London Western triple jumper Caroline Ehrhardt credits special inspiration for stunning result

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It’s a performance that would challenge even the most pragmatic, the most practical, the most level-headed among us to deviate from what is our normal.

It would capture the imagination of the most whimsical, most romantic, most esoteric — those who believe in the impossible.

It’s a story of strength, determination and belief in power somehow transferred by those who love us.

It’s not a question of believing in the hard-to-believe because the end-product was the proof at a time that was among the darkest for track and field athlete Caroline Ehrhardt and her fiancé, decathlete Taylor Stewart.

Ehrhardt had a special bond with her 69-year-old father Klaus. He was her father but also her supporter, friend and biggest fan. They grew especially close as Klaus nurtured Ehrhardt and her two sisters through the pain of losing their mother to cancer when Ehrhardt was in elementary school.

Ehrhardt, from Espanola, showed promise in track and field and Klaus wanted her to have something to distract her from her mother’s death.

He also wanted a way to keep an eye on his young daughter, so to make sure she wouldn’t have to train in what Ehrhardt calls “some of the tougher places in Espanola,” Klaus built a jumping pit in their backyard.

“It’s still there today,” she says.

Ehrhardt, now 25, came to Western University and competed in track and field. Her specialty was the triple jump. It’s also where she met Stewart.

Throughout his daughter’s university and international career, Klaus would be at her events.

He was watching in early July when competing for London Western Track and Field Club, Ehrhardt won the triple jump at the Canadian championships, covering 13.53 metres. He also watched as Stewart finished second in the decathlon.

Two days after the meet concluded, Ehrhardt got a call that turned her world around. Her father had died of a heart attack.

Just a month and a half earlier, Stewart had lost his stepfather to cancer.

“Trying to help my mother out and then with Klaus — I was very close to Klaus. It was a big shock,” Stewart said. “It was the hardest thing I’ve been through, watching (Caroline) go through what she went through.”

In the fog that followed the death of her father, Ehrhardt had to make a decision. Both she and Stewart were scheduled to compete in the Francophone Games in the Ivory Coast in Africa beginning July 23. Ehrhardt did almost no training. She couldn’t eat and lost eight pounds.

After talking with Stewart she decided she would travel to the Games even though she wasn’t sure she would compete.

“I still don’t know how I did it, to be honest,” Ehrhardt said. “It was huge that Taylor was there. I don’t think I would have gotten on the plane if he wasn’t. I would have had to grieve by myself over there. Knowing my dad and how supportive he’s been of my journey in sport, I know that wherever he is, he would have been disappointed if I’d had a poor performance because of him. So I just tried to keep that in mind . . . how happy he would have been if I did my best. I still can’t really believe I did what I did.”

The triple jump was held on July 24.

“Watching her warm up before the competition, I knew it was going to be a good day by how well she looked,” Stewart said. “By her second jump, 13.45, I kind of knew something good was going to be in store.”

Her third jump was 13.55, a personal best. On her fifth jump she flew 13.65 and the emotion started to get to her.

“After 13.65, I knew that I was going to break down a little bit,” Ehrhardt said. “But I knew that there was more, I had a little more. When I went 13.83, I just lost it. I broke down. I was so happy I did that but sad that I couldn’t tell him. I know that he knows but . . . “

The 13.83 was 30 centimetres better than she’d ever jumped going into the competition.

July 24, the day she competed in the triple jump, would have been her father’s 69th birthday.

“Even from just an emotional standpoint, how is it possible that I did what I did?” she said. “From just the physical side, I didn’t train for two weeks, I’d lost eight pounds. It was impossible to eat. How is it when times I thought I was in the best shape of my life and I’ve had the best practices going into competitions, I haven’t touched the distances that I did in Africa? After everything I’ve been through, someone was helping me.”

Ehrhardt says it was one of the hardest things she’s had to do.

“It was tough,” she said. “I didn’t try to put on a brave face or anything or fight the emotions. I just took everything as it came. If I was sad, I’d cry. If I was mad, I’d talk it through with Taylor and talk myself through the grieving process, just keeping in mind on July 24th at 4 p.m., I’m going to jump the best I can for him.”

Stewart also had an outstanding meet. He won the decathlon with 7,852 points, just short of the magic 8,000-point barrier. He too might have had some help.

“Even before Taylor and I were dating, (Klaus) was a huge fan of Taylor because he followed the track world. He was pretty excited when we started dating,” Ehrhardt said.

London Western coach Vickie Croley was astonished by the results, considering the circumstances.

“What they did was incredible and showed the strength of the human spirit,” Croley said. “They had each other’s support and the support of family, coaches and friends. When circumstances aren’t good, athletes need to remember they aren’t in it alone and they have the support of so many to help them achieve what they are capable of.

“I’m so proud of both of them and would have been even if the results weren’t as strong.”

The two are getting married next October, but the strong results over the last few weeks have reinvigorated their desire to continue to compete.

“We were starting to question how much longer we would be doing this,” Stewart said.

“There were two different factors,” explained Ehrhardt. “When you are in university, this is something we’re going to do, but now we are getting married and there are other things we want to do. We want to have a career. Do we really want to keep making these sacrifices? Maybe when we get married, we pursue something else.

“But now with the results being so promising, how can you not go for another Olympics?”

If that’s the case they’ll both know someone will be there to help them.

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