Portland State thrower wins conference title in triple jump after injury

by: LARRY LAWSON / PORTLAND STATE - Wilsonville alumnus Sean MacKelvie won Big Sky Conference gold in the triple jump this past season as a member of the Portland State track and field team. He won a league title in the javelin a year earlier.Sean MacKelvie used to think he was indestructible. He could throw the javelin with potent force time after time and seemingly always come away without any serious injuries.

Then the Wilsonville High School alumnus arrived at the NCAA regional championships a year ago, and a hopes-dashing dose of humility struck him in the elbow.

“Growing up, I was able to throw anything as hard as I wanted,” he said. “Then on one throw I heard this ‘pop,’ and that was it.”

As excruciatingly painful as it was, though, that one throw qualified him for the national finals. So, even though his throwing elbow was severely damaged, MacKelvie put it in a brace and tried mustering the strength to compete on the biggest stage of his career.

But the pain was unbearable.

MacKelvie, hoping to build on his conference title, was instead forced to bow out of the competition. He had surgery a few weeks later. Like a pointed spear, his career with the Portland State track and field team seemed to be taking a nosedive.

“Not everything goes according to plan,” he said. “I set out with the intention that I’d be an All-American. Then, at the last minute, life throws you that curveball and says, ‘Now what are you gonna do?’ It humbled me. I always thought I was invincible. It made me think, ‘If I can’t be the best at (the javelin), I’ve got to work hard and focus on something I wasn’t always the best at.”

A necessary detour

Competitive sports played a major role in MacKelvie’s four years at Wilsonville.

He earned four letters in football, three in track, two in basketball and one in baseball. As a senior in 2008, he won a state title in the javelin with a throw of 200 feet 8 inches.

Also an all-league kicker and punter on the gridiron, MacKelvie hoped he could parlay his experience with the Wildcats into a walk-on gig with the Oregon State football team.

When that prospect fizzled out, MacKelvie tried changing his outlook and started enjoying a break from serious athletics.

That didn’t last long.

“I was starving to get back into something competitive,” he said. “I told myself, ‘I’m not going to play pick-up basketball the rest of my college days.’”

Stoking his ambition was the news that his younger brother, Michael, was going to pursue basketball in the collegiate ranks after a standout prep career at Wilsonville.

MacKelvie began molding a future at Portland State, which attracted him with its engineering program as much as with its track and field team. After doing a little research, he got in touch with Vikings assistant coach Seth Henson. The rest is history.

“I’m lucky that they were willing to give me a chance,” MacKelvie said. “It was so great to do that and not have to look back with regrets. I always wanted to say I accomplished something in sports.”

'Stars aligning'

The triple jump was hardly a point of emphasis for MacKelvie throughout his athletic career.

In high school, he competed regularly in the event but didn’t exactly turn heads with his results. He never qualified for the state meet, and he never placed higher than fourth at the district championships.

Even at Portland State, the triple jump was “just side work” for MacKelvie during the indoor track season.

But with his elbow still in recovery and another year of eligibility looming, MacKelvie began paying more attention to the jumps. And although he had an inconsistent indoor season, he did well enough this past spring to qualify for the Big Sky Conference championships.

MacKelvie’s elbow kept him from seriously contending for a repeat title in the javelin, but he still figured out a way to wrap up his collegiate career in style.

He logged a personal-record distance of 47 feet 1.75 inches in the triple jump when it mattered most, snagging a gold medal in the final competition of his stint with the Vikings. He was later named the university’s co-male athlete of the year.

“It was one of those cases of everything coming together at the right time — the stars aligning,” he said. “I’d been slowly progressing, and I came out there and popped one and it happened to be enough to win it.”

Physical proof

MacKelvie has come a long way from his throwing days at Wilsonville, and he’s still going places.

He recently traveled to Norway with Wildcats alumnus Jesse Staub, who won a state title in the javelin in 2007. The duo had an opportunity to work out and train with elite throwers from that country.

MacKelvie was abroad for about a month, and he wasn’t home for long. Indeed, just five days after returning to Oregon, he set out for Denver. He’s now there with his brother, who recently transferred to Regis University for basketball, and he’s currently hunting for an engineering job.

MacKelvie said he’ll probably return to the Beaver State within the next few months, at least in part because he’ll likely be honored for his recent track accolade at an upcoming Portland State football game.

While he’s home, maybe he’ll take a moment to look at his gold medals. Perhaps he’ll reflect on the healthy elbow that helped him win one and the injury that led him to win the other.

Those accomplishments, he might realize, are indestructible.

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