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Fischer Makes His Climb in Overdrive : Camarillo Junior Hurries Up List of Top Prep Jumpers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A natural, he wasn’t.

Sure, Jeremy Fischer can high jump clean over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but could he clear that fast-growing stack of medical bills?

The kid who now flies like the man in the red cape was pure kryptonite as a freshman, a menace to himself and everyone near him. This high jumper could make people highly jumpy.

In fact, before his freshman track season at Camarillo High, his coach blew out a knee while attempting to show Fischer how to clear the crossbar.

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Fischer lasted all of three meets before he knocked himself out of commission with a severely sprained back and hip. Somehow, in that short span, he twice managed to miss the padded mat and land on the back of his head.

See, the theory behind high jumping is to spend as much time as possible off the ground. Fischer learned some hard lessons about the gravity of gravity.

“My goodness, he looked like he was going over the bar sitting in a rocking chair,” said Camarillo track Coach Dennis Riedmiller, also known as the man with one good knee.

“His butt would get over the bar and he’d still be all bent over, like he was looking at his shoes.”

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Two years later, opponents are getting a clear look at Fischer’s spikes, especially the bottoms. But then, he is a Seoul man.

Odds might seem slim that Fischer, an Amerasian who was born in South Korea and lives with his adoptive parents, would be looking down on the rest of the prep track world. Yet the self-described “squirrelly” little junior already has recorded the best high school mark in the nation at 7-foot-2 entering the Ventura County championships today at Camarillo.

Those who know Fischer aren’t particularly surprised he has ascended to such heights so quickly, despite his initial lack of polish. He always has been running around doing something, bouncing off the wall somewhere.

In a sport in which winners and losers are separated by the smallest notch on a grade-schooler’s ruler, the permanent half-inch mark on Fischer’s chin is a telltale yardstick of the kid’s character.

It seems that as a 10-year-old, Fischer accidentally plowed into something and opened a nasty gash on his chin. Stitches closed the cut, but before it could heal properly, the little tyke reopened the wound while playing baseball.

“It wasn’t this big, originally,” he said, rubbing his fingers over the scar. “It just got bigger and bigger.

“You know, you just can’t keep a 10-year-old cooped up.”

Or, as they say in the high-jump pit, you can’t keep a good man down.

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“He was always into everything in school,” said Ann Fischer, his mother. “He was never into trouble or anything, but they had to sit on him a few times.”

Jeremy was like a young puppy. Sit! Stay! Heal?

“I’m a nurse, so I got used to it,” his mother said, laughing. “If I see a bone sticking out or a gallon of blood, I don’t worry too much.”

Jeremy worries plenty, about lots of things. His energy and drive are channeled in a dozen directions. In fact, Riedmiller says that if Fischer has one fault, it’s that he over trains.

“My mom says I’m going to be an old man before my time, that I’ll have my midlife crisis at age 30,” Fischer said. “My parents don’t get too mad at me when I do things wrong, because they know I’m harder on myself than they could ever be.

“I crush myself sometimes. I have high expectations.”

Nice choice of words for a high jumper, and the statement also covers the classroom. Fischer has a grade-point average of 3.6 and already is taking a physics course at Moorpark College. He aspires to become a doctor.

Sometimes, the folks keep his drive in check by putting him in park. His mother has grounded him from playing pick-up basketball during track season.

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“It’s for my own good,” Fischer said with a shrug. “When I hurt my hip that time, I wanted to kill myself because I wasn’t allowed to do anything for two weeks.”

Sometimes, because of his station in track, he still is forced to tread water for extended lengths of time. Earlier this week, a half-dozen guys in singlets gathered around a track official, who looked down at his clipboard with a pencil in hand.

“OK, guys, what height do you wanna start at?” the official said.

There was no response, save for some muttering.

“Well?” the official demanded.

Five pairs of eyes looked at Fischer, who stood silent among the group of jumpers competing in a Marmonte League tri-meet.

“You don’t count,” one of his rivals finally said to Fischer.

It was agreed that the crossbar would be placed at five feet. The rest of the field, too embarrassed to mention the paltry first-round height in Fischer’s presence, slugged it out for 90 minutes before hitting the wall at the 6-foot mark.

Fischer, who passed at each of the early heights, reappeared and cleared six feet on his first--and only--jump to win the event. Cha-ching. It was a quick, clean kill.

Said one hopelessly outclassed opponent to another, sarcastically: “Hard to believe.”

