Sports

Hinsdale Central’s Cullen Fitzgerald eyes postseason peak

Senior high jumper has repeat All-State finish, school record in his sights

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Cullen Fitzgerald

Hinsdale Central senior Cullen Fitzgerald finally began resting after a career-best 6-feet, 7-inch high jump at last year’s Class 3A track and field state finals.

The order came to prevent possible overuse injuries.

“[State] was definitely a motivator. I really, really wanted to get out there in the summer and continue my workouts, but the coaches just told me to take it easy,” said Fitzgerald, who finished fourth at state. “I worked, but the season prior to that I was working every single day.”

Just like last year, Fitzgerald continues working toward another postseason peak after some rough stretches and aches. On May 4, his season-best 6-4 effort pulled out a three-way tie for first at Hinsdale Central’s McCarthy Invitational.

With another top-nine state finish, Fitzgerald would become the first multiple all-state high jumper in Hinsdale/Hinsdale Central history. Fitzgerald became the Red Devils’ fifth medalist in the event and first since 1978.

“He’s a competitor and that’s what I love about him. He’s got that mentality of ice water in his veins,” Hinsdale Central high jump coach Andy Antoniou said. “[Throughout high school] he’s gotten a lot faster. He’s added probably seven to eight inches to his vertical. The hardest thing with him is to keep him from overworking. That happens with all great athletes.”

Transferring to Hinsdale Central from Fenwick as a sophomore, Fitzgerald was elated that Antoniou had just become the Red Devils’ new high jump coach. Antoniou coached Fitzgerald during his grade-school jumping days at St. Isaac Jogues School in Hinsdale. In 2016, Fitzgerald established a sophomore school record of 6-4 1/2 and reached state, clearing 6-1 in prelims.

Last season, Fitzgerald led the Red Devils’ impressive group of four 6-foot-plus jumpers. Coming out of his final deep-training cycle, Fitzgerald went from being conference champion with a 6-1 to Lockport Sectional champion with a 6-5.

He still wanted more.

“I was hoping that I could get maybe 6-8, 6-9,” Fitzgerald said. “You can’t complain about a PR, but I guess I’ve just expected more from myself.”

Fitzgerald’s athletic career and life have involved many adjustments. On his birth certificate, the nurse misunderstood his mother and initially wrote Cullen instead than Colin.

His mother reconsidered and kept Cullen.

“Which is funny [no] because for most people, when I say, ‘[I’m] Cullen,’ they say, ‘Colin?’” Fitzgerald said.

At Fenwick, an undiagnosed hernia since birth prevented him from playing freshman football. He tried wrestling and portions of the basketball, baseball and rugby seasons. When a coach spotted Fitzgerald dunking a basketball, track and field was suggested. The late-joining Fitzgerald only competed at the Chicago Catholic League Meet, yet took fifth on varsity with a 5-10.

Fitzgerald loves reading and teaching himself abstract math. He wants to compete in college, but won’t at the expense of his academic ambitions.

“I have always been just enthralled with space and physics in general. There’s so much to know about quantum mechanics we haven’t learned,” Fitzgerald said.

With the same passion, Fitzgerald meticulously analyzes his jumping sequence. Not surprisingly, his state goals are abstract.

“I can’t put a height on it, a number on it. When I get there, and hopefully jump whatever height that I know I’m capable of, then I’ll know I’m satisfied,” Fitzgerald said.

One tangible goal is 6-8 1/2 – the school record set in 1973 by Bill Magel, who is a longtime friend of Antoniou.

“I’d love to see [Fitzgerald] break Bill’s record,” Antoniou said with a hearty laugh. “I talk to Bill all of the time.”