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WARRIORS ATHLETE OF WEEK: Summer distance trip helps hurdling standout

Jackson Walters’ travels with family members have undoubtedly helped him travel the distance — quickly — between hurdles.

His dad, Gary Walters, has embarked on a number of challenging trips through the years that have helped raise funds, and awareness, for Kinship Partners.

On their most recent endeavor, Jackson accompanied his dad and sister, Jessica, on a 3,200-mile bicycle ride across the U.S. last summer. That kind of grueling event has helped Jackson on the track.

“I would think the leg strength you gain pedaling across the U.S. has to have helped,” Warriors hurdles coach Howie Jacobs said. “Even his ability to handle being uncomfortable when working out would have been helped by bike riding.

“A few days riding he was bucking a head wind for 100 miles, which can’t feel good. I think it actually helped a lot for his confidence as much as anything else.”

Entering last Saturday’s season-opening Huskie Classic at St. Cloud State University, Jackson was brimming with confidence. He demonstrated it by smashing his previous school record (8.70 seconds) with a blistering time of 8.36 in the 60-meter hurdle prelims.

In addition to the bike trip, Jackson ran sprints, hurdled about once a week at SCSU and did dryland training during the winter at Brainerd Area Civic Center.

“Normally, I would go from the last day of practice to the next year not even seeing a hurdle,” Walters said. “Going over hurdles once a week all winter really helped. I came into the season and I was already ready.

“In practice, coach Jacobs said I looked really fast. I couldn’t wait to finally get a time. I’ve been waiting all winter to hear a time.

“I ran a clean race. I didn’t hit any hurdles. That was a little bit different from last year when it seemed I liked to hit them. When I found out my time, to be honest, I thought maybe I was that fast but not that early in the season. I was kind of shocked.”

Walters wasn’t the only one who was shocked.

“For the first time out that’s a pretty good feat,” Warriors head coach Rod Reuer said. “What I’m most amazed by is the amount of time (.36) that he broke his record.

“I’m not surprised he broke his record, but I was surprised by how much.”

So was Jacobs.

“To be that fast this early is pretty amazing,” he said. “I know he spent a lot of time working on his strength and quickness over the winter, and obviously it’s showing. He also ran a clean race twice. He didn’t hit a hurdle. That can cost time in a hurry.”

Later in the meet, Walters hurried to a time of 8.48 and won the event.

“I could tell my hamstring was bugging me at the start of the race a little bit,” Walters said of the finals. “My legs were a little tired.”

Walters began his transformation into one of the state’s elite hurdlers in the 2011 Section 8-2A meet at St. Cloud Apollo. Entering the finals as the No. 3 seed, he zipped to a time of 15.34 to win the section title.

“The wind was crazy, at least 20 miles an hour straight into your face,” Walters said. “That definitely changes things, trying to jump over stuff while running into the wind.

“The gun went off and I took off. I was almost to the first hurdle when my head came up. To be honest, I didn’t see anybody to either side of me. It was kind of shocking because we had some pretty fast kids in the section last year. From there on I just kept going and never really saw anybody.”

Walters went on to the 2A state meet where he finished fifth with a 14.98 clocking to earn all-state honors. He hopes to set the school record in the 110 and 300 hurdles this season as well as challenge defending champion Rilwan Alowonle of Park for the state title in June.

Walters and Alowonle are the only returning hurdlers from last year’s top five state finishers.

“I know I can get there,” Walters said of the state meet. “I’m just looking to run my best race at state, and whatever happens happens. Hopefully I’m at my peak at that time.”