By Patrick Hayslip
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Zuheir Sharif has been all over the world moving from opportunity to opportunity, but he relies on his cerebral attitude to guide him through his track career at Texas A&M.
Sharif was born in Sterling, Scotland, and lived in London for two years before moving to Oman, where he lived for eight years. He then moved to Elk Grove, Calif., where he went to middle school and high school until he landed at Texas A&M.
“In the middle east there were a lot of politics involved in my parent’s decision to move out,” Sharif said. “They figured they wanted to create the most diverse range of opportunities for me to be successful so they didn’t see that happening in the Middle East. That was a part of life that we have to leave behind to go and explore new things.”
Sharif said his transition to California coincided with his overall luck of life.
“Us coming to American, everything was aligned just right,” Sharif said. “I always find myself in the right place and the right time. A lot of the things we came across were coincidence and we just jumped on it and ran with it.”
His 3- and 5-year-old brothers are also benefiting from the opportunities presented to them by his parents. His father is working on a doctorate at A&M, and when Sharif was deciding what college to pick to continue his track career, a process that began his sophomore year in high school, it came down to a simple choice.
“I wanted to go to UCLA but it was a very arrogant and superficial type of atmosphere, and I didn’t want to be apart of it at all,” Sharif said. “When I came to A&M I saw how things were very laid back. At times I thought it could be very slow but I thought that this could be something new where I could get a lot of things accomplished and stay focused and also have a great time.”
Assistant coach Jim Vanhootegem has known Sharif since his senior year of high school, and said his outlook on life was one of the many aspects that attracted his attention.
“Obviously I thought he had talent but more importantly two things stuck out and those were that he was a prideful athlete and the fact that he was an excitable athlete,” Vanhootegem said. “You want somebody that can bring excitement to both practice and the meets. I feel like he is a very universal person on our team.
“I feel Zuheir is transcendent and he has a little bit of different perspective on things being a more international person and that’s what attracted me to him as well.”
Sharif a junior civil engineering major who competes in the long and triple jump, and is preparing for the final and most important meets of the outdoor track season. He said that succeeding at outdoor competitions required much more than just hard work.
“Outdoor is whether or not you were diligent in your training in September and October,” Sharif said. “It all depends on how much you have in the bank. Those are the critical aspects in our sport. Whatever you do know physically isn’t really going to change too much. It’s all about where you are mentally and what you have done training wise and past competitions to build your momentum to go through the next months.”
With some time still ahead of him, Sharif expressed his outlook on the future but stressed that focus on the here and now is what’s important.
“The Olympics are obviously a dream that every track athlete aspires to but in my case there are a lot of preliminary steps to take and a lot of standards to hit for me to experience in order for me to get to that level,” Sharif said. “It’s in the back of my mind but I’m not really stressing about the Olympics. Right now, I don’t want to stress about anything too much and take it one day, one training session, and one competition at a time but at the same time I’m keeping in mind what I want to accomplish in the back of my mind every day.”
Head coach Pat Henry reflected upon Sharif’s outlook on track as something that works very well for him.
“There is no question that his mentality about jumping is significant,” Henry said. “He does a lot of thinking. He’s one of those guys that visualizes things happening before they happen and not everybody can do that. Not everybody needs to do that but he does and that’s a positive thing for him. “
Vanhootegem recognized Sharif’s current achievements in track, but noted that he had a bright future ahead of him that must be accompanied by hard work.
“In his first two years of school, he showed that he was capable of being one of the top jumpers,” Vanhootegem said. “This year he has really been consistently one of the top people. I think he has certainly earned the right to be called one of the nation’s top collegiate jumpers but now he is at that level where he needs to a step beyond and become one of America’s top jumpers as well.”
Sharif said that despite his sport’s stigma of being individual, he gains much from watching his team succeed.
“My job is to make sure that my teammates win championships,” Sharif said. “That’s the best feeling in the world knowing that everybody contributed as a whole and came together despite how “individual” our sport is.”
With the postseason on the horizon, Henry said he has confidence that Sharif will succeed and that he has a quality that winners possess.
“Zuheir is a gifted athlete and he is learning how to do big things on big days and that’s a big part of what he is trying to be able to accomplish,” Henry said. “That’s a very difficult part of being a great athlete and he’s doing a pretty good job of doing that. I think that his future is very bright. He has many good years in front of him.”