It Was a Great Day for Bloomfield High School's Demario Gray, but a tough one for Northwest Catholic's Sarah Gillespie

While one athlete had an amazing meet, the other was unable to race

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He takes a picture. That's right. Demario Gray uses his index fingers and thumbs to form an imaginary camera. He snaps a mental photograph. And then he jumps like nobody else in the state.

"I ask my guys to visualize things," Gray's coach Garfield White said, breaking into a big laugh after his Bloomfield boys track team captured the CIAC State Open title. "Demario, I guess he decided to take it literally."

On Monday at Willow Brook Park, Gray became only the second competitor since Jerome Young of Prince Tech in 1995 to win three individual events at the CIAC State Open. Before anybody shows him their photographs of his jumps, mind you, Gray already has them locked up in his brain.

The Bloomfield senior won the long jump at 22-9, using only two attempts in order to conserve energy. With his unique brand of mental photography, he won the high jump at 6-10. And then on his next-to-last try, he set a personal best of 47 feet in the triple jump—an event he only began competing in this year.

That's right. Demario Gray is one part Walter Iooss of Sports Illustrated, one part Owen Wilson in "Hall Pass" and all mad hops.

"I'm a visual person," Gray said. "I had an art teacher, Mr. Spencer, last year. He told me since I'm good at art I should visualize something before I do it. So I started mentally taking a picture of the bar at the point where I want to be. By the time I begin my jump, I've already pictured myself getting over the bar."

Sarah Gillespie will take home no such photographic memories. In fact, she doesn't even remember the most striking part of her final State Open. Ten minutes before she was set to defend her 1,600-meter title, the Northwest Catholic senior faded to black. She said she had used her inhaler as a preemptive strike against allergies and as she warmed up, she passed out.

For the area's top boys track and field athlete, it was a day of monstrous success and memories. For the top girls runner in the area, it was just a monstrous day.

Young, who went on to compete in the Olympics, won the 100, 200 and 400 in 1995. Cheshire's Jake Scinto won the long jump at 22-11, the high jump at 6-4 and triple jump at 45-41/4 last year before heading to Princeton. Young bettered Scinto's performance in the high jump and triple jump and was thrilled with sweep of the jumps. But, just like any great photographer, he wasn't pleased with every shot.

Click. Gray cleared 6-10 to beat Jake Almquist of Woodstock [6-8]. Click. Click. Click. Three times, Gray missed clearing 7-0.

"I was aiming for 7-4," Gray said of the whopping height. "I like to set my bar high. But I really wanted 7-0 feet. It's nothing new to me. A little thing here and there I could have fixed it. I'm kind of disappointed in my high jump performance. I was really focused on it.

"But 6-10 was enough to win. That part feels great. I set a goal. I wanted to sweep the jumping in the state. I did it."

Basketball was his first love. He started playing when he was 12. He wanted to be a star.

"I guess it wasn't to be," he said.

He played junior varsity last year and over the summer he had a decision to make. He decided on indoor track. It was a great call. He led Bloomfield to its first State Open indoor title, winning the high jump [6-10] and long jump [23-5 ½] and he said that remains his best day. Along the way, he also earned All-American status.

"I had my prom on Friday," Gray said. "I hadn't practiced since Thursday. It was a long week. I was coming in today a little iffy. My legs were kind of tired, because my marks were off and long. I had to get more run through than I usually do. It cut my numbers back.

"I was only going to jump once in the long jump, but I took a second attempt because I didn't want to get snuck-up on. Like I said my marks were off all day and in the triple jump I was coming down too fast and collapsing on my second phase. So I kind of calmed down, relaxed and went back to running more slowly to control my power."

He produced that 47-foot triple jump late in the meet, a tribute to his resilience. Yeah, he brought plenty to this meet, just about everything but his straw hat. Actually, the hat belongs to his mom and Gray started wearing it to meets this spring. When a guy is taking photos, it's good to do some stylin' in the sunshine.

"But it was raining earlier," said Gray, who committed to UConn last month. "I didn't want to be the guy in the straw hat when it's raining."

As Gray was taking sharp mental pictures over at the high jump pit, matters stared getting fuzzy for Gillespie. She had a fabulous high school career, finishing as high as fifth at the New Balance Indoor Track and Field National Championships in March with a time of 4:52/52 in the mile. She's an All-American.

Gillespie's coach Patrick Williamson said his star was entered in the 1,600, 800 and 4 x 400 relay. She was excited for a big afternoon.

"Especially the 1,600," Williams said. "She knew this was the best in-state competition she faced this year."

Four girls went under five minutes in one of the highlight events of the day. Claire Howlett of Westhill won in 4:53.97.

Reached at home Monday night, Gillespie said she hadn't used her inhaler for allergies often before races. She said she had a bad reaction.

"She was having trouble catching here breath," Williamson said. "She passed out. I think it was a combination of that, nerves, heat. Physically she's OK. Unfortunately she couldn't run. We made the call with the trainer on site here.

"She has had difficulties this season, prior to some races. I'm not sure exactly what it is. We're trying to do get to the bottom of it. I think she has been dealing with the end of her high school career and some anxiety level with big races."

This has been a problematic spring for Gillespie, who will run at Harvard next school year. She pulled out of the Penn Relays and Greater Hartford Invitational, but she said those were because of stomach problems. Because she did not compete in the State Open, she did not qualify for the New England Open Saturday at Willow Brook Park.

"It's really too bad," Williamson said.

Williamson was in the stands watching his other athletes when Gillespie was overcome in the bullpen area. Williamson said her mom was there.

"Her mom texted me," Williamson said. "She remained dizzy and out of it for about a half hour. It was the first time she'd actually passed out. The trainer on site said she's done for the day. He wasn't comfortable putting her out there. She might pass out, hit her head, might fall into another runner. I was on board with it."

Gillespie told the other girls that the team couldn't run the relay because she was pulling out. It wasn't an easy moment.

"They were great about it," Williamson said. "They were disappointed about the race. But they were all glad she was OK. They're all friends. They're close. They know what's important."

Williamson pulled Gillespie aside before she left the meet and left her with a message: "I told her, 'Don't let this be the last memory of your high school career. You've done so many phenomenal things. That's what I'll remember. That's what everybody else will remember.'

"She's going to be fine. She is going to do great in college."

Gillespie listened. Four hours later, she sounded upbeat.

"I've got 4 more years," Gillespie said. "Today was just another day. It was a bummer, but it will be great motivator over the summer."

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