LITTLETON – When Thomas Neary was 12 years old, he had just moved to United States from France.
His father, who didn’t participate in sports, decided to start to take up distance running as a hobby.
Neary wanted to do the same thing, but when he arrived at Littleton Middle School, he realized there was an actual track. While participating for the middle school team, he tried the high jump and, for the entire season, he couldn’t clear the opening height of 4 feet, 8 inches.
Not once did he quit. Not once did he want to try another event.
Now, five years later, Neary holds the Littleton School indoor record after clearing 6 feet, 3 inches, and he’s one of the top high jumpers in the area, as well as the state. His abilities will land him a spot with the University of Maine track and field program next year, as he will be going from a Division 5 high school program to a Division 1 collegiate program.
Neary is also strong in the hurdles, triple jump and part of relay teams. His specialty, however, remains the high jump.
“Thomas is extremely athletic and a lot of it is natural skills, but he puts in a lot of time,” said Littleton head indoor track coach Casey Kaldenberg. “He’s the first one here and the last one gone everyday. He really studies up on his craft. He really knows how to be good, what it takes to be good, and he really works hard at it. He studies film, video, he talks with other athletes and he knows everyone else’s times and heights. It’s pretty amazing. He is so well read in what he needs to do to get out of something that he wants to get out of. He sets a goal and just goes for it. It may take time but he gets there.”
From his days in middle school until late into his sophomore year with the indoor track team, Neary learned so much more about the high jump event, practiced non-stop, went to camps and, of course, grew.
Today he stands at 5-foot-11, and he can clear a bar that’s 6 feet, 3 inches high.
“It’s not really about how tall you are,” Neary said. “High jump is more about the elevation of your center of mass. (Proper high jump form) is when people get their plant leg directly under their center of mass.”
Neary went on to break down the event and explain how learning more about science and, in particular, physics, has taken him to new heights, literally.
“I think it’s Newton’s third law of motion, where every action has an equal and opposite reaction,” Neary said. “So if you put enough force into the ground, the ground will give back and then sends you straight up, pretty much. It’s a pretty weird concept to learn, but once you learn it, it makes more sense than trying to explain it.
“It doesn’t look like you are going very fast (to the bar). Olympians will be running a 12-second pace when they plant. The force on your legs in three times your body weight, so you are putting three times your body weight on your legs running 12-second (100-yard dashes). You have to lean back as much as possible. I really never learned that until recently. I was more bent in half. If you see videos of me from last year, I would almost land in a full flip because I would get so much rotation and not enough height. This year I just started leaning back a lot more so that gives you a lot more height.”
During his sophomore year, Neary broke the school’s indoor record of 5-10, while he qualified for both the Eastern Mass. Division 5 meet, as well as the all-state meet.
Last year as a junior captain, he soared to a new level. As a Sun All-Star and team MVP, he compiled 64.5 points during league meets. He re-broke his school indoor record by clearing 6-2, and went on to become the Mid-Wach D league champion and District E champ in the high jump.
Neary moved on to take third at the divisional meet and 15th at all-states. He was also a part of the first-place 4×400 relay teamat the league championship meet.
During the outdoor league championship meet, he was first in the high jump, 110-meter hurdles and 400-meter hurdles, and was also second in the triple jump.
This indoor season has been similarly spectacular. He has scored 57 points in dual meets and, for his career, he ranks seventh all-time in program history. He again broke his school indoor record when he took first place in the unseeded heat of the Northeast Invitational Meet by clearing 6-3 in the high jump. The winner of the seeded heat cleared only 6 feet.
Neary was also first overall as an individual at the Division 5 State Relay Meet. On Saturday, he helped lead the Littleton boys to a first-place team finish at the Mid-Wach D league meet, where he won the high jump with a height of 5-10.
“It’s the steps, it’s the form, it’s the power. Thomas has everything going for him,” said Kaldenberg. “He videotapes all of his performances, whether it meets or in practices, squat drills, weight room stuff — he’s just making sure that his form is right.
“Unfortunately we don’t have a high jump coach, but to Thomas’ credit, he is our high jump coach when it comes down to it. He’s taken upon himself to reach down to the athletes who are new to high jump or long jump and he works with them so well. … He’s going to UMaine, and whatever he does in college, there’s no doubt that he is a future coach.”
At college, Neary may be a decathlete or may only compete in the high jump, but until he gets there, he has some unfinished business.
“At the Northeast Invite, I’m not sure what happened but my calf was hurting and I basically cleared 6-3 on one foot,” said Neary, who has two younger brothers, Paul, 14, and Sean, 12. “If I can do that on one calf, I think I can definitely clear 6-5, 6-6 (this indoor season) or maybe higher, so hopefully that happens.”
Kaldenberg said that positive attitude has been with Neary since the day they met.
“I’ve been watching Thomas for years, and he would be this boy who would always tell you what he was going to do,” said Kaldenberg. “Sometimes people would say, ‘Yeah, OK freshman, or sophomore,’ or whatever you were. And then that comes to fruition, and not just because he wanted to, but because he made it.”