May 25, 2012
By Bernie Rosendahl, MSU Athletic Communications Contact for Track & Field and Cross Country
EAST LANSING, MICH. – A key member and leader on Michigan State’s throwing team, Aaron Ide found out early in his collegiate career that a strong work ethic will beat talent any day of the week. He’s living proof of that concept, as he’s an individual that has done all the work necessary to be successful at the collegiate level.
Aaron Ide was born and raised in Byron Center, Michigan, a small town just fifteen miles outside of Grand Rapids. Ide, who didn’t play organized sports until he was seven years old, first latched on to baseball as his first love. Before track came into the picture, he occupied himself with basketball, golf and even trap shooting.
For him, track was sort of an afterthought.
“I kept getting a pressure from a few of my friends to do track,” said Ide. “Finally, after baseball and I parted ways my sophomore year, they convinced me to come out for track practice. As a three-sport athlete, all I knew was sports, so I just kept coming back (to practice). The more I kept going back, the more I loved it.”
Ide’s raw, natural strength certainly made a good first impression on his high school coach, Sam Angell.
“When my high school coach saw me throw for the first time he knew I was going to be able to do something with it,” Ide recalls.
With a newfound focus he continued training and at the end of his junior year, despite a pulled rotator cuff, Ide found himself in the state finals in the discus.
Determined to improve his throwing and establish himself as one the best throwers in the state, Ide completely immersed himself in the sport. He cut ties with basketball and started training throughout the winter for his senior year of track. By the end of that season, he earned all-region, all-conference, and all-district honors. The only left thing left on his agenda was a medal at the MHSAA state meet.
He would place fifth in the shot put finals, a disappointment by his standards.
However, the day would not be over for Ide. He would then compete in the discus - another opportunity to salvage his afternoon.
“I went into the discus competition and I couldn’t get the fifth place (shot put) out of my head,” Ide said. “I wasn’t really happy out there, so I was just throwing and I really didn’t care. I just didn’t focus enough and I thought that I did really badly – but I ended up just missing the finals by one spot. It was salt in the wound.”
Although Ide would close his high school track career in unceremonious fashion, the idea of continuing in the sport was still an exciting prospect. What wasn’t quite clear was the decision on where he would take his talents.
Ide grew up as a University of Michigan fan, and was accepted to the school via a $40,000 engineering scholarship. He contacted the track and field coaches in the Ann Arbor with hopes of competing for them for the next four to five years, but a conflict would arise in Ide not meeting the prerequisite distances in throwing events in order to join the program.
“They wanted me to hit marks that, in my eyes, were enormous and just didn’t seem possible for me at the time,” said Ide.
During this period, former Michigan State throws coach Chris Campbell called the Ide residence on ten occasions with hopes of bringing him to East Lansing. He initially didn’t want anything to do with Michigan State, being a Michigan fan at heart. But Campbell persisted and each time he would call, Ide’s mother, Connie, kept telling him that Aaron wasn’t home.
“Finally, I happened to pick up the phone and he (Campbell) convinced me to come out for a visit,” Ide said. “And about two hours into my visit, I decided that I wanted to come here. I really wanted to throw in college and I loved the campus. It’s been a great experience and I’m glad that I ended up here.”
Like anyone who makes the transition from high school to college athletics, Ide had to adjust to the intense nature of training at its highest level. In high school, Ide would walk onto the practice fields and simply throw. At Michigan State, the sport is more physically demanding and requires a greater technical approach.
“You get here and there is a lot of running and lots of heavy lifting and I had never lifted heavy before,” Ide says. “I saw all of these people in the weight room who were lifting heavier and throwing further and it was a very eye-opening experience.”
After the first few weeks of training and being overwhelmed by the experience, Ide adopted a fight or flight mentality. He wanted be like his experienced teammates…
…and be better than them.
One of the individuals that would push Ide to improve throughout the day-to-day grind of those first practices was former teammate Brent McCarrick. McCarrick, who would consistently throw the shot put in the 54-foot range, served as Ide’s gauge for success.
