Reggie Jagers III can’t go back in time and change his performance from the 2013 Pan American Junior Athletic Championships in Medellin, Colombia, where he took bronze in the discus throw.
The 2012 Solon graduate had only been throwing for about 2 1/2 years at the time and perhaps should have just been happy to be named to Team USA for the biennial track and field sports event. He had just finished up his freshman year at Kent State University with honorable mention all-American status at the Division I NCAA outdoor championships in Eugene, Oregon, to earn his spot on that team.
With a toss of 59.3 meters, or about 195 feet, Jagers finished third in the 1.75-kilogram event at the Pan American Junior Games. High school discs are 1.6 kilograms, while college and pro discs are 2 kilograms.
But, for the past six years, that bronze medal hasn’t sat well for a guy who has done nothing but continue to progress to the top of the U.S. and world rankings.
“In 2013 I got bronze, and that was eating up at me, because at that meet I warmed up at the junior national record for America and hit 66 meters in my warmup,” Jagers said. “And I was super young, so it’s hard to be super consistent. But this year I want to upgrade my medal to gold.”
Next month, Jagers will have that opportunity three days before his 25th birthday.
Announced by USA Track and Field last week, the Northeast Ohio product is one of two male discus throwers named to the 96-athlete roster for the 2019 senior Pan American Games to be held Aug. 6-10 in Lima, Peru.
The senior Pan Am Games, held every four years in the year before the Summer Olympic Games, feature 39 sports and 61 disciplines. A total of 6,680 athletes are expected to compete from 41 delegations.
“That’s really why I took the bid for the Pan American team, so I can finish this through,” Jagers said about improving upon his 2013 placement. “And it’s going to take some hard work, but, obviously, I believe I can do it.”
Jagers is no stranger to hard work.
After graduating from Kent State in 2017, when he finished runner-up at the NCAA outdoor championships with a personal-best mark of 62.51 meters, Jagers went on to win gold at the World University Games that August and then moved out to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California, where he has been perfecting his craft since.
Turning pro, the 6-foot-2 lefty was regularly throwing 65 meters throughout the 2018 outdoor season, before popping off a lifetime-best 68.61-meter toss, or about 225 feet, 1 inch, to take gold during the USATF Outdoor Championships last June in Des Moines, Iowa, where he broke a 40-year-old facility record held by U.S. Olympic gold medalist Mac Wilkins. It was the farthest throw at that meet since 1984.
Just like that, Jagers, again, a guy from Solon, took over the No. 1 ranking in the U.S. and the No. 5 ranking in the world.
“Obviously, I’ve been working hard for a long time, I’ve been seeing things through, and now I’m in a good position to where I’m on top in the U.S. in the discus, where not that many people can say that,” Jagers said. “So, it’s definitely pride, and it just gives you more motivation to keep working for a seat at a bigger table in the future, because who knows where I could be for the Olympics, which are coming up in 2020. Who knows?”
The crazy part about Jagers’ story is that he’s been pretty much white-knuckling his own training program out in Chula Vista. Yes, he’s got a great facility with all the amenities, but he doesn’t have a world-class discus coach to show him the way, he said.
While the U.S. has cleaned up the medal count in track and field during recent Olympic Games, American men haven’t had much success in the discus throw on an international level for quite some time. The last time an American landed a podium spot was when Wilkins and John Powell took silver and bronze during the 1984 games in Los Angeles.
In the past three Olympic Games, the U.S. men haven’t cracked the top 10 in the discus throw.
“Mac Wilkins was like the best thrower in the world,” Jagers said. “He broke the world record like four times, and I aspire to be on that same level. So, it’s definitely hard, though, training with Americans, because I have one training partner out here, and he really can’t push me in that aspect.
“So, I definitely have to hug around (Ehsan) Haddadi, the Iranian, and pick up tidbits from Mac Wilkins and all the people I interact with when I go to Europe. And I’m definitely super close with Haddadi, and I’m learning a lot from him on how to do things properly.”
