COLUMBIA CITY — It’s not every day an athlete gets a call to participate in the Olympic Trials.
But for former Columbia City High School stand-out Leah Eber, it’s only fitting.
Ranked as one of the top 24 long jumpers in the nation, Eber performs at the Olympic level. She got the call just hours before she was expected to jump.
She got up the next morning to get on a plane and fly to Omaha, Neb.
Athletes had 48 hours prior to the event to declare if they were going to compete in the trials, leaving Eber restless until she got the news.
“It was like a roller coaster for me because I had no idea where I stood on the list without knowing which jumpers would declare,” Eber said. “I was ranked very high at the beginning of the year, but over time other athletes that also qualified were required to declare their intention to compete in the Olympic trials, moving me down the list.”
All jumpers had to prove their qualifying distances at an official meet, and also be a U.S.A. Track and Field member. Eber came into the meet seeded 24th, and left with a 16th-place finish after jumping 20 feet, two inches.
“I was confident in myself that I could do well,” Eber said. “One of my goals was to make it into finals and to make the top 12.”
Her all-time best jump is 21 feet, 2.75 inches, a distance she was hoping for at the trials. I didn’t do as well as I’d hoped,” Eber said.
Eber said she loved the atmosphere at the trials.
“I had hundreds of people cheering for me while I jumped. There was such a great deal of warmth and appreciation from the spectators. They truly have a passion and excitement for track and field. It was so exciting to see that and to hear all of the cheering.”
Though Eber’s college career with Purdue wrapped up this year, she doesn’t plan to stop jumping any time soon.
“I am in the process of making plans for my future as a professional athlete,” Eber said. “As far as where I will be, I’m not sure. There are many things I have to consider before I know where I will be training.”
Will she be trying to make it to the Olympics again?
“Absolutely,” Eber said.
Eber said college sports are different than competing in high school.
“Sports can be very political and in college it’s more like a business,” Eber said. “It was important for me not to lose myself in all of that.
“The biggest contributor to my success has been surrounding myself with good people. Everyone needs a support system and I have an amazing one. I was incredibly blessed to always have my family and some other people in my life who were always there for me.”
Eber said once she had a support system, it was easy to sit back, work as hard as she could and never forget to enjoy herself.
“It was the opportunity of a lifetime,” she said.
Many local people, including long-time Columbia City Head Track Coach Bob Fahl, weren’t surprised that Eber was competing with the best in the nation.
“In high school, several of her teammates used to say, ‘Leah, I want you to remember me when you go to the Olympics,’” Fahl said.
Though Fahl doesn’t brush off Eber’s outstanding achievements through high school, he said more importantly, she was a great teammate.
“If there’s one thing she didn’t want to do, it was let her team down,” Fahl said. “She was determined to help her team.”
Fahl also commented on her mental attitude.
“She’s not haughty, not arrogant, not smug — she’s everything you want a winner to be. A gracious winner and a gracious loser,” Fahl said.
He recalled a time Eber lost to an athlete from Homestead.
“She congratulated her and didn’t pout. You’d never hear her say a bad word about anyone or anything, no matter how disgusted she was. She has great sportsmanship.
“She was a person everyone wanted to be around,” Fahl said. “She was very focused and very under control, even though everyone wanted to beat her. It’s easy to be surrounded by negativity. I have always tried to live by being positive about everything,” Eber said. “Even if things don’t turn out in your favor, if you have faith and believe in yourself, the glass will always be half full. Honestly, at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.”
Coach Fahl has been Columbia City’s track coach for decades, mentoring thousands of athletes over the years, and Eber is the first of his athletes to compete at the Olympic Trials.
“We’re not talking about state championships or college championships. We’re talking about the Olympic Trials against anyone in the U.S. That’s a big spectrum of people,” Fahl said.
State championships — Eber has been to a few of those — four, in fact.
She competed in the long jump at the state finals all four years of her high school career —and placed in the top 10 every time.
She was the state runner-up her sophomore, junior and senior years, and placed eighth in the state her freshman season.
She also took eighth in the state finals in the 200-meter dash, one of three events that she holds school records in.
She has a 19-foot long jump record, 12.3 second 100-meter dash time and holds the 200-meter dash record.
She has the Northeast Hoosier Conference record in the long jump and has the state record for indoor competitions at 19 feet, seven inches.
She still holds the high school record at the fieldhouse at Indiana University from the meet.
Eber holds Purdue’s indoor and outdoor school records. In the NCAA National Track meet, she placed ninth with a jump of 20 feet, eight inches, earning her 2nd-Team All-Nation honors.
She was All-American, Academic All-American, four-time Big Ten Champion, a Distinguished Scholar Award winner, Arthur Ashe Award Winner, three-time school record holder, two-time Big Ten Field Athlete of the Week, a John Wooden Leadership Member, Big Ten Field Athlete of the Year, NCAA Woman of the Year Nominee ... and the list goes on.
“I hold value in all of my accomplishments because I feel there is more to being an athlete than people realize,” Eber said. “To me, success should not be defined by a mere number. I feel that athletes are role models, leaders and inspirers.
“For me it’s always been about making myself better in every single facet of my life, not just sports.”