“I always wanted to beat him in practice because he was just above me. He really helped push me to make it to the next level.”
The impending result was a massive breakthrough at the Chippewa Open, one his first career meets where he would surpass the 52-foot barrier in the shot put. With that performance, he finally felt that he belonged in the college arena of throwing.
“During those first two years, it’s hard to tell whether someone is going to transfer over to college throwing or not,” Ide explains. “We have had a lot of people who make it for a year - or not even a year - and they leave. The Central meet (Chippewa Open) confirmed that I had the chance to be successful at the college level.”
In addition to the heavy training, Ide would have to change his technique, moving from the glide to the spin.
“It was multi-faceted; I had to get better everywhere. It just wasn’t little things here and there - I had to be completely changed.”
It is instances like these - doing all the little things as individuals - that have helped the Michigan State throwing team to be one of the best in the country. During this past season of indoor and outdoor track, it wasn’t uncommon to see three or more Spartan throwers within the NCAA Top 20 rankings for the shot put, weight throw, hammer throw, and discus. But Ide believes that the squad’s progression to national prominence started well before that, when they decided to change team atmosphere and desired to develop new traditions that would reinforce team camaraderie.
During Ide’s freshman year, he and the rest of his class developed a tradition called “Black Out” which involved all unattached freshman wearing black uniforms, the intention being that they would earn their official green uniforms in their second season of eligibility. Respect would have to be earned via experience and competition.
The team would also train harder, and during Ide’s sophomore year, Michigan State recruited the young talents of Lonnie Pugh and Zack Hill. Also on the roster was an experienced veteran, Anthony Agrusa, and fellow sophomore Jay Gillespie. The team was loaded with big names, and would seemingly reload once Agrusa graduated.
“Last year (2011) was the first year we really emerged,” Ide stated. “But this year with Jay, Lonnie, and Zack, we’re hitting it big and we’ve just picked up where we left off from last year. With Anthony graduating, Antonio James has stepped into his role and picked up where he left off. We’ve really made a push to be one of the best throwing programs in the nation.”
Last year was not only a big year for the team, but for Ide as well. The pinnacle of last season came at an outdoor meet at Indiana University, the Polytan Invitational. This was first time he had ever gone over 55 meters outdoors in the shot put and it was this throw that allowed him to qualify for NCAA Regionals.
“Jerry Hessell just had a big throw in the Javelin and Lonnie was throwing big in the discus,” Ide recalls. “In the shot put, I was just building off this huge energy from my teammates. I just really competed well and we had a lot of good things happen there. It’s one my favorite memories from track.”
Going into his senior year, Ide hoped to not only to improve his distances but improve his mental game. Ide recalls a memorable learning experience during the indoor season at the Notre Dame Invitational.
“The Notre Dame meet was the most focused I’d ever been at a meet,” said Ide. “I don’t know what it was about that day – but I knew exactly what I wanted to do. Every thrower has their invisible wall where you can’t quite get over it. But once you get over it, it seems like you can just keep on climbing.”
“For me, it’s been 17 meters. I threw 16.98 in one of my first three throws. It then became “I’m going throw over seventeen” and that thought sort of got into my head, and it’s at that point where you start to not letting yourself throw.”
“But when I was throwing there, everything finally seemed to just line up. I’m hoping to find that throw sometime before the season ends.”
As hard as Ide has worked to improve his distances, the true thrill of competing and living within those moments isn’t lost on him. The experience of having a great throw keeps him motivated to press on in search of that ultimate throw. One that justifies the hours our intense training he puts in year after year.
“There is no other feeling like having a great throw,” explains Ide. “With other sports it’s a little more team-orientated. There are a lot people that can assist you in obtaining a level of success. But it’s you out there doing the throw…and the feeling is unbelievable.”
“It’s hard to describe when you have an awesome throw, or the throw that you’ve always been searching for. Most can’t find it, but when you think have it - or are close to it - you feel like you’ve really accomplished something. After all of the hard work you’ve put in, the feeling is amazing.”
