A.J. Blackburn, as a Clovis East High assistant coach in track and field, has written many college letters of recommendation.
But this one, for Brad Beekman, was a problem.
“I couldn’t do it justice,” Blackburn says, “I couldn’t write the words.”
It was one thing to endorse a senior who would become the first athlete in the 94-year history of the Central Section Masters finals to sweep the pole vault (15 feet, 1 inch) and discus (170-0) — an unusual double to merely attempt, much less conquer.
It was quite another to explain how he did this as a Type 1 diabetic, and with a listening/process disorder.
“You talk about the perfect storm of barriers,” Blackburn says of The Bee’s male Athlete of the Year in track and field. “The dude is a tremendous story. When you unpack it, look at all the different facets, it’s the kind of stuff you make a movie out of and people feel good about.”
The script will extend to Cal Poly, where Beekman will take a 3.7 grade-point average while enrolling in the school’s agriculture program with the ultimate objective of taking over his father’s statewide beekeeping business.
In San Luis Obispo, he will attempt to compete on the college level as a decathlete.
For this 18-year-old, the next challenge will be much more than branching his skills to 10 events; it will, again, be about the balancing act of competition and emotional control as related to the diabetes.
Diagnosed with the blood-sugar disease in fifth-grade, Beekman wears an insulin pump (like a circular Band-Aid) — even during competition — and tests his blood-sugar levels up to 15 times a day.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” he says. “My adrenalin shoots up and the blood sugar sky- rockets, making me feel lousy, droggy and sleepy. I shoot some insulin, it goes back down, then I make a bar (a successful vault), I get excited and it shoots back up. It’s really hard to contain, and it’s a never-ending process.”
Then there is the listening/process disorder that was identified in the past year: “I have a hard time explaining myself, but it’s not a big deal.”
Not a big deal?
Blackburn hasn’t experienced a bigger deal than Brad Beekman.
“His self-determination, perseverance; his focus, priorities; his unwillingness to give up — there’s an intrinsic quality that enables him to succeed,” Blackburn says.
“We’re talking about a guy who grabs a pole and launches himself in the air, feeling like his gas tank is empty all of the time.
“He’s just a class act, an amazing kid.”
Athlete of the Year