It's not every day you set out to watch your brother in the decathlon to suddenly finding yourself competing in it yourself. It's even rarer to come back from injury and failure to become the number one ranked U.S. decathlete. But Solomon Simmons did just that. We sat down with Solomon talked about where he is now, how he got there, and what's up for him next.
How were you first introduced to the decathlon?
I was first introduced to the decathlon by a high school coach, Matt Farmer, aka Farmer. He was a decathlete in college at UC Irvine, well connected in the sport and saw something in me, or my brother, rather. I ended up in my first decathlon by being “tricked” into competing with my brother, Ben, when his training partner didn't show up for the meet. Since that day, I was hooked.
You chose to attend a small school over a well-known track powerhouse. Why and how has that helped your athletic career?
I made the decision to attend Eastern Michigan University over Duke, UCLA, and a few other schools because I believed it offered me in a tradition of track excellence. It was really for a coach that sadly left two weeks before I showed up on campus. I was devastated at this loss but God was working in the midst of the confusion. I ended up being paired with Steve Manz, a phenomenal coach, and an even better person. We had similar athletic styles by being “different” physically in our event areas but having a sick work ethic, and that’s how we figured out the decathlon. Later in my career, I began to think about transferring, as most developing athletes do, but I stayed for Coach Manz and the great support system that had been built at EMU. I believe the harsh Michigan winters teach a blue-collar, Detroit work ethic. I’ve tried to model my career to emulate that work ethic.
Your first decathlon didn’t turn out so great and yet you came back for more next season. What was it that helped you look past the failure and come back for more?
The worst thing about a decathlon is there are always areas to improve. As soon as you think you’re done, you think through the ups and downs of the meet and get hungry to do it again. Cruelly, the decathlon ends with the 1500m (mile), which actually releases dopamine and makes you forget about the two days of pain you’ve just endured! Naturally, I’m somewhat of a perfectionist and want to strive for perfection in the decathlon, but since it's impossible, it keeps me coming back for more. My nature plus the endorphins keep me very interested in honing myself within the decathlon.
What is your favorite event in the decathlon?
I really believe someone has to take the decathlon on as a whole and respect the entire event. So my favorite event is the Decathlon! That being said, as I just finished competing in Doha for the 2019 Track & Field World Championships, I wanted to respect each event for what they offer but was most excited for hurdles and long jump. I've been working hard and am excited to see what develops in these events.
You’ve dealt with a few injuries over the course of your career. What’s one piece of advice you’d give to people who deal with injury in sports and want to return?
Don’t give in. You will constantly have thoughts swirling around your mind saying “You’ll never be the same.”, “No way you can be 100%." Don’t give in to this notion. You will never be the same, you will be better. More hungry. The victory will be that much more worth the struggle. I have probably taken off around two years due to injuries and God provided two things that changed my recovery process: 1) you are invaluable no matter what you accomplish in your sport. Your worth is not connected to athletic success. It takes consistent action and thoughts to actually believe that but the minute I let go of my sport and had fun is when I took off on the world stage. And 2) sport is meant for fun. It’s easy to lose these frameworks but they provide so much freedom if you keep these two ideas in focus.
What does a typical day of training look like?
I love this question because it shocks so many people to spend 5-6 hours a day training and also work a full-time job but it takes community and people that believe in the dream to make it happen. I wake up around 5 am and head to the gym for about 2 hours depending on where I am in the year. After that, I head into my desk job as a financial analyst, which is crucial for recovery. Then I leave the office around 4 pm to head to the track for practice at 5 pm which normally ends around 8 pm. I head home, eat, shower, pack for the next day and do it all over again!
When you have free time, how do you spend it?
I don’t tend to have free time, as you can see from my schedule, but I’m a huge fan of good food. I love trying different ethnic foods and Atlanta is a food mecca! I also enjoy nature. I’m not a big camper but there is something so refreshing and awe-inspiring about being in God’s creation.
Who taught you how to be a man?
Truly, I’ve had so many men that modeled masculinity to me. I can only take time to list the most influential men. Sushant Govindan, Bruce Dishnow, Andy Eggerth, Matt Farmer, Bob Koch and so many more. The ones that deserve a special note are my three closest men: my father, Mekiel Ijah; my grandfather, Earl Simmons; and my uncle, Erik Simmons.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I would say the best advice I’ve received was never from one person. I’ve been fortunate to be around some amazing people but the words that ring the truest to me are scripture which I apply to sport; Romans 12:1 has always meant to ton to me. It says, “I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
Favorite item of Rhone gear?
Rhone has to have the BEST gear to train in so the 7” Swift Shorts are a big favorite of mine! For work, I can always be comfortable in the Commuter Pants. Since I’m 6’5, it makes me so happy to find pants with ALL the length I need.
To follow more of Solomon's decathlon training, follow him on Instagram: @solo_simmons