Published April 20. 2013 4:00AM
New London - As a high school freshman, Adam Scalesse's track coach suggested that he'd become a hurdler.
He wasn't crazy about the idea, preferring running events that didn't require clearing an obstacle.
"I wasn't too keen on it," Scalesse said.
It took a taste of success for Scalesse to eventually adopt it as his specialty. He went on to win an individual state championship as a junior at Kelso High School in Washington and drew scholarship offers from Division I schools.
Now he's an elite hurdler at the Coast Guard Academy, owning the best time in nation in Division III, posting a time of 14.29 seconds.
A 6-foot-3 junior, Scalesse's ultimate goal is to return to the NCAA Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championship later next month in Wisconsin and win his first individual title in the 110-meter hurdles.
Scalesse, a three-time All-American, already is considered one of best track athletes in the program's history. He finished second in the 60-meter hurdles at the NCAA indoor championships in March, breaking his own school record with a time of 8.095 seconds.
"I would say he's in the top tier of athletes that we've had," coach Ethan Brown said. "He's on pace to be one of our most decorated All-Americans."
Don't bet against Scalesse, who possesses a powerful combination of talent, determination, focus and competitive spirit, from adding to his impressive resume.
All of his championship-caliber traits were on display in last year's NCAA outdoor championship. After setting a personal best in the preliminaries, he ran into trouble at the start of the finals, as he and another competitor bumped at the first hurdle.
What Scalesse did next really impressed Brown and other coaches that day. He kept his composure and recovered to take eighth, earning All-America status.
"That was a defining moment for him," Brown said. "He landed off-balance and kept going to the finish. I haven't seen anyone with that much drive and that much push and not giving up. It was a true character moment. … It was pretty cool."
Scalesse was a bit surprised by the reaction of coaches praising him for his gutsy performance.
"It wasn't where I wanted to be but it kind of gives me an appreciation for being able to do something like that," Scalesse said.
His performance helped fuel his desire to return to the nationals this season and shoot for a podium finish.
Since that day, he's diligently worked to improve his technique. He drew inspiration last summer from watching Aries Merritt of the United States win a 2012 Olympic gold medal in the 110 hurdles.
Following Merritt's routine, he cut down on the steps in his start, going from eight to seven to the first hurdle. He was on the track in early August working on the change, which helped him shave off valuable time.
"It was a risk that we were taking," Brown said. "But we felt the payoff was significant."
Scalesse keeps laying out challenges to conqueror. He's striving to lower his time below his personal best of 14.26 set last season at the nationals, hoping to break 14 seconds this spring.
His drive and desire to be the best has elevated him to an elite level. He's served as shining example for his teammates to follow.
"Really, it's just determination," Scalesse said. "I probably didn't start out much better anybody else. … It's just a lot of hard work."
While his track career has taken off, Scalesse also hopes to reach great heights once he graduates. He wants to attend flight school and become a helicopter pilot.