MAHOMET – That Jim Risley was even able to build the obstacle course at his home, just north of Muhammad, was pure luck.
As in, Risley came across a crew tearing up old telephone poles and asked what it would take to get 16 of them for his own use.
The answer was simply a willingness to take them.
This pushed what was only the beginning of an idea for Risley as a way to train his Mahomet-Seymour pole vaulters—an idea he didn’t think he could accomplish due to cost—into reality.
The free posts, with delivery no less, were as profitable as it gets.
What Risley didn’t expect, however, is what his obstacle course has become.
What started as a training tool for pole vaulters in 2011 has become a destination for teams in all sports across the state.
More than a dozen teams make the trip each summer to try their hand at Risley’s course, designed to test and improve agility, speed and strength by borrowing elements from Ninja Warrior events, Strongman competitions and even at the Highland games.
“It was a real build and they will come, like ‘Field of Dreams,'” said Risley, a former wrestling, volleyball and track coach for the Bulldogs athletic program. “We never expected this. I think if I had planned it, it wouldn’t have worked because it wasn’t authentic. From the beginning, it was the coaches who cared about their children.
“We don’t charge anything. We love that they come here. … I want to keep doing it for as long as possible, because I think it has value.
Risley is not the only one to share this opinion.
Jon Adkins had heard of Risley’s obstacle course from friends in the coaching profession before securing the Mahomet-Seymour football job ahead of the 2019 season.
Adkins said he jumped at the chance to bring his new team to the course after meeting Risley, who was on his interview panel. The opportunity to test his athletes on the course was essential, but Adkins said the team cohesion and team building that inevitably occurs was just as important.
“Special place, isn’t it?” Adkins said of Risley’s journey. “It kind of reminded me of the Field of Dreams. It’s kind of an iconic place that everyone talks about and wants to visit once in their life.
“For me, the Ris course has that effect on people. You get there and see the hard work he put into it. Then it has the whole presentation to go with it. This makes it even more special. He’s an incredible human being, there’s no doubt about it.
Risley doesn’t just make his obstacle course available to teams in the area and even more so across the state. There is real preparation.
Risley makes sure the course is set up properly before a team arrives and makes sure he has water and bandages on hand for blisters or scraped knees.
And while the obstacle course might be the main reason teams make the trip north of Muhammad, Risley also has a presentation for them too. This is the part that keeps the former coach going.
“The last thing I want to do is look corny, but every kid here shows respect and puts in an incredible amount of effort,” Risley said. “Not to be cliché, but I feel young again when I’m done. We teach a lot of life lessons. We don’t shout here. We don’t get mad at anyone. If you see something well here you celebrate it.
“You don’t want them to come here and not have a great experience. Frankly, these children inspire me. There’s so much side stuff going on. That’s really worth it to me. Lots of blisters and lots of abrasions on the knees, but worth it. They give a lot for that and their team, and I love watching them.
That’s why many area coaches make the Risley course an annual event.
Monticello football coach Cully Welter first saw the course when his daughter, current Louisville athlete Aliyah, tackled it as part of her own pole vault training and is became both one of six female athletes to complete it without a fall and the women’s record holder. Now Welter bring their football team every year.
Mahomet-Seymour’s wrestling coach Rob Ledin does the same every November before the season.
“What a great opportunity to bring a team out there and put them through their paces a bit and see what they’re made of and challenge their tenacity, their mental toughness and their integrity as people,” said Ledin. “He’s a guy who loves kids, wants to see people improve and wants our young people to grow into great young adults. So respected and an icon, truly, for the Muhammad-Seymour community. Everyone knows Jim Risley .
“The kids respect him. The kids love it. I think, in anything, if you show a child you care about them, they will go a long way for you. If you don’t show that you care about every part of them, they probably won’t respect you the same way. Ris cares about children and people. When the kids go out, I let him talk and run the show. … One of the things I’m looking forward to is how he talks to kids, motivates them, challenges them, and brings a team together to take the course.
It wasn’t just football players and Muhammad-Seymour wrestlers who took Risley’s course. The Bulldogs women’s basketball team has them too. Just like their coach.
Risley’s son, Garret, was one of the first pole vaulters the course was built for. Now he coaches the Mahomet-Seymour girls’ basketball and challenges his team the same way his father challenged him about a decade ago.
“It’s 100 percent body awareness,” said Garret Risley, describing the course’s goal. “That’s why you get a lot of different teams. Basketball teams. Football teams. Football teams. Whatever sport you need to be coordinated and aware of your surroundings, the course lends itself to it.
Young Risley ran the course for the first time in years after his older brother Grant celebrated his 36th birthday by doing the same. Neither came close to the record of 1 minute 28.6 seconds set by former Mohammad-Seymour athlete Austin Armetta, but their father was still impressed with his sons’ times all those years ago. late.
“(Garret) went 1:51, which is faster than anyone I see going through it,” Jim Risley said. “Grant at 2:34, and there’s no way I thought he would. Now he’s like, ‘I have to go back.’ »
The course is not much different in layout now compared to when it was first built. The only change made was a necessity. The trampoline at the bottom of the short climbing wall was no match for Hunter Woodard, then Tuscola standout and current Oklahoma State offensive lineman.
And while what the course has become may not have been what Jim Risley expected when he built it, it’s something his son said is just right for his dad at the time. retirement – in name only.
“I don’t think he ever said ‘no’ to anybody,” Garret Risley said. “He likes having them there. Camaraderie, that’s what it’s made for. … He loves the relationships he’s been able to build with coaches and athletes. He likes to be a bit of their experience for high school.