To a degree, it is. Take a look at most of the sky kings, and more often than not, they are lithe, built like basketball players. Fischer stands 5-9, 145 pounds and some think he resembles Sammy Davis Jr., who wasn’t exactly Mt. Whitney.

“Competitors look at me and go, ‘Naaaaah,’ ” Fischer said. “I’m the short little runt. I get lost in the crowd.”

Fat chance, skinny kid or not. Fischer passes the bar exam with flying colors. In the National Scholastic Indoor track and field championships at Syracuse University in March, he jumped 6-10 3/4 and placed second.

“Limitations are where you put them,” said Fischer, who also has reeled off a 22-1 long jump this spring. “I mean, there are basic laws of gravity, sure. But people are surprised when they see me. They think, ‘No way.’ ”

Weigh this: His personal-best of 7-2, posted two weeks ago at the Mt. SAC Relays, ties the Ventura County record and places him third on the all-time regional list. Only two other jumpers nationally have skied as high this season..

Already in his rear-view mirror locally is former two-time Olympic bronze medalist Dwight Stones, who jumped 7-1 1/2 at Glendale High in 1971. The national prep record is 7-6, and Fischer already has stated his intention to clear 7-3 before year’s end.

He has come so far, so fast. As a seventh-grader, in his first year of organized track, Fischer jumped 5-7 while wearing basketball high-tops. He stood 5-6 at the time.

“They made a pretty big deal out of it,” he said, sounding somewhat mystified.

Now, he’s practically a celebrity. Opponents whisper and point him out as he wanders the infield at meets. Last weekend, Fischer accompanied Riedmiller to a grade-school carnival in Camarillo. Before long, somebody recognized Fischer. Before long, another student asked for an autograph. Before long, Fischer wanted to high-tail it out of there.

“He’s a very humble kid,” Riedmiller said. “He was a little embarrassed. I mean, kids were asking for autographs.”

Was he always a phenom in his signature event? Yes. No. Sort of.

Of course, great leapers must possess the innate ability to make Isaac Newton look like a fruitcake in a powdered wig. He has a vertical leap of 35 inches, which cannot be taught by the most astute of coaches.

Fischer’s original jumping style wasn’t exactly flawless. High jumpers should knife over the bar like a high diver hitting the water. Riedmiller says Fischer looked like a diver doing the cannonball.

By the time Fischer was a sophomore, though, most of the rough technical edges had been rounded off. He skied to 6-11 1/2, which is up there where the air is thin and so is the competition.

Again based on a tiebreaker, in which misses at earlier heights are tabulated, he finished tied for fourth in the state meet last year, even though only one jumper beat his mark of 6-9. There has been growth between the ears as well.

“The most important thing about the high jump at this stage is being mentally tough,” Fischer said. “Last year was my growing year. I was intimidated at times.

“I had a few ups and downs.”

A little unintentional track humor. Nonetheless, Fischer now takes an aggressive tack, like a guy swaggering into the corner pub, ready to take on all comers.

“You have to be aggressive,” he said. “You have to think, ‘I’m gonna kick this bar’s butt.’ ”

Fischer was barely out of diapers when he came to the United States at age 3. To say his life has had some interesting twists and turns is an understatement, which might explain why he has trouble taking anything for granted.

He is the son of a South Korean woman and a black American soldier, and is one of three Korean-born children adopted by Bob and Ann Fischer of Camarillo.

His fraternal sister, Amber, 19, also was adopted by the Fischers, as was Jonathan, 11, a full-blooded Korean. Amber and Jeremy were living at an orphanage for Amerasian children in South Korea when they were sent to the Fischer family.

“It’s a great, great family,” said Greg Ropes, the boys’ basketball coach at Newbury Park and a family friend who adopted two Korean children through the same private Ventura County agency. “They’re just a real neat group.”

Unlike many adopted kids, Fischer spends little time worrying about his biological parents or thinking about what might have been. He considers himself lucky. In high jump lexicon, they’d say he landed on his feet.

“I could be in Korea, in rags or on the street,” said Fischer, who was granted U.S. citizenship last summer. “These parents are the only ones I’ve ever known. I don’t think about it much; it’s not something that’s bothering me.”

Perhaps it’s because Fischer doesn’t remember much about his native Korea. He does, however, have a splintered recollection of the day he departed.

“I remember it was raining in the rice fields, and I remember riding in a car, maybe for the first time,” he said. “When I was on the airplane I got to sit by the window, and I remember looking out at the rain and down onto the fields. . . .”

Takeoff. Looking down on the field. After 14 turbo-charged years here, that hasn’t changed.


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