After he fought through injury, Sammie Houston thrives with Gophers

Sammie Houston broke a personal record in the triple jump with 50 feet, 10 inches on March 17.

Kaleb Medhanie

Things got worse before they got better for Sammie Houston.

Houston had some success in his first competitive year as a redshirt freshman. He won the triple jump title at the St. Thomas Invite in the 2016 indoor season with a jump of 46 feet, 11 inches. That was his only victory in the triple jump of the season.

During the end of outdoor season, close to a month left, Houston was doing a long jump when he slipped and sprained his right ankle. That forced him to miss the rest of outdoor season.

“The point where I was really down was definitely [when associate head coach Paul Thornton] texted me and he literally asked me, ‘If I take you to Outdoor Big Ten, would you be able to compete?’ And I had to be honest and I was like, ‘No,’” Houston said. “I had to literally sign my ticket and cross my name off that list because of the injury I was going through that year and that for me was a real low point.”

Houston and Thornton had a conversation during indoor season this year, where they both agreed that getting 50 feet, 10 inches would be a great mark for the end of the year. He broke that mark in the first meet of outdoor season at the Arizona State’s Baldy Castillo Invitational, which ended on March 17, to start the Gophers’ outdoor season.

“When we bring up his name, he’s done something well,” head coach Steve Plasencia said. “I know that there is a lot of teammates that you can see in their faces that they are genuinely happy for him.”

Track was something Houston had to work at before his second season.

During the summer of 2017, Houston participated in various workouts that coaches assigned him, instead of taking the summer off. He learned how to cook to eat healthier. He also had groundskeeping work that kept him active.

“I feel like getting hurt really made me look in the mirror and go, ‘OK, what did I do wrong?’” Houston said. “I wasn’t getting the rest, I wasn’t taking care of my body. When the next season started, I decided I had to put myself in position to succeed by doing the little things.”

At the start of his redshirt sophomore season, he had fully recovered from his ankle injury. His improvement began in the Michigan Power 5 Invitational. He broke his personal record with 48 feet, 5.5 inches.

Two weeks later at the Snowshoe Open, Houston made the mark of 49 feet, 6.5 inches, which put him 10th all-time in Minnesota history. He accepted the invite to the indoor Big Ten championship and compete this season.

“I think his work ethic is very strong at this point in time,” Thornton said. “Now, he is very much more purposeful in his approach.”