After he flew through the first 400 meters of the 800-meter race in 57 seconds, one had to wonder, could this be the day? Could this be the day that Jack Dufton does it?
Dufton himself said he had gone into the race “feeling slow.” If the Mattituck High School junior was going to have a record-setting day, May 12 didn’t seem like it would be the day.
But Dufton said about 200 meters into the race, all of his reservations blew away like the wind off his shoulders and he started feeling good. As he rounded the final turn, a school record was on the line.
The 800 is a tricky event. It’s not a sprint; pacing is involved, and then there are the final 100 meters — the mad dash to the finish line.
“That last 100 meters always hurts a lot,” Dufton said. “That’s where the race really gets mental.”
Dufton huffed and puffed and willed himself to the finish line faster than he ever had before, then collapsed to the ground. He looked toward Mattituck coach Mike Miller and assistant coach Jim Underwood for the verdict. The communication was nonverbal; they gave him the thumb’s up sign.
That’s when Dufton knew he had done it.
“They didn’t need to say anything,” he said.
Dufton had blown away the field to finish in first place in the dual meet against Stony Brook (a 75-56 Mattituck win on its home track) and had broken a school record that was set before he was born. His time of 1:59.7 shaved 1.5 seconds off the previous record that Joe Sullivan established in 1992.
“It was a fantastic feeling, unreal,” Dufton said of his reaction. “I can’t really put the words to it.”
A versatile athlete, Dufton figures he has competed in about 10 different events this season. He says he likes them all, but the 800 is his best.
Dufton, a notoriously hard worker and determined competitor, said that at the start of the year he didn’t think he would come close to the school record. Since then, however, he has chopped 11 seconds off his time.
The previous week, in an invitational meet at St. Anthony’s High School, Dufton, running in a competitive field, turned in a time of 2:01.3. It became his personal record at the time, but not a school record, a mere 1/10th of a second shy of it.
“That disappointed me because I was so close,” he said.
But it also showed that it was possible for him to work himself into the school record book for the first time.
“I definitely saw it coming,” said Miller. Of the record, the coach said, “I think it means the world to Jack.”
The old saying is records are made to be broken, but setting a record can seem like touching a piece of immortality. It is as if an athlete has made his mark, chiseling his name into stone.
“I hope it stands as long as [Sullivan’s] did, if not longer,” Dufton said. “It’s a nice feeling knowing I’m going down in the record books next to some amazing Mattituck athletes.”
Dufton believes he can improve upon his own record. “By the end of next year I’d like to be in the low 1:50s,” he said. “I think that’s doable.”
In the meantime, Dufton will chase another school record soon, in the pentathlon. He will compete in the pentathlon in the upcoming division and state qualifying meets. Mattituck’s pentathlon record is 2,933 points, which was set by Keith Reda in 1990.
Miller likes Dufton’s chances.
“Jack’s an amazing athlete,” Miller said. “He’s a great kid, and you want to see great kids succeed.”
So, after he ran that record 800, how did Dufton celebrate the occasion? The way one might have expected him to.
He said, “I celebrated with a cool-down mile.”