Iranian thrower Ehsan Haddadi, who took silver during the London Games in 2012, at 68.18 meters, now trains at the U.S. Olympic Center in Chula Vista and receives coaching from American Wilkins.
Jagers’ best mark this outdoor season is 66.67 meters, which he recorded during his gold-medal performance at the Triton Invitational in mid-April in La Jolla, California.
“I’ve been passing 65-meter throws this year, which is not really that much to me, because last year I was able to throw 65 (meters) nine times and finally got the big one at the U.S. champs, when it counted,” he said. “So, I would say that I’m not really in the best shape physically, like overcoming injuries, but I’m throwing pretty well.”
Now 260 pounds, putting on 50 pounds since high school, Jagers said he’s in the best physical shape of his career and explosive as ever with a projected 4.5-second 40-meter dash, meaning he’s also pushing his body to its limits. In turn, he strained his gluteal tendon and his groin at the beginning of the season.
Nonetheless, he’s made an effort to compete in more competitions overseas this year as part of the International Association of Athletics Federation Diamond League, an annual series of elite track and field meets. As part of the Diamond League, Jagers’ is competing in cities like Stockholm and London, as well as Doha, Qatar, and Rabat, Morocco.
In early May, he took fourth in Doha, which was a prelude to the IAAF World Championships set for Sept. 28-Oct. 6 at the same venue.
“I was able to meet all the Europeans, and they know who I am now,” Jagers said. “You know, we brainstorm, and we talk technique, and I might shoot questions to their coaches about how to do things properly, because in America there’s really not a lot of good coaching for the discus.
“So, I’ve been able to develop my own throwing program last year and then continue it this year to make it even better. Then I have to think from a different perspective if this is the right route for me, because you can have so many technical changes in your throw, but do they add up to a cohesive whole?”
Not only has Jagers persevered through some injuries and developing his own world-class training program, but he’s battled through losing his father, Reggie Jagers Jr., who died from blood cancer on May 16.
A month later, Jagers III had to compete on Father’s Day in Rabat, where he finished sixth among most of the world’s best throwers with a mark of 64.59 meters. But throwing has been therapeutic for Jagers since high school, when football recruiting didn’t necessarily go his way – he still has aspirations for the NFL following his throwing career, he said.
“At this point, it’s still therapeutic,” Jagers said. “I was hurting. I was pretty numb to what happened. I was frustrated. So, I just put it all in the discus. And I would say probably two weeks after my father passed, I threw 70 meters in practice.
“So, it’s kind of like there’s a lot of motivation. It’s like I gained another angel, another someone who’s looking out for me. Like, I would go into practice and just look up to the sky and just be like, ‘Thanks for waking me up today.’ I know my dad’s up there. I say hi to him. Like, ‘Let’s go after it. Help make sure I make all the right decisions today.’”
Later this month, Jagers will compete at the USATF Outdoor Championships set for July 25-28 in Des Moines, where he plans to defend his gold from a year ago.
Although Jagers gets a Tier 1 stipend, grant money, prize money and is sponsored by Ironwood Throwers Club, established by two-time Olympian Jarred Rome, who draws investors to help support throwers, the Solon product said he could use some more support from his home town for his future endeavors.
For being the top discus thrower in the nation and one of the top athletes in the world, Jagers said he doesn’t feel like many people in Northeast Ohio even know his story.
He said a wider audience to provide more financial support from Solon and Cleveland would allow him to train with better coaches and among better athletes to reach his full potential in the future, but, for the record, he doesn’t appreciate the word “potential.”
“I’ve just been using my resources around me, being the young guy,” he said. “So, in discus, you hit your prime around 28, 29, and I’m 24, and I’m hitting the marks that most guys won’t hit until their later years. And so, really, it just sets me up to unlimited potential in the future. I want to secure the right coaching in the future as well.
“So, I feel I can do it on my own, I can do it with less help, but. Obviously. I’m going to want more help in the future to develop potential, because probably the worst thing you can have is untapped potential. I remember I was always that guy in college where they’re like, ‘Oh, he has a lot of potential,’ because of how good I did so early, but that word always irritated me, because that meant you never filled that potential that people thought you had.”