Like millions of other young people, Marcus Weaver will watch the 2021 Olympics later this month and dream of being among the elite athletes who one day compete in the summer games.
Weaver — a University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire junior and two-time national track and field champion — is working to turn his Olympic dream into reality. His goal is to make Team USA by the 2024 and/or 2028 summer games.
“When I graduate from UW-Eau Claire, I’m going to find a track program and train outside of college and try to go to the Olympics,” Weaver says of his plan to someday make the U.S. decathlon team. “I was fairly close to making the Olympic trials this year. Hopefully, in three years I will be ready, and I will make it.”
His UW-Eau Claire coach says Weaver has every reason to think big as he considers his future.
“I would hope that this would be a goal of his; at least to compete at the Olympic Trials in 2024,” says Chip Schneider, head coach of UW-Eau Claire’s track and field team. “To be top three and make the Olympics may be tough by 2024, but it should be on his radar.”
Besides being “made” for the decathlon event, Weaver is still young and very early in his career, meaning he has plenty of time to do the necessary work to achieve his goals, Schneider says.
“Because the decathlon requires one to learn 10 events, it takes time,” Schneider says. “Marcus is just starting his journey to learn all the events and has much room for improvement, which is exciting.
“Marcus has some amazing gifts that help him as an athlete. He is tall and lean, which is the best build, especially for the decathlon. However, Marcus also is a tireless worker as an athlete. He wants to be great and is willing to put all his energy into getting better. He studies each event so that he has knowledge to perform at his best.”
Two-time national champion
Earlier this summer, Weaver was the star of the 2021 NCAA Division III Outdoor Track & Field Championships, becoming the only man in meet history to win the decathlon and javelin in the same year. His national-championship-winning javelin throw was the longest of the season at the NCAA DIII level, and he recorded the third best decathlon score in DIII history during the championship weekend.
Weaver was named the 2021 NCAA Division III Men's Outdoor Track & Field National Field Athlete of the Year and the Most Outstanding Men's Field Performer at the NCAA Championships.
His success this season was especially meaningful because he made it to nationals as a freshman, but the competition was called off because of COVID-19. In spring 2020, he’d already traveled to North Carolina for the meet before the decision was made to cancel it.
“There was lots of sadness,” Weaver says. “It was a really tough experience and hard on a lot of people. But for a lot of us, it also lit a fire under us. We had made nationals, but couldn’t compete. So, we decided to put in the extra work to come back even better. I worked really hard in the off season.”
When the indoor season also was canceled in the fall of his sophomore year, Weaver knew he had to make the best of a bad situation.
“It made sense, but it still was hard,” Weaver says of the canceled indoor season. “It meant that everything came down to the outdoor season this year. So, when I qualified for nationals, I told myself that my goal was to win two national titles. I like to set big goals.”
First in decathlon and javelin
The decathlon requires an athlete to compete in 10 running, jumping and throwing events over the course of two days. On the first day, athletes compete in 100- and 400-meter runs, the long jump, high jump and shot put. On day two, they compete in 110-meter hurdles, 1,500-meter run, discus throw, pole vault and javelin throw.
“It’s a little of everything,” Weaver says of the competition. “It’s a little running, jumping and throwing.”
At nationals, Weaver won the decathlon and was sitting at fourth place for the javelin competition with one throw left.
“My first two throws in the finals were good, but not my best,” Weaver says. “As I was going into my last throw, I thought about the goals I had set coming to nationals. I came to win two national titles. My last throw was my best all year. It put me in first place, so I won two first places at nationals and that was amazing. It’s what I wanted to do.”
After winning the decathlon, a representative for the U.S. Track & Field team approached him, saying he wanted to talk with him about competing in the World Championships in a few years.
“As soon as the guy introduced himself and said USA Track & Field, inside I was freaking out,” Weaver says. “I tried to stay cool, so I didn’t seem too excited, but I was freaking out. It would be super cool to have an opportunity to wear a jersey that says USA. It would be an amazing opportunity; it’s something I’ve wanted since I was a kid. I would love that to happen. Now, I have three years to get better to make it happen.”
Competing as a DIII athlete
With that goal in mind, Weaver will make the most of his time being part of UW-Eau Claire’s highly successful track and field program. His coaches and teammates, as well as the program’s culture, are exactly what he needs as he works toward whatever might come next in his athletic career, he says.
“DIII athletics is something special,” Weaver says. “DIII athletes are doing a sport because they love it; they aren’t here for a scholarship. We want to be here and to get better at our sport because we love it.”
While there are many reasons he loves being a Blugold athlete, what means the most to him is the family-like atmosphere that exists within the track and field program and the athletics department.
