As Daniel Claxton looked around his room, his eyes locked on something he said means most to him: a “most outstanding athlete” award.
The honor, selected and handed out by the Suffolk County coaches, is given to an athlete who excels in the sport or possesses great sportsmanship.
The junior high jumper for Smithtown East first stepped foot on a track and field arena in seventh grade. Having an amazing day at a middle school meet in eighth grade, Claxton said his older brother William, who was on the varsity team, came up to him with a Bulls T-shirt.
“I told him I wasn’t on the high school team, but he told me his coach said I qualified to be on it, and wanted to give me the shirt as a ‘see you next year’ kind of thing,” Daniel Claxton said. “From that moment I thought to myself, ‘there’s no way I’m going to stop doing this.’”
When Daniel Claxton first started jumping, he reached 5’1’’ and, now, has reached a personal best of 6’10’’ and said he hopes to break the seven-foot barrier in the near future.
One of his most memorable moments of his high school career to date, though, was when he jumped 6’3’’ at the state meet qualifier as a freshman.
“Everything went perfect — I got it first try,” he said. “I heard my parents screaming for me and only one other kid ended up making that height. I got knocked out the next round, but my coach told me I still might make it to states. Everyone was sitting with me and I was shaking, and my coach, who is a foot-and-a-half shorter than me, kicked my backside and handed me my plaque. That was such a great day I’ll never forget.”
Earning All-State as a freshman, after coming in fifth place, was just the first of many accolades Claxton would garner. Each season, he’s earned All-League, All-Division, All-County and All-State nods. Each year, he’s improved his height as a result of rigorous training, despite head coach Kathie Borbet not needing to coach him.
“We’re basically there for more moral and emotional support, because he’s such a natural athlete that when he came into varsity track he had perfect form,” she said, adding that she heard about Claxton early on from a middle school gym teacher. “He’s tremendously talented and has this great concentration.”
That focus and drive took him all the way to states again, his sophomore year, where he placed second. This season, he made it back to the finals, where he was able to avenge his loss to become a state champion.
“Ever since I knew I would be competing for this type of stuff, I’d say I’ve been taking the sport a lot more seriously,” he said. “I knew this year that I wanted it, and I needed it. My workouts were getting harder and the stakes were getting higher, and it felt great to finally win and show that not only did I deserve it because I was seeded first, but because of my work ethic and my passion for the sport.”
Since then, Claxton has also competed at the New Balance Nationals, where he garnered All-American honors.
What has helped Claxton improve his height has been his plyometric training with assistant coach Kurt Martraf.
Claxton said he does drills with three-foot, four-foot and five foot boxes, doing toe taps and step ups, and different types of vertical jumps with soft landings. Martraf said the training has been paying back dividends.
“He wouldn’t be where he is right now without those various plyometric exercises, and he’s willing to train and follow direction and take feedback and look at every aspect of his jump, and that’s another reason why he is where he is today,” he said. “He has great character. He has a good, positive attitude and he’s a well-liked athlete throughout his team.”
Which is something Claxton said he prides himself on.
“I always motivate athletes on my team to do better,” he said. “Even when I’m in other competitions … I always try to give advice. They may not take my advice, but I’m always willing to share it.”
It’s just because he loves the sport.
“Every meet I’ll go out there and realize that this sport is my life,” he said. “It’s sleeping, eating and breathing track and field ever since I was 12. I don’t know where I’d be without this sport. It means everything to me.”
And Borbet thinks he’s exactly where he needs to be.
“I’m just along for the ride and enjoying every moment of it,” she said. “He’s not out there to flaunt it — he’s a humble kid. If you’ve ever seen him jump it looks like he’s been doing this his whole life. Watching him jump is like seeing a work of art in progress.”