NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Merrimack College junior John Braga chose the North Andover campus, in part, because it was close to his North Reading home. Now a junior and one of the top decathletes in the region, he has his sight set on some big goals.
Braga is on the cusp of qualifying for nationals in the decathlon, which is 10 events that combine both running and jumping. Athletes who compete in the decathlon compete in the 100-meter sprint, 110-meter hurdles, 400-meter event, 1500-meter event, long jump, high jump, shot put, discus throw, javelin throw and pole vault.
“I knew I could go to Merrimack and help them out and compete right away,” Braga said. “If I went to another school, a bigger school, I don’t think I would have as much coaching attention. At Merrimack I’m able to get 1-on-1 training, like everyone else. I also knew that I wanted to do the decathlon, and Merrimack was going to allow me to do that.”
Qualifying for nationals would make Braga only the second athlete in Merrimack history to reach that goal, following in the footsteps of classmate Carly Muscaro. Braga says that his training the last two years has been to get him ready for a run this season.
“Qualifying for nationals would mean everything,” Braga said. “This is the first year where I really thing I can go to nationals and do a lot of damage, and hopefully place. It’s been a lot of hard work, and it would be great to have happen.”
Braga holds Merrimack records in the 60-meter hurdles, long jump, high jump and pole vault.
At North Reading High School, Braga ran track but also grew up a basketball player, taking part in camps held at Merrimack during his youth days. That was his first introduction to the campus, and even now, he uses some of his basketball training in preparing for the decathlon events.
“I love going to the gym and just shooting hoops, that helps with some leaping,” he said. “What I’ve worked on the most with the running events is just having more heart during a race. The 1500 I used to run a lot slower, but that was because I didn’t know how to run it. The coaches have helped me with that.
“It is kind of pacing yourself, but it’s also making sure that you’re going out hard. I’m getting close to qualifying for nationals, so that’s become a big goal.”
Braga first began competing in the event his sophomore year of high school and said he immediately fell in love with it.
“It’s all I wanted to do,” he said. “Other schools that recruited me only wanted me to be a long jumper, and I didn’t want to do just that.”
Training for the decathlon is also much different than if Braga was only in a couple of events. There isn’t much time to focus on just one event in training, and time management is a big component.
“We find time to get practice in on all the events every week,” Braga said. “Our coach (Jacky Mendes) does a great job planning out practices every week and that’s important.”
The track team, only in its sixth year, has grown by leaps and bounds not only since its inaugural season, but since Braga has joined the program.
“It’s a different program now than it was two years ago,” he said. “The whole attitude has changed. Everyone is here to win. There were some years where we all were here, and some of us did well and that would be great and then we would go home. Not anymore. We’re here to beat teams. I love it. I’ve never been a part of something like this before.”
The Warriors are at the Harvard Multi-Meet this weekend, while some will also take part in the Tufts Invitational. The Northeast-10 and New England Championships for the indoor season is in late-February, with nationals scheduled for March 11-12 in Kansas.