Hamilton West’s Richmond Shasha competes during the Meet of Champions June 9, 2018 at Northern Burlington High School. (Photo by Suzette J. Lucas.)

Richmond Shasha’s jumping ability improved so much, he became a medalist at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions. While that was good news for Hamilton High West, it was bad news for some neighboring eateries on nearby South Broad Street.

“Aww man, I used to go out to McDonald’s and Wendy’s almost every other night,” Shasha said with a slight tinge of sadness in his voice. “Now, it’s pretty laid back, I’m eating my fruits, veggies, salads, a lot of protein.”

And the fast food stock could be dropping.

“They definitely miss me,” he said.

But Mickey D’s loss was the Hornets gain, as Richmond emerged as a top performer this spring.

After finishing fifth in long jump, seventh in high jump and a disappointing 10th in triple jump, Shasha used that as motivation to try and excel at the Central Jersey Group III meet. He looked every bit the motivated man in winning the long jump with a personal best 22-3-1/4 and triple jump in 46-3-1/4, while taking third in the high jump – an event he just started this year.

“That came out of nowhere,” Shasha said with a laugh. “I was real excited when high jump came along. That’s one of my main focuses next year.”

At the Group III state meet, he unloaded a second-place triple jump of 48-3-1/4 to break the school record of Malik Snead (now at Connecticut); and earned a Meet of Champions wild card berth with a seventh-place long jump of 21-11.

In the MOC, Shasha gained a fourth-place triple jump medal in 46-5-1/4 and went 22-1/2 in the long jump. Unfortunately, he dislocated his knee on his final triple jump attempt and was forced to miss the New Balance Nationals.

“I can’t even describe it,” Shasha said of the disappointment. “Knowing that if I would have competed it probably would have made it worse, there was nothing I could do but give it time to recuperate and recover.”

It still could not detract from his breakout campaign.

“I know that I can move forward with this season knowing I did my best,” Shasha said. “Even though it had ups and downs with injuries, I know that every time I went out there; I competed and gave it all I had and tried the best I could. I’m pretty satisfied with how I did this year and my accomplishments.”

He has a long way from the start, which was competing in CYO track meets as a Trenton Catholic Academy 8th-grader. He also performed high school track for TCA as a freshman before transferring to Hamilton.

“Around that time I was trying everything new, trying to find what I was good at,” he said. “When I found track it kind of stuck with me.”

There was little success back then, however.

“I wasn’t that experienced, I didn’t know what I was doing,” Shasha said. “I was just going out and having fun.”

Upon arriving at West, he began working with head coach Danielle Grady and jumps coach Jerry Van Slooten and the improvement was immediately noticeable. He went from jumping in the 18s in long and 38 in triple, up to the 20s and 42 as a sophomore.

“Last season he had an issue with his knee,” Grady said. “He came here not knowing about form and diet and how to train. This season, he and Van Slooten just put a lot of work together in changing his second phase (of the triple jump) and getting into the pit properly. Van Slooten changed up a few things that Richmond did in practice and made him a better athlete.”

The coaches got their first glimpse of Shasha on the basketball court, where he played varsity as a sophomore.

“We saw that he was a strong athlete,” Grady said. “When he came out we knew he was gonna be a jumper. He didn’t do the high jump last year, this year he really excelled at the long, high and triple.”

It was not only a change in technique and form that helped, but also a way-of-life change. Thus, fattening burgers were out, healthy apples and corn were in.

“We talk to our kids about the way that they eat and that athletes shouldn’t be eating the wrong food,” Grady said. “They need to come in prepared, truly hydrated, and have enough energy to get through practice. He took that in and saw that we as a team are trying to work toward something. We’re sending kids out to great colleges to make something of themselves. He saw what we were putting out there, he took it in, grabbed it and ran with it.”

It didn’t take long for Shasha to impress upon Grady just how hungry he was for his junior year.

“I saw it our first meet against Ewing,” the coach said. “He totally excelled there, he was jumping out of the pit. You could see the excitement with this kid. You’re like ‘Aww man, this is his first meet, he’s gonna do better things.’”

Shasha praised his coaches with helping improve his body type, as well as his form. He also credited two members of West’s famed “Air Hamilton” jump team from several years ago. While on spring break Snead and Rider’s Tyree Adams stopped by to provide tips. Both are enjoying stellar collegiate careers and their words were eagerly digested.

“They’re part of the reason I got better as the year went on,” Shasha said. “They did it all. They gave us technical tips, told us what marks we have to reach. Even things outside of track, like what we need to improve in school and all that.”

Shasha was not familiar with the duo before they showed up, but is now following their exploits, saying, “I gotta keep up and see what they’re doing so I can come back and do better than them, hopefully.”

He has already done better than Snead in high school by breaking his triple jump mark, which he cherishes.

“I knew what the record was, but at the beginning of the year I thought it was too far-fetched of a dream that I could break it,” Shasha said. “I could never imagine it. Then sectionals came, I popped a 46, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I can do this.’ I practiced hard for that one week, came back at groups and broke the record.”

When Shasha says he practiced hard, he is not embellishing.

“During every practice he goes out, and without being told what to do, he starts his routine, starts his drills,” said Grady, who feels he has an excellent chance of jumping at the next level. “You could tell he was focused and dedicated and he would have a great season. When he popped that 48-3 at Groups, that was definitely amazing.”

Shasha now has his eye on another Snead record: 23 feet in the long jump. He is less than a foot away and plans on working hard this summer with the Hopewell Valley High School jumps coach and one of Snead’s coaches at Rider.

He is also contemplating giving up basketball for winter track next year.

“It’s definitely a possibility, because that could be the time for me to improve technique wise and get stronger and grow,” Shasha said. “I gotta choose between the two.”

TCA or Hamilton; veggies or fries; hoops or track?

The decisions never end, but so far Shasha seems to be making the right ones.