There is an art to competing. It’s no secret that Ide and the rest of throwers share a methodical approach to competition which has enabled them to reach their current level of throwing. The team utilizes an assortment of visualization techniques that keep their emotions in check and energy focused for the time when it matters the most.
“I spend a lot of my time visualizing the throw in my head,” said Ide. “The more you visualize the throw, the more your body is going to automatically want to do it. In practice we talk about three or four different cues and we try to work on them. But in a competition, I think about one cue just before I throw. For me, I will look out to the far lines, and 95 percent of the time that line is reachable. Just to look at that line gets my adrenaline pumping.”
Watching the Spartan throwers in the action is much akin to watching lions on the prowl. They pace, do not make eye contact, and show absolutely no emotion. They are aware of their surroundings to an extent, with their main focus being their execution when they first step foot into the thrower’s pit.
Ide refers to it as “controlled chaos”.
“When you are getting ready to throw, you have to think you are going to kill the shot,” says Ide. “I’m thinking about killing it when I’m pacing. I can’t just stand there, I have to move. I think the pacing kind of helps me concentrate on exactly what I need to do, and when I get into the pit, I throw with the intention that it’s never coming back down.”
In a sport dominated by distances and times, Ide enjoys escaping for no set length or speed on his motor bike. Ide is the owner of a Yamaha Sport FZ6, a sport-touring bike he uses to the escape sports, academics, or whatever else occupies his thoughts.
“When I ride my motorcycle, I use it strictly for enjoyment,” Ide explains. “I once drove my bike three hours straight for fun. I’ve rode up to St. John’s, Bath, and I’ve done loops around the Lansing area where I’ll start out on a dirt road on one side of the city and end up on the opposite side. It’s a very head-clearing experience.”
“On a motor bike you are always aware of what is around you, and with these types of trips you’ll see places you’ll never get to see. You are just riding for enjoyment and you never feel like you are pressed for time.”
Outside of track and his hobbies, Ide is one of team’s top students. He is a U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association All-Academic Honoree, a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar, and has been an Academic All-Big Ten selection over the course of his collegiate career.
“In high school everything came easy,” said Ide. “Here, I was taking classes where I actually had to put in time. After my first year, I realized that - unless something crazy happens - I’m not going to be a post-collegiate thrower and make living out of it. So I realized that I really needed to do well in my classes that were directly related to my major - Construction Management.”
“When I switched majors from Chemical Engineering to Construction Management, I took entry-level classes and I loved them. It was never a struggle to go to class. I knew I had to get good grades, because when my days of competing are over, I will have to fall back on what I learned here.”
Ide also has the distinction of being honored as a recipient of the team’s Big Ten Sportsmanship Award.
“In the past I’ve always put my teammates above myself and I will do anything it takes to help them get better,” said Ide. “I’m always willing to help someone out with school, track, or their life in general.”
Ide speaks from experience when it comes to these life lessons and he sees a dramatic difference in his development as a person since arriving at MSU.
“I changed my work ethic once I got here,” explains Ide. “Even though I practiced hard in the first couple of years with the program, I didn’t work as hard as I should have.”
“Now, I have one goal in mind,” Ide continued. “I know I exactly where I want to go and what I want to be, and I’ve done everything I can to get where I am now. I have to approach everything differently and I know that I have to put everything in to get just little bit out.”
“If I only put a little bit in, I’m getting nothing out.”
After graduation and the NCAA Championships, Ide will be moving to Southern California in August to work with the construction management company, Hensel Phelps. Even though Southern California is over 2,000 miles away from East Lansing, Ide will have no trouble looking back and reflecting and what he has accomplished at Michigan State.
“I wouldn’t trade anything that I’ve done here for anything else in the world,” Ide states. “It’s been, by far, one of the best experiences I've had in my life. I would have no trouble telling anyone anywhere that I went to Michigan State and that I represented this program.”