Through The Lens: CWU's Thompson Captures The Moment
Jacob Thompson was named to the 2019-20 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Men's Track and Field All-Academic Team with a 3.35 GPA.
Jacob Thompson was named to the 2019-20 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Men's Track and Field All-Academic Team with a 3.35 GPA.

Monday, March 1, 2021
by Kaho Akau, GNAC Media Relations Assistant

ELLENSBURG, Wash. – For a pole vaulter, Jacob Thompson sure does a lot of running around during track and field meets.

The junior from Mililani, Hawaii, is in his third year working as a photographer for the Central Washington University athletic communications office. But he wasn’t even looking for a job at the time the position was offered to him.

“When I think about it, it was really a one in a million chance,” Thompson said.

Just two weeks after arriving in Ellensburg as a freshman, Thompson went to a Central Washington women’s soccer match against Seattle Pacific to shoot some photos of his older sister’s best friend, who was a senior for the Falcons. Since he didn’t know any of the CWU players, he had no initial intention of taking pictures of them, but as the match progressed, he thought, “I might as well.”

When the match was over, Thompson had no clue of how to get the photos he snapped to the Central Washington players. He went online to find the CWU athletics staff directory and sent the photos to Tyler Unsicker, associate athletic director for external affairs. Not long after that, he received an email from assistant director of athletic communications Caleb Dunlop about setting up a meeting to talk about Thompson working for CWU athletics.

“It was hard for me to hold it together as I left Caleb’s office because all I wanted to do was yell in excitement,” Thompson said. “I was so hyped up and excited but also just as nervous, if not more. I knew I had to step up my game because it was college athletics, but I was ready to take on that challenge.”

Balancing his responsibilities as a Division II student-athlete with his love for photography can get crazy for Thompson at times, but he thrives under the pressure.

When he’s in class, he zones in on listening and learning. When he’s at practice, he zones in on working hard to become a better athlete. When he’s shooting photos, he zones in on capturing every possible moment that he can.

“It definitely takes a lot of time and effort to balance it all and it can get a little hectic,” Thompson said. “The main thing I do is focus on committing to whatever the task at hand is.”

How does he know when to switch gears? The answer is simple: He just looks at his clothes.

Wearing different clothes reminds Thompson of what he should prioritize. If he’s in street clothes, he knows he’s a student. If he’s in his running clothes and shoes, he knows he’s an athlete. And if he’s in a Central Washington polo, he knows it’s time to take some photos.

Thompson shoots photos at CWU’s media days as well as every home competition, with the exception of times he’s on road trips with the Wildcats’ track and field team. Even while competing on the road, he takes his camera with him.

That’s when the real fun happens.

“When we’re on the road for track meets, I always have my polo shirt with me,” he said. “Once I take off the jersey and put the polo on, I’m not pole vaulter Jacob anymore. Now I’m photographer Jacob.”

Having a meet schedule on his phone helps Thompson keep track of not only his agenda but his teammates’ as well. Just as he has an extra set of clothes for shooting photos, he also has a photography bag next to his track and field bag.

When he’s done pole vaulting, he rushes over to change his clothes and grab his photography bag so he can get some shots of his teammates as they finish their events. There really isn’t much time for him to even reflect on his own performance because he has already flipped the switch and ran off with his camera.

“When I have a bad meet, I can’t just sit and pout and dwell on it because I have to get my photography stuff and do my job,” he said. “On the flip side, if I have a great meet, I’ll be amped and think, ‘Hey, that was really fun. Now let’s get some photos of my friends, who are having fun too.’”

Thompson’s passion for photography started when he was a student-athlete at Kamehameha Schools in Honolulu.

His life revolved around sports and football was his first love. After every football game, he and his friends would search through online sports photo galleries to see if there were any shots of them on the field.

Entering his junior year for the Warriors, Thompson decided that he no longer had the passion to play football and was left sitting in the stands and cheering his friends on. With that new free time on his hands, however, he wanted to guarantee that his friends would have pictures of them from their games, so he took matters into his own hands.

“I took my sister’s old Canon Rebel and started from there,” Thompson said. “I would send the photos to my friends after the games. Seeing them so happy and excited got me motivated to do more. I continued to invest more time and money into photography then joined the school yearbook staff to gain more access to the games. That eventually led me to where I am now.”

During his time at Central Washington, Thompson has had his work published in local newspapers, including the CWU Observer, the Ellensburg Daily Record and the Yakima Herald, through his athletic communications job.

“Sports are my bread and butter, so anything outside of that comes with a learning curve,” he said. “It’s fun to try new things and become more well-rounded. Photography is a very saturated market and you can find great photographers anywhere, so you have to continue to prove yourself.”

Being of native Hawaiian ancestry has been Thompson’s biggest motivation.

Attending college away from home has been a blast for him. He has had an opportunity to meet new people, experience new places and create new memories like running in the snow. Ellensburg has also taught him how to live on his own and figure out what kind of man he wants to be.

But he’d be lying to himself if he said he didn’t miss the food, the beaches, the culture, his family, his friends and everything else that has molded him into the student-athlete and man he is today.

“Nothing is ever truly about you,” he said about being from Hawaii. “Sure, we’re all our own person but we represent so much more. We represent our families, our schools and our people. We want to do them proud and represent them in the right way.”

A psychology major with a minor in exercise science, Thompson plans to pursue a master’s degree in sport and exercise psychology to work toward becoming a certified mental performance consultant. He ultimately wants to use his education to help Hawaii’s youth and high school athletes.

No matter what career path he chooses, photography will always be his safe haven. As an athlete, he understands how much work goes into becoming the best version of himself every day. When athletes see their hard work captured in a single photo, it reassures them that all that hard work is worth it.

“I don’t know the extent of what my career in photography will be, but I will definitely continue shooting sports,” Thompson said. “Of course, getting paid to do this has been awesome, but it always comes back to what motivated me in high school: Getting to see the joy and excitement from athletes when they see those photos.”

Not bad for a pole vaulter.