Track and Field Studies Coach Uses Latest Research to Help Teens Run Faster

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Byline: Michael Wamble Daily Herald Staff Writer

Ken Jakalski is the fastest man in Lisle.

"Wait," says Jakalski, 53, who runs about 20 miles a week but hasn't signed up for a 10K recently.

"Maybe I'm the best guy in trying to find out how people get faster."

Fair enough.

Doesn't have the same ring to it, though.

But when Jakalski's phone rings, it could be a research-minded physicist. Or an Olympian. Or university coaches with newly purchased electronic track and field equipment trying to figure out how to use the stuff.

And on a misty February day, get Jakalski out on Wilde Track - the eight-lane reddish polyurethane oval behind Lisle Junior High School, the place where he's helped develop high school state champions and championship teams - and even he can't help but admit it, bounding on one leg in Lane 7.

"I feel good."

Yet as good as he feels on the track, Jakalski's best day this year came indoors.

In January, Jakalski was inducted into the Illinois Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Hall of Fame.

Part of the reason he's been so successful in track and field and so open to technological and research-based training tools to help kids run faster and jump higher are his memories of being just like them, he says.

Jakalski recalls the days when as a teen he had big sports dreams of his own.

They had nothing to do with the speed of his feet, but with the velocity of his tennis racket.

Growing up in southwest suburban Evergreen Park, Jakalski worked on the unconventional way he held his tennis racket. He hoped a prominent tennis coach might take him on as a student - the first step in a journey toward being the best.

But all the instructor told Jakalski was to change his grip and his swing.


Do it the way it's always been done.

Jakalski still recounts the episode with fleeting thoughts of what could've been. Something like that might have turned someone else away from athletics.

But not him.

The way his teenage tennis dream was dashed shaped the way Jakalski has worked with athletes for 19 years as head track coach at Lisle High School as well as his willingness to stay open-minded to physical and technological tools that increase speed in his sport.

During the upcoming track and field season, Jakalski says, the team will train with special starting blocks, called ReacTime, that use sound and infrared beams to monitor how fast runners come out of the blocks.

It will be the latest tool Jakalski has brought to Lisle track and field, added to a list of innovations that have made Jakalski a hall of famer. …