Clayton Mackay will always remember his first league final track meet, but the memory isn’t a fond one.
The Templeton High School hurdler, then a freshman, was one leap away from the finish line when his foot clipped the final hurdle. The ensuing spill sent him face first over the finish line. He finished in seventh place.
“It was pretty humiliating to fall in front of the whole league,” Mackay said Wednesday.
But Mackay knew he had an affinity for the esoteric event, so he trained twice a week that summer in Paso Robles.
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“I did drills and drills and drills until it wasn’t scary anymore to go over the hurdles. It was almost natural,” Mackay said.
Over the next three years, he slowly improved. When he graduates in June, Mackay will go down as one of the best hurdlers in Templeton history, holding school records in the 300 intermediate hurdles (38.05) and 110 high hurdles (15.28). The culmination of the falls and the records came Wednesday in the Templeton administration building in front of family and friends when he signed his National Letter of Intent to join the Cal Poly track and field team this fall.
Mackay, who also anchored the 4x400 relay team that set a school record, started hurdling in eighth grade and quickly fell in love with the technical aspects of the event.
“It takes more than pure athleticism to be a good hurdler,” Mackay said.
The ability to think technically also shows in his passion for mechanical engineering. Mackay has been involved in a handful of projects in the school’s engineering program, including building a racing drone from scratch.
“He expressed a passion to me last year about electrical engineering,” Jason Diodati, head of the Templeton engineering program, said. “He had a project where he worked with solar panels and learned a lot with that, and he has just been building on his own. I’ve done my best to help foster it, but just like his track, it’s self driven.”
Along with building his own racing drone with classmate Ben Campbell — complete with a mounted camera that links to a pair of goggles that allows the operator to see from the drone’s perspective in real time — Mackay also uses the school’s commercial drone to create videos. He also has a personal project outside of school where he is using a 3-D printer to create flashlights that run on dead batteries.
Despite his 4.3 GPA, Mackay wasn’t accepted into Stanford. He said it might work out for the better.
“Even if I had got in, the tuition is really expensive. So Cal Poly is affordable, and they have a state-of-the-art program for electrical engineering,” Mackay said, adding he loves the campus and proximity to home.
By signing with the Mustangs, Mackay becomes the first Templeton track athlete to sign with a Division I school since Savannah Camacho committed to attend Oklahoma State in 2012.
Now that he has conquered drone building, jumping hurdles and high school, the real challenge begins: balancing collegiate athletics and a difficult engineering class load. Those that know him best at Templeton are confident it won’t be a problem.
“He does a really good job with engineering overall. He’s a very talented young man,” Diodati said.