By Carley Crain
Right before takeoff, Josh Silvester rallied the crowd. He swung his hands back and forth, starting a wave of slow claps. He got into position on his desired section of the track and then sped down the runway. With every jump he takes, he actively creates and thrives off this ritual. The supportive and welcoming environment propels his success.
Josh Silvester was a late bloomer in the sport of track and field. It was something that never really came across his mind until late in high school when one of his friends’s pushed him to join the team. His mother used to run track and competed in the high jump, which is arguably one of the more challenging events in the sport.
He not only looked up to her for her athletic accomplishments but also to the devotion she has for making a better life for herself and others every day.
The Silvester family is from the small island of Grenada, an island country in the West Indies. Both of his parents moved to the states when they were young. His mother has had to work hard her entire life to build a new identity in America while simultaneously raising two children on her own as a single mother. Silvester embraced these skills and translated them onto the track, knowing that hard work could get him anywhere.
“There are a lot of people in my circle that I use to kind of keep me going. They help me stay in the right mindset,” explained Silvester. “My mom has worked very hard for everything she has. She has worked hard not only for myself but also for my sister to give us all the opportunities we can get.”
“I don’t take this for granted because I want to make her proud and everyone that has invested in me proud because that is my kind of pay-it-back mindset. Without my mom, I would not be anywhere. She worked so hard when she came to America to give me and my sister a good life. Hard work is the biggest thing I resonate with. If you want results you have to work hard for it.”
At first, Silvester ran the 100-meter hurdles – he was sort of thrown into the event due to his long and lean body type. Being 6-foot-2 comes in handy when jumping hurdles. He then stumbled upon the triple jump after a friend encouraged him to try it and it eventually became his main event. Soon enough, he was getting college offers, and ultimately chose Springfield College.
Silvester’s first year at Springfield was a fairly large transitional period in his life, both academically and athletically. Since he was so new to the sport, he was still learning quite a bit about the triple jump. He was also fairly quiet and shy resulting in his freshman year not going the way he wanted it to both on and off the track.
He used this as fuel.
Silvester emerged as Springfield’s top jumper during his second year for the Pride and was able to reach Div. III Nationals for the first time. That year was when he started working with Coach Brendan Wilkins.
“When I came to Springfield, Coach Mike Miller was talking a lot about Josh and the potential he had not only as an athlete but as a leader on this team,” Wilkins said. “He was really hoping that he would kind of come out of his shell and be basically the person he is today.”
Wilkins has helped shape Silvester into a confident, driven, and motivated individual. This new surge of confidence on the track also helped Silvester develop more of a voice and pushed him to break out of his shell. Part of Wilkins’ coaching philosophy is the emphasis on hard work and commitment which has been a huge part of Silvester’s life. He looks up to Wilkins for not only how dedicated he is to the sport of track and field, but also to his athletes.
“Wilkins is the type of coach that is more excited than his athletes when they succeed. He puts so much time, effort, and work into being there for his athletes,” Silvester said. “It definitely shows.”
During his junior year, things quickly took a turn for the worst when the world was shut down due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Silvester’s indoor season was wrapping up and he was focused on becoming an All-American for the first time. Him and three other athletes qualified for the 2020 Div. III Indoor Nationals in North Carolina.
They all flew to the facility, had a bit of time to warm up for the meet, and then the announcement was made that all national championships were canceled.
They had already taken pictures holding up props saying “championships” and “track.” Silvester was standing beside his teammates Ty Hanson, Emily LaPlante and Caroline Hitchcock – all with smiles stretched across their faces. Everything was set for a perfect championship weekend, but no one was expecting the way the meet turned out.
The day before they were meant to compete, the Springfield group sat in their hotel room. Then, the devastating news came: the NCAA was canceling all championship events.
Silvester was left confused and upset – the goal that pushed him the entire season was now shattered. They were already there. They had already made it.
They didn’t leave the room. It was silent – no one knew what to say or feel.
“Him and a lot of the other jumpers took everything COVID very personally, ” said Wilkins. “They were really mad but the mindset we all had and tried to have was we can either be bitter about this or we could be better about this. They really wanted to take it head-on and improve. Josh was a big voice within that and really pushed a lot of the younger guys.”
Silvester was able to maintain his positive mindset and used the experience to better himself for the next opportunity.
“Josh is always so composed no matter what the situation is,” said teammate Colby Wilson. “He is so experienced that he does not really let anything faze him.”
He continued to work hard in his training, both mentally and physically. When he finally got the chance to compete consistently again in the 2021 outdoor season, he emerged as a role model for younger athletes and jumped some of his own new personal bests.
“Through the past year and a half of COVID and everything else that has been going on, it’s just been like fuel to the fire,” Silvester said. “That is sort of what I try to instill into the underclassmen – everything that happens that we can’t control is just fuel to the fire and motivation to be that much better when we do get the chance.”
When the post-season came around this year, he was more focused than ever. He knew that Nationals was actually happening this year, and he was willing to do whatever it took to get there. He was able to secure his spot this year when he jumped a personal-best mark of 15.09 meters at the NEWMAC Championships while also winning the conference title for the first time in his career.
“It took a little longer than what we wanted to get that mark but it was just trusting the process kind of thing and once we got that mark it was kind of a relief,” he said.
When he found out that this year’s competition was being held in Greensboro, North Carolina, which is only 40 minutes from last year’s nationals that were suddenly canceled because of COVID, it was bittersweet. It felt like a full-circle moment for him.
Except this time, he was the only student-athlete to qualify.
The trio of him, coach Miller and coach Wilkins traveled to the Irwin Belk Track in Greensboro.
He entered the meet ranked third overall in the country, but ultimately came away with a 12th place finish. Though Nationals didn’t go exactly the way he’d hoped, Silvester is excited to get back to work and lace up his spikes for his final year on Alden Street.
“To be able to be at Nationals this year was a blessing in itself, ” explained Silvester. “I am just taking advantage of every opportunity I can get. That is also something Coach Wilkins has made very prevalent in our training.”
Silvester is planning on returning to the Pride next year for a fifth year, and will use his remaining eligibility to jump one more season. He has big plans, including winning a National title, but the most important thing to him is serving as a role model for the underclassmen because he knows how powerful having a strong role model can be.
Photo: Springfield College Athletics