By DAVID WINER
Sharone Vernon-Evans is at the top of his game — literally.
The question remains, while those around him argue the sky is the limit for the 6-foot-7 star of the Mississauga Pakmen, does he display the focus and determination to reach Canadian prominence?
Vernon-Evans gave the national volleyball community a taste of what he’s capable of at a High Performance Camp earlier this month, when he became the first person in Ontario Volleyball Association history to touch 12 feet, 3 inches in a running vertical jump.
To put such a jump into context, that’s the equivalent of touching the rim of a basketball hoop with 2 feet, 3 inches to spare.
Not only was he the first to climb such heights in OVA history, he was also the only person to jump that high in Ontario University Associations history, and at 16, Vernon-Evans has another year of high school remaining at Agincourt Collegiate Institute.
“Only one person in Canadian volleyball touches higher,” beamed Pakmen founder and president Kelly Smith, “And that’s Gavin Schmitt from our National team at 12 feet, 6 inches, and he’s one of the top five players in the world.”
Smith was so proud of Evans’ achievement, he posted the jump on the club’s you tube channel, calling it, “The jump that changed youth volleyball.”
All the more impressive considering Vernon-Evans peaked at 12 feet back in January.
Enter strength and conditioning guru Brad Thorpe and his patented Isometric Training System, ISOPHIT.
Achieving success with the Toronto Blue Jays, Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence, Volleyball Canada’s Centre of Excellence and a number of collegiate athletes, Thorpe was first introduced to Vernon-Evans through one of the pre-season training sessions Thorpe has offered the Pakmen annually since 2011.
Thorpe says, while most ‘A Level’ athletes take what they learn at the training session, and “After that it’s up to the athletes to run through the daily prescription and report to me if they are having any difficulty with the exercises,” Vernon-Evans took the initiative of attending personal sessions at Thorpe’s Striation 6 studio in Toronto.
“Sharone goes there 2-3 times a week and sure enough, he has improved three inches,” marveled Smith. “Brad thinks he’ll touch 12 feet, 6 inches before he’s out of high school!Sharone has impressed me with his commitment to making himself a stronger athlete, focusing on ligament strength, which has no aesthetic appeal, but gets results in terms of strength, stability and injury prevention.”
With, “A need to get stronger,” Vernon-Evans was in search of a trainer and was thrilled to hook up with Thorpe.
“The isometric training helps my tendons get stronger,” explained Vernon-Evans. “It also breaks down my arm swing mechanics so I can have optimum range in each position. It’s also the safest way to work out because he starts off by strengthening your tendons before he gets into lifting.”
While the video of his jump wows everyone who clicks on it, Vernon-Evans looks forward to demonstrating his new-found ability on the court.
“It helps a lot because those three inches could help you serve better, block better and hit more efficiently, because you have many more options,” said the exciting left side OVA all-star. “And in the game of volleyball, every inch counts!”
Vernon-Evans’ first chance to demonstrate his strengths, will be at the U18 Norceca world beach volleyball qualifiers in the Cayman Islands next month as a representative of Canada.
And Thorpe, who has guided Vernon-Evans through a handful of sessions thus far, believes the Scarborough native is just scratching the surface.
“Sharone’s improved his touch height by 3 inches in seven sessions,” said Thorpe. “I’d say those results are off the charts, but I have seen and witnessed rapid improvements over a short period of time with many of my other clients before.
“Is he the perfect student? Ha Ha, he’s certainly talented, but far from perfect. The best part about Sharone is his raw talent and physical structure. As with any 16-year-old, he often lacks focus. Once we resolve this issue he’s going to be unstoppable.”
As U.S. educator Horace Mann once said, “A human being is not reaching his full heights until he is educated,” Thorpe can’t wait to continue his protege’s education.
“My goal over the next year is to help Sharone add over 30 pounds of muscle and an additional 3-5 inches to his already remarkable touch height.
“Often times athletes of his age and size injure themselves in the gym,” added Thorpe. “His adherence and execution of the isometric training system ISOPHIT, affords him the luxury of increased force tolerance and force generation, which (will lead) to improved athletic performance.
“The people Sharone has around him is his best asset,” added Thorpe. “He’s a great kid with an even better attitude. However, if he looks to compete on the world stage, which he can, he’s going to need to improve on his defensive capabilities, on-court focus and tactics. He currently is revered for his monstrous kills, but against international giants, it will be his smarts, in conjunction with his talents, that will allow him to prevail. The sky’s the limit for this kid. But in reality, it’s up to him.”
And Smith thinks Vernon-Evans has the drive and Thorpe has the expertise to make it happen.
“I have the highest respect for Brad and what he does,” said Smith. “There are a myriad of personal trainers, strength coaches, etc. out there and it scares me when I see videos online of kids jumping their knees and joints into the ground.
“Brad really struck a chord when he told me our athletes have ‘no right to jump 100 per cent when they spike a ball, for example, because their nervous and muscular systems have no idea how to do that properly, and they risk injury every time they do that.’ Brad’s system trains the muscles to recruit more fibres and the results are safer, with more efficient movements.”
Smith referred to a talented team he coached one season that won a lot of tournaments, but sustained a lot of injuries.
“We had Brad work with the guys and we were injury-free the next season. I recommended him to (National team beach volleyball player) Daniel Dearing and Daniel loved the results he realized with Brad. Sharone is tall, has long limbs and is still growing like a weed. The last thing he needed was someone putting negative stress on his body. Brad was the perfect match for Sharone. We just had to convince Sharone that he won’t see big muscles, just a stronger, more efficient body.”
In time, Thorpe stresses, athletes will be capable of self-assessing and correcting range of motion deficits, that if gone unchecked can lead to impaired athletic performance and possible injury.
“You see when athletes are unbalanced and have poor movement/muscle mechanics, their physical training and on-court performance will increase the risk and occurrence of injury,” said Thorpe. “Unfortunately coaches, and players alike, really have no clue on how the muscular system works with respect to increasing force tolerance and force generation.”
Thorpe has made believers out of athletes and the medical community alike.
A 1984 Olympic bronze medalist in rowing, Phil Monckton, said, “I thought I had experienced everything the performance world had to offer. Then I met Brad. His approach to isometric-based performance training helped maximize my training and competition results. The ISOPHIT program helped to identify and correct imbalances and areas of weakness and, most importantly, allowed me to train all season without injury. As a result, I was able to drop 10 seconds from my time at the Head of the Charles regatta and move up from fifth to third, in a field of 59 competitors.”
Dr. Smita Amin, a North York dermatologist, added Thorpe has made a huge improvement in her quality of life.
“Several years after a hemorrhagic stroke I met Brad. His approach to exercise, as radical as it might sound, helped transform the quality of my life. I would undoubtedly recommend his approach to anyone looking for optimal muscular function.”
And finally, Dr. Curt McEntire, added in another testimonial, “In the world of professional sports, where player salaries are in the millions, smart teams should be seeking out affiliations with people like Brad who are versed in Muscle Activation Techniques and have earned certification as a Mastery Level Resistance Training Specialist to safeguard their investments.”
So, one must wonder if Thorpe’s ISOPHIT can enhance millionaire athletes, Olympians and doctors alike, what can a 16-year-old, 6-foot-7 talent like Vernon-Evans take away from his sessions with Thorpe.
As famed violinist Jascha Heifetz once stated, “There is no top. There are further heights to reach.”