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Eric Peterson, Published May 20 2009

Concordia track and field: Former hockey player Westmark excels after sport switch

When Paul Westmark came to Concordia, he didn’t aspire to be a track and field star – but it has worked out that way.

From Appleton, Wis., his sport of choice was hockey before he decided to try track at the end of his freshman year.

“I just showed up for practice one day,” said Westmark, who didn’t go out for track until he was a junior in high school. “I decided I would give it a shot and if I didn’t like it, I would stop.”

Westmark didn’t stop. Now a senior, Westmark has qualified for the NCAA Division III Outdoor Track Championships in the decathlon, an event he didn’t start competing in until he was a sophomore.

The D-III meet starts Thursday at Marietta (Ohio) College. Cobbers junior Leah Kay will also compete at the meet in the women’s heptathlon and javelin. Westmark is ranked 15th in the decathlon, but hopes to earn All-American status by placing in the top 8.

“The whole development was an exciting process,” Westmark said. “I would have never expected it. I wouldn’t change it at all, except for maybe doing the decathlon my freshman year.”

Concordia men’s track coach Garrick Larson recalled being skeptical when Westmark first came out for the team.

“All I could think of was, ‘Ah great. Just what I need, a loose cannon hockey player on the team,’ ” joked Larson. “But it didn’t take long for me to realize his personality fit better with the track team.”

Westmark gave up hockey at Concordia as a sophomore, which was the same year he decided to compete in the decathlon.

“I really didn’t know about the decathlon until the end of my freshman year,” Westmark said. “It kind of opened up my eyes to what track and field had to offer.”

Westmark and his roommate, Paul Shol – who provisionally qualified for the national meet this spring in the decathlon, but didn’t make the cut – were in a group of newcomers to the decathlon that year.

Westmark had little to no experience in many of the 10 events when he started. He cleared a modest 8 feet in his first pole vault competition.

“We got eight feet and we were just stoked,” said Westmark. “We were really going crazy.”

Westmark cleared 12 feet, 5 inches by the end of his sophomore year and his personal best is now 14-1. In his first high jump competition, he made it over 4-6. Now his best is 6-0.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blogs can be found at www.areavoices.com