GRATERFORD — There was something about West Chester University that immediately reminded standout hurdler Ryan Heimbach of his Perkiomen Valley track and field team.
“I went on a campus visit there and I really liked the campus. And then when I went on a team visit, I just really liked the team and the whole atmosphere of it,” Heimbach said. “I just felt like it was like PV track is. The guys on the team kind of reminded me of the guys on PV.”
He was checking out state schools to see what might be a good fit for him.
“And West Chester being a state school, I was looking at them,” he said. “Then I got a letter in the mail from them for track, got to talking to the coach. And it all went from there.”
It went right to Heimbach signing a national letter of intent to continue his academic and athletic career at Division II West Chester on a partial athletic scholarship.
He is undecided on his major, but after earning academic honors at PV all four years, that won’t be hard to do.
Heimbach had narrowed it down to three — West Chester, Bloomsburg and Elizabethtown.
When he went on an official visit to Elizabethtown, Heimbach didn’t really feel at home, and it came down to West Chester and Bloomsburg. And West Chester just had that something extra. It is also close to home.
“Which is big,” he said. “Because my parents and family can still come see me run,”
Add to all that West Chester hurdles coach Courtney Clark, a Norristown standout a decade ago when she ran the sixth-fastest time in the country in the 300 hurdles with a 42.21 in 2002.
“I really liked her,” Heimbach said. “She reminded me a lot of coach Ron.”
That would be Perk Valley assistant coach Ron Livers, a former Norristown standout and the PIAA and NCAA champion in the triple jump and high jump a few decades ago. Livers also coached at Norristown, but moved on to Perk Valley a few years ago and has been working closely with Heimbach for years, with Heimbach giving a lot of credit to Livers for his success.
For the past two years Heimbach was simply unbeatable in both hurdle events in the league, capturing the Pioneer Athletic Conference championship in the 110 and 300 hurdles for the past two years. He also medaled at districts in the 110 hurdles and again medaled this year, placing fifth and qualifying for states.
It was a satisfying finish for Heimbach.
“Very happy with the season,” he said. “But also kind of sad it’s over. It’s been a great four years. I’m going to miss it, going to miss it a lot.”
Hurdling seems to run in the Heimbach family.
“My dad (Robert Heimbach) hurdled for Boyertown,” Heimbach said. “So when I was in middle school, because my dad had hurdled, of course, I had to try to hurdles. I was decent. When I got to high school, I started getting away from the hurdles a little bit and ran a lot of 400, some 200, not so much the hurdles my freshman year. But then my sophomore year I got back to the hurdles. And that’s really when I started getting good.”
He also played football in ninth and tenth grade.
“I’d played football since I was little and I was pretty good at it, got to play on the varsity team,” he said. “But I made a deal with myself, that if I did good that spring track season, I would not do football and just focus on track. And that was the year I took second in the PAC-10 in the 110. So it was kind of like, as much as I love football, I need the summer and fall to train so I can get better. And I do love track so much more.”
His dad ran for the Bears back in the 80s.
“From what he’s told me, he was good,” Heimbach said. “I like to say, because my time is better than his were, I’m better than him. But he was good. It’s funny, because the two coaches for Boyertown, the throwers coach Randy Heisler and the girls coach Dave Hartman, both ran track with my dad there. So when we go to Boyertown, it’s like a reunion for them.”
Heimbach was laughing about his dad’s close friendships with his former track teammates after all these years. But the way he feels about his Perk Valley teammates, his friendships will surely last for decades too.
“In addition to his natural talent Ryan is a hard worker and very dedicated and I think West Chester is a good fit for Ryan,” said Perk Valley head coach Joe Petsko. “He worked year-round on his hurdling and I think these skills will translate well to a college athlete and he will bring a lot to West Chester’s program. Ryan was also a team captain his senior year and did a great job in that capacity as well. His role as a leader will be difficult to replace.”
But Heimbach served notice: Another Heimbach is on the way.
“Hey, my brother Evan, he’s a freshman next year, and he’s doing hurdles and is already doing working with coach Ron,” he said. “He’s going to keep the Heimbach tradition going.”
While big brother moves on to West Chester where he will have to be ready to contribute right away.
“One hurdler just graduated, so I am coming in to replace him,” he said. “It’s kind of funny because their other three hurdlers are all named Ryan so the four of us are all named Ryan. It’s actually kind of cool.”
And he will continue to run both hurdle events, the 110 and what will be the 400 hurdles in college, up from the 300 hurdles in high school.
“Looking at the times at West Chester, in the 110 I should be with those guys,” he said. “I’ve only run the 400 (hurdles) a couple of times, but my times are also up there with their kids. The 400 is definitely a different race. But I should be able to pick it up pretty quick.”
And he is going to keep relentlessly pushing to get better and faster better just like he did at PV.
“I want to go in and try to keep improving,” he said. “And maybe one day win the PSAC. That would be cool.”