Making history

North grad expands IUPUI track program by competing in new events

Former Columbus North two-sport athlete Paul Salee woke up one day, looked in the mirror and said to himself, “Dude, you really let yourself go.”

Salee was so drained from having back-to-back seasons of basketball and track for four straight years of high school, that he ditched his original post-graduation plans and gained nearly 50 pounds after placing sixth at the 2013 state track and field meet.

“I took the freshman 15 to a whole other level,” Salee said of his weight gain.

IUPUI did not have a full track and field program and was filled with only distance runners. So the goal was to enroll there for a semester or two before transferring to another institution where he could compete in the high jump.

When Salee’s mental fatigue met his dorm’s buffet-style cafeteria, the plans changed. He no longer was interested in being a collegiate athlete, or so he thought.

Salee’s epiphany when looking at his reflection in the mirror caused him to work his way back into top shape before eventually becoming the first-ever IUPUI athlete to compete in a number of different track and field events.

“That summer after my freshman year, I really started going back to the gym,” he said. “Not really with the hopes of jumping again, but just to get in overall fitness because I am an exercise science major. I can’t become this health and fitness guy if I don’t walk the talk.”

Salee got his body all the way back in shape, and by the middle of his sophomore year, he was in the best shape of his life to that point. He knew the Jaguars did not have a full program, but when he noticed former Whiteland high jumper Dejan Davis on the team, Salee contacted cross-country and track coach Chuck Koeppen.

Salee jumped against Davis in high school and told Koeppen he had the same skill set Davis had to be successful. Koeppen let Salee join the team midway through his junior year and is now IUPUI’s first heptathlon and decathlon athlete.

Salee was focused on beating North’s high jump record of 6-8 at the state meet, but fell two inches short when he finished at 6-6. So when IUPUI professor Zach Riley talked him into trying out the decathlon after his first year on the Jaguars team, Salee said he needed to jump 6-8 first. He expected to meet his mark at the conference meet, but ended getting it the first meet of the indoor season.

“It really shocked me,” Salee said. “I was like, ‘You know what? Might as well do heptathlon indoors just get prepared for doing decathlon outdoors.'”

The heptathlon has seven total events, and the outdoor decathlon has 10. Most of these events have never been competed in by any Jaguar athlete, and Salee often jokes about showing up and knowing he will get a school record no matter how he performs. He technically has 10 combined indoor and outdoor school records.

“I can basically show up and run the slowest time in the world, and it would still be a school record,” he said.

Koeppen said both Salee and Davis are competing well for the school, especially since they don’t have the coaching that all of the other track athletes have. The only coaching that IUPUI has at its disposal is for distance runners, which does very little for the two high jumpers and a decathlete.

There isn’t even a place for Davis and Salee to practice jumps on campus, but Koeppen said they do a good job of finding places to get their jumping workouts done.

“They’re on their own,” Koeppen said. “They wanted to be on our team, and all we had was distance, and we said, ‘You can do it. You’re not going to have the coaching and the facility you need, but we’ll take care of you, give you a uniform and support, but not a lot of practice that most athletes have.’ They have done very well without that.”

Salee does not have a problem with working on his speed and strength when practicing for his events. The hardest thing for him is learning the technique that goes with it. He enjoys being one of the first to expand the program, but said it is a win-and-lose situation when factoring in the lack of technique training.

Koeppen believes Salee and Davis are the catalyst for what is to come for IUPUI’s track and field program. He knows that creating a full program will take money to pay for coaches and facilities, but said it’s been fun watching the two jumpers compete and would like to see a full program before he retires.

“We’re glad we got those two, “Koeppen said. “We hope we can keep adding other team members like those guys who aren’t just other distances runners. I can’t tell you when it will happen, but in the near future. Those guys have made ground work and put it in motion and we appreciate their efforts.”

Salee said his decision to quit track and field momentarily was a mistake, but one of the best mistakes he ever made. He enjoys competing for IUPUI and has a great relationship with his distance teammates. Salee would have never put on an Jaguars jersey if he stuck with his original plan.

“I’ve really been put in a good position,” Salee said. “Even though we don’t have a coach or anything, I still get things done. I still perform well. I think I’ve just been put in a good position academic-wise and athletically.”

Paul Salee

Name: Paul Salee

High school: Columbus North

College: IUPUI

Year: Junior academically, sophomore athletically

Decathlon: 100 meters, 110 hurdles, 400, 1500, javelin, discus, shot put, pole vault, long jump and high jump.

Best Event: High jump (6 feet, 8 inches)

Author photo
Frank Bonner is a sports writer for The Republic. He can be reached at fbonner@therepublic.com or 812-379-5632.