“I grew up in a small town and was worried that when I went to college I’d get lost in the numbers,” says Weaver, who grew up in Lewiston, Minnesota. “I was worried I wouldn’t have a coach or teammates who really knew me. But everyone here is so welcoming. My best friends are my teammates. I’m not sure that happens much at DI schools.”
Those friends include teammate Mitch Stegeman, a UW-Eau Claire sophomore who finished second at nationals in the decathlon. The two friends regularly push each other to get better, Weaver says.
Schneider says that Weaver would be successful competing in any division level, but being a DIII athlete gives him the balance and support he needs to be successful in and outside of his sport.
“I think that having a team that is centered on academics helps keep Marcus focused on that part of his life,” Schneider says. “I think at a larger institution they would only care that he is an athlete, and just hope he gets by in the classroom. Plus, in our sport, the division doesn’t matter. The times and distances are all the same.”
DIII also fits well with Weaver’s personality, Schneider says.
“He wants the team to do well,” Schneider says. “He is not selfish in his goals and is willing to see those around him also succeed.”
Schneider credits the athletes and assistant coaches with creating a team culture that allows students like Weaver to thrive.
“We try to make each day fun so that it is a place that the athletes are anxious to come to each day,” Schneider says. “The work we do is made easier because it is fun. This also makes the athlete willing to stay longer and do more work each day, which only helps. It is a great team who loves each other and wants the best for everyone.”
One of the best things about the decathlon is that he gets to work with different assistant coaches on the different events, Weaver says. He’s still in awe that his assistant coaches include Curtis Jensen and Roger Steen, both of whom competed this year in the finals at the U.S. Olympic Trials.
“That’s the cool thing about being in the decathlon — I get to work with so many great coaches,” Weaver says. “My two shot put coaches competed in the Olympic trials, my pole vault coach competed for the World Championships. It’s just cool to work with them.”
Weaver credits the positive and supportive atmosphere he’s found in UW-Eau Claire athletics programs with helping him be even more successful than he had thought possible when he came to campus as a freshman.
“My goal coming into college was to go to nationals by my senior year,” Weaver says. “I made it my freshman year, so I had to rethink my goals and set new ones. I keep setting higher goals, so I don’t sell myself short.”
Finding the right campus, major
Weaver, a standout three-sport athlete in high school, already had visited several campuses when considering his college options. It took only a few minutes on UW-Eau Claire’s campus for him to know he’d found the right school.
“As soon as I stepped on to Eau Claire’s campus, I felt like I wanted to go here,” Weaver says. “It felt like home; it was so welcoming. I didn’t come here because of track, but because it felt right.”
Two years later — even with the pandemic upending the campus — he knows he made the right choice.
“I was a little scared because I came from a small town and I thought a college would feel really big,” Weaver says. “I was worried I wouldn’t really get one-on-one experiences. But a lot of classes were smaller than I expected, and I got to know my professors and classmates.”
Weaver came to campus undecided about a major, but now is excited about studying business.
“People often tell me I’m personable, make connections and friends easily,” Weaver says. “So, I figured if those are some of my strengths, I might as well use them, and I can do that in business.”
His major wasn’t the only thing that took a bit of time to figure out. He also had to find the right balance among academics, track and college life. After his first semester, he knew he needed to improve his time management and organizational skills.
“I’ve gotten a lot better, but the first semester was hard,” Weaver says. “I wasn’t always on track with what I needed to do. I had missing homework assignments because I was so focused on track, and in my free time I went fishing or hung out with friends. I love track, but I’m here to get a degree. So, now I spend as much time on school as I do in track.”
As he worked to find that balance, Weaver found support in places across campus. From the math lab to the Center for Writing Excellence, he had places to go when he was struggling with a class or an assignment.
He also has learned to invest time and effort on his mental health.
“I spend a ton of time on track; it’s my favorite thing,” Weaver says. “Other aspects of my life were lacking because I was too into track. This year, my parents told me to work as hard on my mental health as I do on my physical health. If I’m not in a good mental spot, it won’t matter how physically good I am.”
Fortunately, he says, his coaches also understand that their athletes’ mental health and academic success is important.
As he watches Weaver grow as an athlete and student, Schneider says he’s confident Weaver will excel wherever his journey takes him after UW-Eau Claire.
“I feel lucky that I have the opportunity to work with Marcus,” Schneider says. “I know he could be at any school and am thankful that he chose UWEC. The road ahead will not always be smooth, but he will show that he is up to any challenge that lies ahead. I can’t wait to see what he does.”