He’d earned the honour on a stellar true-freshman season with the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns track team. A Canada West champ (and rookie of the year), and a provincial record were also his, but all that only added to the pressure the Coaldale Kate Andrews grad felt with one more chance to qualify for the triple jump final. He needed to get a jump in or become a rookie of the year who finished dead last in the triple jump.
“It was funny,” said Hernandez. “Well, not funny for my coaches, but funny looking back on it now.”
Hernandez was born in London, but will tell everyone — heck, he’ll shout it from the rooftops — that he’s a Coaldale kid. A proud graduate of the Kate Andrews Pride and a great representative of his Canadian hometown. His friends, his family, his coaches — Hernandez credits them all, with honest emotions. Even that third jump, the one he stuck to qualify for the triple jump final? He said his coach Jaime Thomas was there, pushing back his approach to compensate for the rush of emotion and adrenaline that comes with a high-pressure situation. It worked, he stuck a jump and later got his gold.
In the end, it doesn’t matter who gets the credit, because the CIS gold medal in triple jump is all Aaron Hernandez’s — and that rookie-of-the-year award was prophetic. Hernandez is the first Pronghorn in more than a decade to get a gold at the CIS level in a track event that doesn’t involve throwing something. Of course, the Steacy family of weight throwers dominated the national scene for years. Coaldale also boasted runner Kyle Murray, who was a CIS medallist throughout his Pronghorns career, before he graduated in 2012.
“I always support my hometown,” he said. “I basically call it my hometown, that’s where I grew up, that s where I made all my friends, that’s where I played my sports, where I went to school — so Coaldale is my hometown, I’ll always support Coaldale.”
In the triple jump final, Hernandez tied his personal best, the Alberta indoor record, with a jump of 15.03 metres, earning the gold medal. The former football and soccer star started jumping in 2012, his first big meet was the Alberta Summer Games in Lethbridge, and he stayed local at the U of L thanks to his high school jumps coach. “I wasn’t looking to take it any further, I thought when I was done high school, I’d play soccer or I’d play football, but Jaime Thomas here at the university saw one of my high school performances and came to me, asked me if I wanted to come jump with him, come train with him and as a Grade 11 kid, how do you say no to training with a university level coach?”
Thomas and Hernandez have been together ever since and while Hernandez said he loves the school and his teammates and being near home, his coach was the deciding factor. Thomas works as one of the coaches on the Pronghorns track team, under the auspices of head coach Larry Steinke. “I handle the periodization, as far as Aaron’s development, but Jaime is his coach for the details of jumping and they’ve done a great job, Jaime’s really done well with him,” said Steinke.
“And it’s working, I don t generally like to interfere when something is working that well. Aaron’s a great kid and he’s got a great coach in Jaime and I think there’s a lot of room to grow there.”
Hernandez said it was a pretty special feeling to win national gold in Edmonton, and he got to celebrate with his parents, who avoided trackside security to join their son. “That was so special, to have my parents there, this is a dream come true for them to see me succeed at this level and they’ve done so much for me, personally, that I was just happy they were able to be there and share it with me.”