces you're missing,' " Seaton recalled. "He's fast, he's explosive, and he's hard-working."
Haseman's decision to continue competing came down to an inherent factor: his love of throwing.
"It's an incredible feeling to throw a 16-pound hammer and throw it 190 feet," he said. "It's something that differentiates me. It's empowering."
Haseman worked out on his own three times a week with the hammer, concentrating on steps, turns, and the placement of his feet — the choreography and synchronization of the motions before the release. He watched videos of hammer throwers on YouTube and studied the movements. He read articles on training and on the science of the discipline. The breakthrough moment came last winter, when the motions during practice began to feel effortless.
"In February, he just figured it out and let it flow," Seaton said. "When we started throwing for outdoor, that's when he started to feel like, ‘wow, I've got this figured out.' "
At the Big East championships earlier this month in Tampa, Haseman finished fourth in the hammer throw (183 feet, 8 inches) and fourth in the discus (168-7), and qualified for the NCAA East preliminary May 25-26 in Jacksonville, Fla.
Like a science experiment, reaching the point of success took plenty of trial and error.
"There's never been that moment where I said, ‘I have to quit,' " Haseman said. "Instead, I said, ‘I have to make this work.' "
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.