It’s been a memorable summer for the high-jumping Hensons of Highland Creek.
Patriarch Art Henson is competing in track and field on a national level for the first time in four years, and his 12-year-old daughter, Ariana, and 11-year-old son, Marcus, have taken up the sport this year.
They swap pointers on how to clear the bar and take turns coaching one another.
Today, Henson will compete in the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships at Wake Forest University’s Ketner Stadium in Winston-Salem.
He looks to repeat his accomplishment of 2010, when he won the high jump event in the 40- to 44-year-old division at the national meet.
Henson trains at UNC Charlotte’s Irwin Belk Track and Field Center with the Carolinas Track and Field Club, which sent several athletes to the meet that started July 17.
Henson has been competing in masters track and field off and on for most of the last 15 years. A native of Ohio, he competed for the University of South Carolina in the early 1990s. He said he finished fourth in the high jump at the Southeastern Conference outdoor championships during his senior year.
Living in Maine and competing with the Greater Boston Track Club, Henson won four masters national high jump championships between 2001 and 2005.
At the 2002 USATF National Club Outdoor Championships in Bloomington, Ind., he placed second in the high jump, third in the 110-meter hurdles and sixth in the long jump. He was named the meet’s most valuable player.
The Hensons moved to Charlotte in 2007. Henson’s busy work schedule as a graphic designer has limited his opportunities to compete on an annual basis, and like most masters athletes, Henson said, he feels the financial constraints of traveling cross-country to national meets.
Still, in 2010, Henson traveled to Sacramento, Calif., for his first national meet since moving to Charlotte. As a 40-year-old in the 40- to 44-year-old age group, he won the high jump, finished second in the long jump and placed fourth in the 110-meter hurdles.
Since he hasn’t been competing over the past four years, Henson hasn’t trained much in that span. The national meet being so close to home this year inspired his return to competition.
“It’s good for me to have a goal,” said Henson. “I can’t go to the gym for the sake of going to the gym. I have to have something to work for.”
Henson and his wife, Darrah, encourage their children to try new things, and track and field was on the horizon this year. Ariana and Marcus joined the Charlotte Heat Track and Field Club, which trains at Mallard Creek High School.
Like their father, the children were drawn to the high jump.
Henson coached his children and several Charlotte Heat athletes in the high jump. In seven meets this summer, Ariana placed first in four of them, while Marcus won his age group twice. They both placed second at the AAU State meet.
The children’s slender builds are well suited for jumping. Ariana’s best jump this summer was 4 feet, 5 inches, while Marcus topped out at 4-feet-2. Henson is jumping about 6-feet-1 these days.
Ariana has improved enough that she can analyze herself and point out things her father could do better on his jumps.
“She gives me little tips like ‘kick your legs’ or ‘you slowed down when you got to the bar,’ ” said Art.
Another local athlete has something to prove at the July 17-20 national championships: Rob Jackson, a 64-year-old Cornelius resident.
Three weeks after competing at last year’s nationals, finishing second in the 800 meters and fourth in the 400 meters, Jackson started feeling a tingling sensation in his legs and feet.
A doctor diagnosed him with nerve damage in his lower back that affected his sciatic nerve. Jackson wasn’t able to run for six weeks, and he said he could barely walk.
The tingling dissipated, however, and Jackson was able to pick his training back up this past spring. He hasn’t competed at all this summer, but said he still likes his chances to bring home a medal.
“I still have my speed,” said Jackson. “I feel like I can make the finals, and I’ll let the chips fall where they may.”